Forced into a change
The back injury that Wanyama sustained at Burnley on Saturday ruled him out of tonight’s game.
It was the first time the Kenyan had been missing from the starting line-up in the Premier League this season and, with Harry Winks also out action, it left Pochettino short of central midfielders.
Predictably, he moved Eric Dier into the middle of the pitch. But, rather than sticking with the 3-4-2-1 system he has recently favoured and simply replacing the 23-year-old in the back three – picking Kevin Wimmer or Cameron Carter-Vickers – Spurs’ manager decided to change his system entirely and switch to 4-2-3-1.
It provides further evidence that the Argentinian does not feel Carter-Vickers is ready yet, and that he does not trust Wimmer – the Austrian will surely leave the club this summer.
The change of formation was notable, yet Spurs had used that set-up to good effect in the second half at Burnley on Saturday, scoring both of their goals in their 2-0 victory with that formation.
Indeed, Tottenham’s starting line-up at Swansea largely resembled the side that had finished the game at Turf Moor at the weekend. Saturday’s three substitutes – Mousa Dembele, Moussa Sissoko and Heung-Min Son – all got the nod in south Wales.
The only difference was that Kyle Walker, who had been rested at Burnley, replaced Kieran Trippier – and Michel Vorm deputised for Hugo Lloris, who had felt unwell after lunch and remained at the team’s hotel.
Vorm lined up against his former club, along with left-back Ben Davies, while Swansea’s side included four former Tottenham players – Kyle Naughton, Tom Carroll, Wayne Routledge and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Slow out of the blocks
Spurs had a couple of early chances – Son saw a shot blocked and Moussa Sissoko’s low cross was crucially blocked by Federico Fernandez, preventing a certain goal. But the visitors then gifted their hosts a simple goal in the 11th minute.
Jordan Ayew was allowed to latch onto a routine long ball from the goalkeeper, get in behind Davies and deliver a low cross to Routledge, who scored at close range.
The home side now had something to hold on to for the remainder of the game, and they promptly set themselves up in containment mode.
While Spurs dominated possession and spent most of the first half camped in their opponents’ half, they were unable to really test Lukasz Fabianski.
For the second game in a row, Spurs’ manager elected to change the formation during the interval.
At Burnley on Saturday he switched from 3-4-2-1 to 4-2-3-1. This time he did the reverse, moving Eric Dier into a back three alongside Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and deploying Sissoko in central midfield next to Dembele.
But, 15 minutes after the interval, Spurs were still trailing – so Pochettino made a substitution.
Sissoko had offered little in the front four or alongside Dembele, while Son had been ineffective up front after a lively start.
Like against Southampton before the international break, the South Korean was struggling to hold the ball up – notably when Vertonghen played a simple pass forward that did not stick with the frontman and rolled harmlessly through to Fabianski.
Pochettino sought to address both issues by withdrawing Sissoko and introducing Vincent Janssen, instructing the Dutchman to lead the line while moving Son into an attacking midfield role. Eriksen also dropped into a deeper position next to Dembele, pulling the strings.
Still, Tottenham struggled to build pressure and, with 12 minutes left, Pochettino threw on Georges-Kevin Nkoudou in place of Davies. He had tried everything.
Drama, drama, drama
Pochettino’s changes finally began to take effect in the final 10 minutes of normal time and the visitors started to create clear-cut chances.
Initially, it seemed they had left it too late and that Fabianski was going to emerge as the hero.
The Pole bravely dived at Janssen’s feet to deny the Dutchman, getting clattered in the process, and he then produced a fine one-handed save to stop Alli from heading into the top corner from Eriksen’s chipped cross.
However, Spurs maintained the pressure and levelled in the 88th minute as the impressive Eriksen’s volley was deflected to Alli, who finished at the back post.
Tottenham had no intention of settling for that, and when it was announced there would be seven minutes of injury time, the visiting fans sensed an opportunity and turned up the volume.
Moments later Spurs were ahead as Eriksen played a low pass forward to Janssen, who backed into his marker and backheeled the ball through his legs to the onrushing Son, who beat Fabianski.
Pochettino’s substitution had paid off, and both players had underlined their strengths. Janssen had provided the physicality up front that Son had lacked, while Son had shown he is far more effective running at goal than playing with his back to it.
The Tottenham fans were in dreamland and their night soon got even better as Spurs struck for a third time.
Again Janssen was involved, freeing Alli on the counter-attack, and the England midfielder played in Eriksen, who dropped his shoulder and found the bottom right corner to cap a fine display with a deserved goal.
In the end, after a bit of tinkering, it all came together – better late than never.
The title race is still alive
For 80 minutes or so, it seemed Spurs were going to slide to a lame defeat and allow Chelsea to restore their 10-point advantage, slipping up as soon as they were being talked about as title contenders again.
However, their dramatic comeback keeps their hopes alive. The only disappointment is that Antonio Conte’s league leaders beat Manchester City 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, overcoming a major hurdle in their quest for the crown. The gap is still seven points.
The flip side is that Spurs have now extended their lead ahead of City, while Liverpool were held to a 2-2 draw at home against Bournemouth.
Tottenham now have a five-point cushion behind them and continue to close in on a second-place finish – at least.
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