N’Golo Kante introduction shows Thomas Tuchel tactical smarts and highlights Tottenham limits

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 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

The half-time introduction of N’Golo Kante changed the course of a pulsating London derby and underlined both the brilliance of Thomas Tuchel and the gulf in quality between the two squads.

Tottenham shaded the opening 45 minutes with a high-risk, high-octane approach that was quite unlike anything Nuno Espirito Santo’s side had produced previously.

They pressed Chelsea high up the pitch and flew into tackles, while Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso added a new urgency and zip to their passing.

Chelsea looked dangerous in transition but were wasteful and occasionally disorganised defensively, notably when Sergio Reguilon broke clear in a three-on-two – only to fluff his cross.

But Tuchel made a simple change at the interval, introducing Kante for the wasteful Mason Mount and transforming the game.

Chelsea switched to a three-man midfield, matching Spurs, and immediately earned a foothold in the middle of the park, and a pair of corners.

From the second, Thiago Silva meandered into the box and rose above Dele Alli to nod the Blues in front four minutes after the interval.

It was a sucker-punch from which Spurs never recovered.

Chelsea’s second goal was fortuitous when Kante’s 25-yard effort took a wicked deflection off Eric Dier, wrong-footing Hugo Lloris and creeping in at the opposite post.

While Chelsea could also introduce Timo Werner to further pressure Spurs, Nuno was short of quality and experience on his bench.

Youngsters Oliver Skipp and Bryan Gil – both promising U-21 internationals but clearly works in progress – were the best the Spurs boss could do, and the final 30 minutes were one-way traffic.

Antonio Rudiger rubbed salt into Spurs’ wounds with a well-taken third goal in stoppage-time.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The match was ultimately a reflection of Tuchel’s tactical quality and arguably Nuno’s limitations, as the Spurs manager failed to react to the changing conditions of the match after half-time. But given his options on the bench, Nuno was arguably at a loss to do a great deal more.

Spurs show promise

In the end, it was a morale-sapping defeat for Spurs and they now face another testing week with a League Cup tie at Wolves on Wednesday before another London derby at Arsenal next weekend. Nuno could find himself under intense pressure before the end of September.

There were, nonetheless, some positives to take in defeat after an impressive opening 30 minutes, which offered a potential blueprint for the future.

After their pedestrian display at Palace, Spurs were more aggressive and more positive here, and lesser teams would have succumbed to the high-energy approach.

Reguilon squandered a great opportunity and Heung-min Son took a heavy touch from Lo Celso’s pass, allowing Kepa Arrizabalaga to smother.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

With Ndombele back in the midfield, Spurs were much more capable of playing through the lines and the Frenchman added dynamism with his variation and the occasional burst of speed.

That said, there were also strange aspects to Spurs’ shape, including the deepness of Kane and Dele Alli, who were unable to make an impact in the final third, where they are best.

While there is no hope for Nuno if he reverts to the cautious approach from Selhurst Park, there is a future in this risky, adventurous set up.

Had Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn been fit, Spurs would have had more to offer from the bench or perhaps been able to take one of their first-half chances.

It was another bad afternoon but unlike the loss at Palace there was at least something to take from it.

Kane’s ineffectiveness alarming

The game was inevitably billed as a battle between Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku but neither striker was at their goal-scoring best.

Lukaku was reasonably well marshalled by Eric Dier for the first 45 minutes but still managed to create the Blues’ best counter-attack of the half, starting a quick break before playing a one-two with Mount, who miscued his shot.

The Belgian striker was more dominant after the interval, creating chances for Werner and proving a menace with the ball at his feet.

 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

Kane, meanwhile, was again ineffective in the final third and spent most of the match scrapping for possession in deep areas, with two wide players running ahead of him.

When he finally found space, he tested Kepa with a low drive – but it was a rare moment of bite from the England captain, who cut a predictably frustrated figure.

A worrying pattern is emerging for Kane, who failed to have a single touch or shot in the box at Palace last weekend.

Nuno is yet to get the best from the forward and Kane is increasingly finding himself neutralised in the Portuguese’s system, regardless of whether he prioritises attack or defence.

While Jose Mourinho played conservative football last season, he still found a way to unlock Kane – who carried Spurs and finished the League season with the most goals and assists.

If Nuno improves just one thing about his side, it should be getting more from his talisman.

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