Ryan Mason proves tactical pedigree as Tottenham step up new manager hunt

·4-min read
 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

There are 44 years between Ryan Mason and Roy Hodgson but Tottenham's acting head coach showed his tactical maturity to earn a first win in charge, beating Crystal Palace.

Mason has thrown his hat into the ring for the Spurs job on a permanent basis but acknowledged that he has limited time to make an impact and salvage something from their dispiriting season.

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But as auditions go, a narrow home win over Palace - clinched by Harry Kane's goal on the stroke of half-time - was encouraging, as Spurs impressed in a new and innovative system.

With only two days to prepare for both the draw with Manchester United and last weekend's gut-wrenching 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, Mason had stuck with Antonio Conte's familiar 3-4-3 system but he used the free week on the training ground before Palace's visit to prep something new.

Spurs used a back four out of possession, with fit-again Emerson Royal at right-back and Pedro Porro pushed forward, but reverted to a fluid three-man defence with the ball, with Porro and Ben Davies pushing forward to provide width as Emerson tucked in.

Notably, Mason's former Spurs teammate Eric Dier dropped to the bench after struggling against United and Liverpool.

The result was a much-improved defensive display and a first clean sheet in the league since February 26, against a Palace side who have scored freely under their own interim boss and boasted plenty of threat in Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze.

What the hosts gained at the back, they admittedly lost in attacking coherence, bringing to mind Jose Mourinho's description of his Spurs side as an undersized blanket ("It’s like when you have to pull a blanket up and your feet are left out,” Mourinho said in February 2020. "And then you cover your feet but half your body is out. That’s us.")

But teething problems going forward are tolerable when you have a player of Kane's quality in attack, and Spurs had the game's other best chances, with the excellent Cristian Romero glancing a header off the bar and Heung-min Son forcing a save from Sam Johnstone after breaking the offside trap.

It seems unlikely that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will risk handing Mason the job permanently, particularly when there are so many intriguing options in the frame, but the 31-year-old has already had a positive impact on the side and demonstrated that he has clear ideas about style of play.

Spurs will have another week on the training ground to hone Mason's new system before next weekend's visit to Aston Villa in what could effectively be a play-off for a European place.

They will now go into that game with renewed confidence, particularly in their defensive solidity, and with the momentum, particularly after Villa lost to rivals Wolves.

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

Kane delivers again

Where would Spurs be without Kane? His 209th Premier League goal - taking him above Wayne Rooney and into second on the list of the competition's all-time top scorers - settled an often-fiery London derby, and was also his 26th of the season.

That would have been enough for the Golden Boot in the last four campaigns and, undoubtedly, Erling Haaland's remarkable scoring feats have meant another outstanding Kane season has almost gone under the radar.

His winner was the perfect encapsulation of the two sides of Kane's game, as he found Porro with a magnificent pass over his shoulder before breaking into the box to head home the Spaniard's cross from the edge of the six yard box. As everyone knows by now, he is the perfect No.10 and No.9 in one.

In terms of goals, this is already Kane's third-best season in the top flight and he needs four goals in the remaining three matches to equal his best tally of 30, in 2017-18.

That was when Spurs were at their brilliant best under Mauricio Pochettino but it has obviously been very different since the Argentine left the club.

Still, whether Spurs are flying high or in total chaos, Kane has kept on improving and delivering.

He is now just 51 goals shy of Alan Shearer's Premier League record and averaging nearly 23 goals a season since his breakthrough campaign. For all the talk about whether Kane could beat the record, he should do it comfortably, perhaps in the next two campaigns - provided he stays in England.