Tottenham analysis: Christian Eriksen delivers after Spurs midfield is rattled

tom collomosse
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Christian Eriksen kept Tottenham's title hopes alive with a crucial strike to sink Crystal Palace 1-0.

The Dane rescued Spurs with a long-range drive 12 minutes from time to ensure they remain four points behind leaders Chelsea.

Tottenham had endured a tough few days, losing the FA Cup semi-final to the Blues on Saturday before Antonio Conte's side beat Southampton 4-2 to stay in control at the top.

They desperately needed a pick-me-up at Selhurst Park to keep their season alive, but that was never going to be easy against an in-form Palace side looking to add them to the scalps of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this month alone.

Tom Collomosse was at Selhurst Park to assess the key talking points...

Midfield pair rattled

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Rarely have Tottenham’s midfield duo of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama looked so hurried and harassed as they did in the first half.

In the opening exchanges, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur did not allow Dembele a moment’s piece, with Luka Milivojevic and Jason Puncheon also making impressive contributions.

Wanyama was booked for a poor tackle on Milivojevic and was lucky not to receive a second yellow card when he tripped Andros Townsend moments later.

Neither emerged for the second half – Dembele with an apparent injury, Wanyama – who did not appear hurt – to avoid a ban for Sunday’s derby against Arsenal.

Pochettino ditches the back three

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At the start, Tottenham lined up in the 3-4-2-1 shape they used in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, with Kyle Walker and Ben Davies replacing Kieran Trippier and Heung-min Son in the wing-back positions.

Yet by the half-hour mark, manager Mauricio Pochettino had switched to 4-3-3, and at the second half, Tottenham had matched Palace’s 4-1-4-1 system, with Son on the left, the rarely-seen Moussa Sissoko on the right, Eric Dier holding and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen central behind Harry Kane.

Spurs were more creative in this system – but what will they use against Arsenal on Sunday?

Dier back in his favourite role

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There is little doubt that Eric Dier would rather play in midfield than defence – but Wanyama’s arrival, and the switch to the back three, means opportunities in that position have been rare.

The England international is coveted by Manchester United, where Jose Mourinho is keen to use him in the position he prefers.

Palace’s early momentum persuaded Pochettino to push Dier forward and switch to a back four. In the second half, Dier was used in a lone holding role.

It is likely Wanyama will return against Arsenal on Sunday but if Pochettino opts for 4-2-3-1, Dier will fancy his chances of playing alongside him.

Tough night for the ref

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Having noticed early on that this would be a physical game, referee Jon Moss appeared to make a conscious decision to allow it to flow.

This was admirable in theory – but perhaps Moss treated some of the challenges a little too leniently. Wanyama should surely have received a second yellow card for a trip on Townsend, while Dele Alli received a number of rough tackles that were not punished.

Moss’ management of the match irritated both managers, Pochettino and Palace boss Sam Allardyce, as both felt their sides were hard done-by on different occasions.

There were six bookings in all, with Wanyama, Walker, Kane, Milivojevic, Wilfried Zaha and Joel Ward all punished. But there could have been many more, with Moss booed off by the Palace fans at the end.

Eriksen excels as Spurs break record

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As has happened in previous years, Christian Eriksen’s influence on this Tottenham has grown as the season has progressed.

The Dane was Spurs’ best player in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea last weekend and while he did not shine quite as brightly here, he delivered when it mattered, with a 25-yard strike into the bottom left corner, with Wayne Hennessey slightly slow to move across his goal.

That took Spurs to 74 points – their best tally in the Premier League era, eclipsing the 72 accumulated by the Gareth Bale-inspired side of 2012-13, managed by Andre Villas-Boas. But the most important statistic is this: leaders Chelsea are only four points ahead.

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