The attacking trio
History however shows that on their own turf Spurs seem to be able to upset Manchester City, and occasionally away, without him. Not bad for the side once labelled dismissively by Pep Guardiola as “The Harry Kane team”.
For those who have been watching Spurs’ pre-season matches, they would have seen the patterns of play and style and also a real spirit forged in those games that was taken into the opening match.
That would have been particularly pleasing for Nuno Espirito Santo as he has been able to mould the team at both ends of the pitch in just over a month.
Recent victories against City at home have felt somewhat like the points were snatched away from the dominant visitors, but this one felt fully deserved for the new Spurs boss.
The front trio of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min were pesky flies buzzing around the City players.
All three broke constantly from their own half and sometimes their own box in devastating fashion, never more perfectly exhibited than in the goal.
Lucas’ clever flick sent Bergwijn away and the Dutchman passed it wide to Son, who cut inside and managed to curl the ball home while losing his footing.
Spurs had other chances to finish off similar breaks down the pitch and while their finishing was sometimes below par, all three attackers justified the faith shown in them by Espirito Santo.
Bergwijn has everything in his locker to be a big success in the Premier League and he also works incredibly hard in both halves of the pitch.
He caused plenty of problems for Manchester City, having memorably scored on his debut against them last year, and grabbed an assist this time around, albeit with a slightly overhit pass to Son.
The Dutchman did miss a one-on-one chance later and, despite his goal in pre-season, he still needs to get the confidence that will come with scoring again in competitive matches. The upcoming Europa Conference League play-off matches may provide the opportunity for him to try to get back into that habit.
Alongside him, Lucas continues to improve and he’s having much more of an influence in making things happen.
The Brazilian’s previous habits of doing most of his good work on the halfway line or running past two players only to run into a third have been drastically lessened and it’s making him more efficient in what he produces.
This performance against City was one of his best for the club and it continued the upward trend of his displays in 2021.
In the striker role, Son will rue some off his spurned opportunities earlier in the game but he once again proved that he can step up to become the team’s star when they need him the most.
At the final whistle, he walked around the pitch, applauding all four sides of the stadium, thanking the noisy and delirious fans for their help during the game.
Having signed his big new deal and in doing so pledged his future to the club amid the uncertainty over Kane, Son is emerging as the fans’ favourite and the main star and he appears to be revelling in it.
Dele’s new role as Tanguy remains out
He won’t have got any of the headlines, but Dele Alli is growing into his new role in the midfield three within Espirito Santo’s team.
Alli has previously been all about hitting the net, smashing records when he was younger in who quickly he reached 50 goals in the Premier League.
On Sunday afternoon, he showed that he’s more than willing to sacrifice his attacking intent for the good of the team.
His display was not as eye-catching as the trio ahead of him or the defensive tacklers in the midfield alongside him, but Alli put in a real shift against the reigning champions.
The Opta stats show that the 25-year-old covered the most distance (11.06km) and averaged the highest speed (6.9 km/hr) during the match.
Alli has to constantly be on the move because his is the changing role in what is a 4-3-3 formation out of possession and a 4-2-3-1 with the ball, requiring him to quickly shift up and down the pitch.
Alli worked hard over the summer on his fitness, following a difficult season under Jose Mourinho, having been called ‘lazy’ repeatedly by the former Chelsea boss on camera in the All or Nothing Amazon documentary series.
In contrast, Espirito Santo has been impressed with Alli’s attitude in training and with his fitness levels in mind, told football.london that he had crafted the new role to fit the midfielder.
“Our job as managers is always to try to find the best solutions for the players, trying to create societies, tasks that the players can do to their full potential,” he said.
“Dele, besides all the talent he has, is a runner, he is a runner. He has this ability to go from box to box and I think we as a team should take advantage of it.”
Alli has taken advantage of the later return of Giovani Lo Celso and also Tanguy Ndombele failing to impress Espirito Santo in making the role his own in the past month.
Copa America winner Lo Celso will fit the role well – having played in it for Argentina – but he will need time to get up to the required fitness levels.
For Ndombele, it’s clear he has not impressed Espirito Santo since returning from his paternity leave having become a father for the first time, and this will evoke memories of his difficult early months under Mourinho.
Espirito Santo has repeatedly said that ‘it is not the moment’ for the Frenchman to be involved in matches and when that has also included friendly games, for even a couple of minutes, it raises alarm bells.
Now, along with Serge Aurier with the Ivorian expected to leave the club during this window, Ndombele has been left out of the squad for the Europa Conference League play-off matches in the week ahead. Kane, despite only returning to full training on Friday, has been included.
The Portuguese has been very transparent with his players thus far, something most have appreciated, and like Mauricio Pochettino he has a mentality of ‘get on board or get left behind’.
He also shares the Argentine’s desire for high fitness levels and those three midfield roles in his system require constant movement.
Ndombele got into great shape last season under Mourinho and as arguably the most naturally gifted player in Spurs’ squad he could thrive in one of the midfield roles but it’s clear he still needs to build that relationship with his new boss.
football.london has previously reported that the Frenchman is considering his options this summer but it would be difficult for Tottenham to recoup the club record fee they paid out for him.
There is also a feeling that he could be one of the world’s top players thanks to his natural talent if a manager can get the best out of him but for how long can they hope that happens?
Whether his current omission from matchday squads provides the wake-up call Espirito Santo is clearly looking for will be down to Ndombele.
The young ones and the defence
There were two big moments on Sunday that summed up why Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp are more than ready to be part of the new era at Spurs.
Tanganga’s came early on with a crunching tackle on Raheem Sterling that set the tone for not only his superb performance but also the whole team.
For Skipp, his moment came at the other end of the game when he launched into a perfectly timed and similarly crunching tackle to stop a City raid that could have seen the victory snatched from Spurs’ hands.
Tanganga’s performance was immense as he came up against the very different threats of Sterling and the £100m man Jack Grealish yet contained both of them in most of the one-on-ones he faced.
The 22-year-old’s performance showed just how quickly things can change for players in a squad and also in the transfer market.
Just a week ago Tanganga was expected to head out on loan during this window, despite turning down an offer earlier in the window to go to Turkish side Galatasaray.
However, following this display against two of the Premier League’s best attacking midfielders, it’s difficult to see the logic in letting him leave the club this season.
He has the chance to make the position his own in tandem with the option of a more attacking right-back for certain matches.
That Espirito Santo favours having one defensive full-back able to tuck in to make a three at the back at times, with the other bombing on down the other flank, favours Tanganga.
Twice the crowd sung “Japhet Tanganga, he’s one of our own”, including when he was substituted, leaving on the far side of the pitch which meant a half-lap of honour of sorts in front of those singing fans.
For Skipp, he started the game frantically but an inch-perfect tackle on Sterling in the Spurs box was the catalyst for him to settle into the rhythm of the encounter.
For a 20-year-old, starting his first big match for his club, he more than stood up to the test of facing some of the best midfielders in the Premier League.
“They did well,” Espirito Santo said of the homegrown duo. “When they started the season they were in the processes of recovering from injury but they had a good foundation in terms of fitness and physicality with the work they did with sports science and I think they were able to keep on growing and we can see they are fit and stronger and faster.
“All the team did very well but Japhet was huge today. He faced too many one-v-ones today against fantastic players and he dealt fantastic with the situation.”
He added: “Of course when you work with young players and they respond to the challenge of stepping up in such a huge club as Tottenham, it can only make us proud, but the credit is for the academy and the way they work.
“I think the work of the academy is to build players for the first team so every players that joins the first team and plays with Tottenham, it’s a win, it’s a victory for us as a club.”
The Tottenham defence as a whole put in a terrific shift.
Some fans were concerned that with new signing Cristian Romero only fit enough for a few minutes from the bench, the pairing of Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier might struggle as they have at times in the past.
The outcome was far from that though as both players excelled on the day.
Sanchez in particular has returned from the Copa America full of confidence and he carried straight on from an excellent performance against Arsenal last week.
He was another who pulled off a crunching, perfectly timed tackle in added time at the end of the game to stop a City break.
Dier barely put a foot wrong all game, with constant interceptions and when he kicked the ball around on the pitch long after the final whistle with a couple of young family members, there was a clear contentment with his performance and the result and some remaining fans on the sidelines made their approval of his display very clear.
Sergio Reguilon also defended very well in a performance that had to be more defensively inclined than the Spaniard would normally be.
It was a big match for Espirito Santo as he showed that being tight at the back with, in essence, seven defensive players does not rule out also being attacking in your intent and some players showed that they’re far from useless as some like to make out.
Busy Paratici and Levy’s unusual message
It’s set to be a busy couple of weeks for Spurs’ managing director of football Fabio Paratici.
Regulations when it comes to who has access to what areas of the stadium mean that currently the Italian is sat during matches in the second row of the dugout alongside technical performance director Steve Hitchen.
Videos from fans sat behind them showed the duo not only being very vocal during the game, with some suggestions that a complaining Guardiola had felt the sharp end of their tongue, but also passionately celebrating at the final whistle, Paratici pumping his fists in delight and Hitchen hugging everyone around him.
It was a big result for the new regime at Tottenham and the growing bond between the fans and Espirito Santo and Paratici is what the club needs right now.
Earlier in the day, Daniel Levy‘s customary ‘chairman’s message’ to the fans was a strange one.
On the eve of a game in which there would have been worries about some supporters voicing their frustrations at the club owners had the result gone the other way, the ‘message’ had a bizarrely and ill-judged corporate feel to it.
Often Levy’s messages to the fans seek to explain football decisions and help build bridges with those who feel disillusioned with the powers-that-be at Spurs.
The current mood among those disgruntled fans is, rightly or wrongly, that the club are always looking to make a buck rather than improve the team.
So to put out a message that spoke about boxing, NFL, rugby and concerts being set to return to the stadium and Beavertown’s reopening of the Corner Pin pub seemed an odd misstep.
That the fans have been missed at the stadium was made clear although some of them pointed out quickly that it is their money that has been missed more during the pandemic.
The transfer window is in full swing and big moves are happening at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so we want to keep you in the know and hear your thoughts and reactions.
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The football on the pitch and the efforts to come in the transfer window were not mentioned at all. The only nod towards anything related to the actual football was the final sentence of “Please join me in welcoming Fabio, Nuno and his coaching staff. Welcome back”.
Mentions of the community work and the environmental successes the club have undertaken were all good to hear but the whole thing felt more like a corporate PR email put out to show how well the company had done while the fans were away, rather than a chairman speaking directly and passionately to those beleaguered supporters.
Those fans needed to get excited about a season that far less of them than normal actually were ahead of the game. Thankfully the players did the job required on the pitch.
Now it will be down to Paratici to do so off of it.
Tottenham are still looking to sign at least another centre-back, a right-back – although what Tanganga’s latest performance means for that or his team-mates is unclear – and a striker, while also looking at attacking midfielders if a good opportunity presents itself.
They also need to get players out of the door if they are to complete all of their best-laid plans, while also replacing any unexpected departures.
Paratici’s style, with negotiations undertaken for up to 10 players per position, means that while this transfer window has been frantic with names linked from every corner, it also means that Spurs should be in a position to advance deals quickly when decisions are made in these closing weeks of the window.
Espirito Santo has shown what he can do with the players at his disposal, with his three new signings yet to be fully integrated into those plans, but he needs more help if Tottenham are to build those foundations he wants in place to improve.
Over to you Mr Paratici and Mr Levy.