Saturday 24 February 2018

Kane caps another perfect day for slick Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur 4 AFC Bournemouth 0

Harry Kane scored on his return after injury as Spurs moved within four points of Chelsea. Photo: PA Wire
Harry Kane scored on his return after injury as Spurs moved within four points of Chelsea. Photo: PA Wire

Jonathan Liew

If they awarded league titles for strut, Tottenham would have had the Premier League sewn up by Christmas. When they are in the mood, there is no team in the country as puffily confident, as ridiculously self-assured.

Here they did not so much destroy Bournemouth as destroy the very idea that Bournemouth might ever beat them. It was close to the perfect afternoon: four goals, a clean sheet, no injuries. The win was wrapped up in the space of 20 minutes, and even the luckless Vincent Janssen got a little luck, scoring his first Premier League goal from open play.

Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Getty Images
Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Getty Images

But these games, home fixtures against limited opposition, are where Tottenham eat and drink. And this was the last of them. The gap to Chelsea is four points, but now things start to get tough.

Four away games against Crystal Palace, West Ham, Leicester and Hull. Two home games against Manchester United and Arsenal. The likelihood is that in order to win their first title since 1961, they will need to win all six. "Four points is a lot," Mauricio Pochettino said afterwards. "Now, the pressure is on Chelsea to try to win at Old Trafford."

We are approaching the point in the season when Pochettino teams have often flagged, and where they crashed and burned last season, winning just two points in their last four games. This time, however, Spurs are a year older, a year shrewder, and Pochettino insisted that they were in better shape.

"We have learnt a lot," he said. "That was a very bad period at the end of last season. We spent a lot of energy fighting against Leicester, but also against West Bromwich, against Chelsea, against the media, against the people. We were fighting against everyone, and we spent a lot of energy. It was good to hear Claudio Ranieri [on Sky's Monday Night Football] before Crystal Palace v Arsenal, recognising that the world was for them, trying to help Leicester. The team that all the world tried to kill was Tottenham. Now you recognise why the situation was so, so difficult for us."

Tottenham's Son Heung-min shoots at goal Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs
Tottenham's Son Heung-min shoots at goal Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs

Even if we should probably take Pochettino's account of events with a pinch of salt - Tottenham were loudly applauded for their skill and style last season - then it was a useful insight into how he is fortifying his squad this time around. Chelsea may ultimately be just too good. The gap may already be too wide. But Pochettino is determined that they will have to earn their title rather than be handed it.

Bournemouth, on the other hand, seemed almost to acquiesce in their inability to lay a finger on their opponents, like a journeyman boxer hired to give the champ some punching practice. "We've got the ball," their fans gamely chanted during their brief spells of possession.

They deserve credit for sticking to the task and maintaining some semblance of a contest. Their situation is unchanged: their next four fixtures against Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Stoke and Burnley will decide their fate, not this. "Tottenham are are the team we aspire to be," manager Eddie Howe purred. "They keep the ball so well."

Games like these are often broken open by a single moment of brilliance or a single elementary error. Here, it was the latter, as - Simon Francis ushered the ball out for what he thought, wrongly, was a goal-kick. From the corner, Mousa Dembele scored from seven yards, and despite having started a little sleepily, Tottenham were away.

Two minutes later, Jack Wilshere gave the ball away in midfield - how the Tottenham fans enjoyed that - and Harry Kane flicked the ball on to Son Heung-Min. His low finish from a tight angle was followed, as is now customary, with a choreographed celebration with Dele Alli, a jaunty Morecambe and Wise-ish dance number this time.

Kane settled matters definitively early in the second half: losing the ball in the penalty area, winning it back again, and shooting low past Artur Boruc.

Only one thing could improve Tottenham's afternoon, and in injury-time, Janssen provided it. He still needed two goes from four yards out, but after taking 23 Premier League games to score a goal that was not a penalty, he at least retained the good sense to avoid celebrating too wildly.


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