Tottenham underline title credentials with comeback win over Swansea
LONDON -- Three observations from Tottenham's 2-1 victory over Swansea at White Hart Lane.
1. Spurs further underline title credentials
"One of those days," was a favourite lament of Harry Redknapp when his Spurs side -- as was not uncommon -- failed to break down a relegation-battler at White Hart Lane. For 70 minutes, current Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino knew the feeling. Spurs dominated Swansea but until substitute Nacer Chadli poked home Kyle Walker's fierce drive, the visitors were on course for the unlikeliest of victories, courtesy of Alberto Paloschi's 19th-minute strike. But this was another reminder that Pochettino's title-challengers are made of sterner stuff than Redknapp's pretenders ever were, and they moved three points clear of rivals Arsenal thanks to Danny Rose's winner.
Spurs had been warned in the second minute when lone-striker Paloschi squared for the returning Gylfi Sigurdsson, who forced a brilliant save from Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. It was an uncharacteristically sloppy moment from the Premier League's best defence and another followed: Pochettino was visibly unhappy when Swansea were allowed to play a corner short, Angel Rangel played a one-two and his deflected shot fell to the unmarked Paloschi, who reacted quickest to half-volley past Lloris.
Thereafter it was one-way traffic but Spurs found Swansea goalkeeper Lukask Fabianski, formerly of Arsenal, in inspired form. Christian Eriksen scored two brilliant direct free kicks in Spurs' 2-2 draw at the Liberty Stadium in October, but Fabianski twice made brilliant saves to deny the Dane more of the same, the second requiring goal-line technology. He also saved from the masked Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Heung-min Son.
A lesser team might have got frustrated, lost their heads, but Spurs kept plugging away and for the fourth time in their last six league matches, a sub made the difference, Chadli converting seven minutes after replacing Erik Lamela. From there, it felt inevitable that Spurs would find a winner and Rose provided by drilling the ball through a crowd of players and under Fabianski from 17 yards.
The roar at the final whistle showed Spurs fans know how significant this win may prove. Pochettino described this week as potentially pivotal in the title race and with a trip to West Ham on Wednesday before Arsenal's visit on Sunday, it was vital Spurs won this match.
2. A tale of two goalkeepers
Spurs fully deserved their victory but Fabianski did not deserve to be on the losing side, so impressive was the Pole's performance. Spurs lacked acuteness and ruthlessness in the final third, but the former Arsenal man was undoubtedly the main reason it took so long to break the visitors down.
Fabianski saved well from Eriksen, Kane and Son in the first half but his one-handed block from Dier's point-blank effort was the best of the lot. After the break, he clawed Eriksen's free kick out of the near post, with replays showing only half the ball had crossed the line. Fabianski also managed his area well, assertively claiming and punching a number of crosses.
In the end, the goalkeeper was perhaps at fault for Rose's winner, a low drive which fizzled past a number of players and under the despairing Fabianski. But it would be unfair to blame him, when his view was obscured by two defenders.
Fabianski was not the only goalkeeper on inspired form, however, and this victory was as much down to Lloris as any other Spurs player. The Frenchman made two world-class stops to deny Sigurdsson after two minutes and Paloschi shortly after Rose's goal.
3. Swansea naive after the break
After a positive start, Swansea have now lost back-to-back games under Francesco Guidolin, and the manner of this defeat will worry the Italian head coach. Guidolin will point to the fact that Spurs are title-challengers but Swansea did not help themselves and their second half performance was naive.
Swansea dropped deeper and deeper as the half progressed, inviting Spurs pressure, and shortly before Chadli's equaliser, the hosts' swarming attacks resembled a siege, with Guidolin's men camped on the edge of their box, relying on Fabianski and hopeful punts toward lone-striker Paloschi.
Guidolin was not blameless. He sacrificed Wayne Routledge for Ki Seung-Young -- facing his compatriot and friend Son -- and lined-up with three holding midfield players in the South Korean, Leon Britton and Jack Cork. It played into Spurs' hands. In the absence of Mousa Dembele, Eriksen dropped deep alongside Dier, with Alli remaining as the No .10, and the Dane was given the freedom to dictate the tempo and launch attack after attack. Another attacking player in Swansea's midfield would have forced either Alli or Eriksen back alongside Dier, and limited their effectiveness in the final third.
If this game underlined Spurs title credentials, it also confirmed Swansea's as relegation fodder.