Christian Eriksen, defence shine for Tottenham vs. Swansea
If these are the kinds of matches that define a team, then Spurs are very much in contention for the Premier League title. It's not hard to win matches when your silky touches are all coming off and you've raced into a 2-0 lead by the interval. Sometimes you have to win tough, win ugly. On Sunday, Spurs managed to do just that. Even better, they didn't need to get too ugly.
League games following a Thursday night Europa League tie are often when Spurs are at their most vulnerable. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So it was on Sunday for the first 20 minutes, as manager Mauricio Pochettino's men began the game playing at three-quarter pace; as if winning was merely a formality; a matter of time. The home team had a wake-up call on five minutes when Kevin Wimmer spent more time tracking the linesman for an offside call rather than following the ball. It took a world-class save from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to deny Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The warning went unheeded and Swansea took the lead from a corner. A combination of poor marking and unlucky pin-ball saw Alberto Paloschi score his first goal for the visitors. Only then did Spurs began to find their mojo and realise that there was a game to be won. As so often on these occasions, the visiting goalkeeper played out of his skin. Time and again in the first half, Lukasz Fabianski made crucial interventions, the best of the lot coming just seconds before the interval when he got a hand to a point blank short from Eric Dier.
The second half continued where the first left off and it looked like it was going to be one of those days when Spurs did everything but score. Then a corner was palmed out to Kyle Walker: the fullback's shot turned out to be the perfect pass with Nacer Chadli cleverly opening up his body to turn the ball in. Within seven minutes Spurs had found the winner from another corner that wasn't properly cleared. The ball fell to Danny Rose whose aim was true. The three points were Spurs'. It hadn't been easy. In fact, it had been a lot harder than it ought to have been. But the victory was all the sweeter for it.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Hugo Lloris, 8 -- Two outstanding saves at either end of the game. Otherwise a quiet afternoon. The best goalkeeper in the Premier League by some distance.
DF Kyle Walker, 8 -- Walker will almost certainly claim he intended to square the ball to Chadli for Spur's equalizer, but it looked like a shot. No matter, an assist is an assist. Other than that he was steady in defence without being penetrative going forward.
DF Toby Alderweireld, 8 -- As rock-solid as has been throughout the season. He plays with strength and intelligence; one of the best readers of the game in the Spurs' lineup.
DF Kevin Wimmer, 7 -- The Austrian defender looked a little off the pace in the opening exchanges and almost gifted Swansea a goal in the first five minutes by appealing for an offside that wasn't rather than chasing down the ball. That was all the wake-up call he needed.
DF Danny Rose, 8 -- The full-back doesn't score that many goals, but when he does they certainly count. Went close in the 70th minute when his long-range effort was tipped over but found the corner of the net following a corner seven minutes later. Defensively strong.
MF Eric Dier, 8 -- Dier went about his work as always; quiet, unsung but extremely effectively. His performances playing just ahead of the centre-backs have been key to Spurs' success.
MF Erik Lamela, 6 -- Went close early on and was tenacious in defence as usual. But his attacking skills still leave a great deal to be desired. When there is a key decision to be made it's 50-50 that he takes the wrong one.
MF Dele Alli, 7 -- Even when not at his best, the young midfielder gives Spurs an edge that they have lacked in previous seasons. Wasn't allowed much time on the ball and too often went for the glory pass rather than the safe and obvious one; great when it comes off, but frustrating when it doesn't. Managed to get through a game without a booking, which is always good news.
MF Christian Eriksen, 8 -- His best game in some time. Went looking for the ball -- both in defence and attack -- right from the off and remained involved for the entire 90 minutes. Had one free-kick brilliantly saved by Fabianski. His performance deserved a goal.
MF Heung-Min Son, 6 -- Despite a couple of nice touches, the South Korean failed to make a significant impact on the game. It's as if he can't make up his mind if he's a striker or a midfielder. Spurs looked a much better balanced unit when Ryan Mason replaced him.
FW Harry Kane, 6 -- Playing in a mask to protect a broken nose has to be distracting and Kane looked far from at his best. Although he had a couple of god shots and took up some neat positions, too often he made the wrong call -- either delaying passes or playing them to the wrong man.
MF Nacer Chadli, 7 -- Came on to replace Lamela in the 60th minute and within 10 minutes had side footed home the equaliser. As well as his strength and guile, there is a directness to his play that unsettles opponents.
MF Ryan Mason, NR -- A solid presence in the midfield, Mason is now back to something like his best before he got injured.
MF Josh Onomah, NR -- Late substitute for Kane. Little chance to make an impact but helped run down the clock.
John Crace is a columnist and feature writer for The Guardian. He is also a THFC season-ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.