Liverpool’s duel 1-0 wins to start the season have inspired some confusion. Yes, it’s a perfect start, for which Brendan Rodgers and his team deserve credit, but what have we learned about the Reds? After a late penalty kick save salvaged a result against Stoke City and more Simon Mignolet heroics preserved a result against Villa, there’s enough for both skeptics and believers. Perfect records are better than perfect performances, one camp would hold, while their adversaries can point to the underlying form and level of competition.
The same can be said for Tottenham, who (like Liverpool) have been the best side in each of their 1-0 wins. But they are still just one-goal results over teams they were expected to beat, and where Liverpool doubters can point to the Reds’ dependence on Mignolet to preserve results, Spurs have yet to score from open play. Second half penalty kicks from Roberto Soldado have been the difference against both Crystal Palace and Swansea City.
The encouraging part for Spurs: A relatively new group improved week-over-week. None of Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Andros Townsend, or Danny Rose (all starters on Sunday) were regulars with Spurs last season. Obviously, this is going to take some time, and with Spurs having acquired an enviable amount of talent, opponents are more likely to stand back, let them figure it out, and not risk gifting them chances. The extent to which Spurs can navigate this coming up period while still collecting points could decide their Champions League-qualifying fate.
Last week, Spurs scarcely created anything on their own. They dictated play, dominating possession to the tune of 61 percent, but the cohesion in the final third just wasn’t there. If they didn’t get their penalty at Selhurst Park, their match with Crystal Palace could have ended deadlocked.
Today was different. Spurs were creating chances early. If it wasn’t for Michel Vorm, Tottenham would have opened their account in the first half, though with both Paulinho’s 21st minute blast from 14 yards out (blocked then covered by Vorm) and Mousa Dembele’s attempted curler near the half-hour mark (tipped over), Spurs’ players could have been more clinical. Still, with Kyle Walker breaking down Swansea’s left side, Tottenham had established a reliable route toward goal. One way or another, they looked destined to break through.
It was telling, however, that it was the raw athleticism of Walker that generated Spurs’ best chances. His ability to blow by a defense, get to the byline, and cut the ball back presented the kind of direct threat Spurs seem to be missing from their attacking three. Chadli’s generated chances, Soldado’s presented a consistent danger, while both Townsend (drawing the penalty) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (maintaining possession) have done their parts. But in order to maximize those parts, Spurs need somebody like a Walker or an Aaron Lennon (injured on Sunday) — or potentially more consistently aggressive Chadli or Townsend — to crack a defense.
Put another way, they missed Gareth Bale. They missed that consistent out he provides – the ability to provide that direct option that can cut through not only an opponent’s setup but any kind of tendency his teammates may have to equate control with results. They missed his ability to get a ball and take on a man or shun the simple pass to provide the little something extra it takes to make a chance dangerous. They missed his willingness to try.
Obviously, replacing the to-be-Madridista is impossible, but Spurs don’t need to. They need to replace the type of player he is, something that may make acquiring Roma’s Erik Lamela even more important. Tellingly, the young Argentine wasn’t in Rudi Garcia’s XI when Roma travelled to Livorno, hinting a move may be imminent. Be it him, an increased dependency on the likes of Walker, Lennon or perhaps Chadli, or buying another player, Spurs need to replace Bale’s tendencies.
There’s plenty of time to do so, and the good news: While they’re working out their kinks, they’ve taken six points. But particularly with Paulinho’s early chance, you can see the danger a different threat would pose. With Soldado occupying a defense, there should be room for somebody like Paulinho — somebody who can trail and convert more efficiently than Spurs’ other midfielders — to pile on the goals.