After making nine changes and seeing one of only two shots at silverware this season go up in smoke at Fulham, Spurs and Ange Postecoglou needed a result at Burnley to prevent early-season optimism ebbing away entirely before the international break.
What we’ve learned – emphatically – this week is that Spurs’ second string players aren’t good enough but that their first XI has an intoxicating and deeply fragile brilliance that makes them the league’s most compelling team of the season so far.
They now have 11 goals in four games and, before Son Heung-min added his second and third goals in quick second-half succession to put the result beyond all doubt, the only player to have scored more than once for Spurs was Cristian Romero.
Spurs sold their greatest ever striker and didn’t properly replace him. The argument from the club – indeed, the only argument they could possibly make in that situation – was that Angeball simply doesn’t need a striker in the traditional sense.
So far, so good. Will it last? Who knows, but that’s part of the fun.
Spurs’ transfer window was a curious mix of the very good and the borderline negligent, which seems pretty fitting because so much of their football follows the exact same formula.
They have almost no depth whatsoever in some alarmingly important positions – most notably at centre-back where any time they have to dip below Romero and Micky van de Ven is going to cause fans conniptions – but they do have a breathtakingly good midfield.
Pape Sarr and Yves Bissouma have made a mockery of Antonio Conte’s assessment of their qualities, James Maddison is already the team’s best and most important player, while they have assorted exciting and above all different options in the wide areas. They have Dejan Kulusevski’s technical mastery and vision. Ivan Perisic’s crossing. Manor Solomon’s semi-controlled chaos. Soon, Brennan Johnson’s pace.
What they don’t have anymore as an option in those wide areas, though, is Son. He’s playing through the middle now, and that will be that. It wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering suggestion even before today. In those seasons where Harry Kane would reliably get ankle injuries for two months in the new year, it was always Son who would shuttle across from wide to replace him rather than whichever inadequate nominal number nine was currently occupying the bench.
To Vincent Janssen, Carlos Vinicius and so many other poor souls we can now surely add the name of Richarlison.
Poor sod. Back to the bench for you, mate. Don’t worry: there’s another cup game along in four months’ time. Might get a start there.
At least Richarlison offers genuine cover in those wide forward areas too, but you do have to slightly feel for him. He has struggled terribly despite the quality of Spurs’ all-round attacking football in the opening weeks of the season and now had to watch Son pull Burnley apart with a hat-trick of supreme quality.
There is a warning from history with Son. It was around this time last season that he scored an apparently floodgate-opening hat-trick against Leicester to end a barren run. He didn’t score another league goal until January.
But that was a different Son and more importantly a different Spurs. Two of the goals against Leicester almost a year ago were long-range specials. He won’t have to rely on those kind of efforts going in to net plenty in this team. He’s a better footballer, a better forward and above all a better finisher than Richarlison, and has to be the man getting on the end of the bulk of the great many chances Spurs now create.
And they really are going to have to score plenty of goals from the great many chances they create, because they are going to concede loads. We’re pretty confident that there is nothing flash-in-the-pan about Spurs’ attacking football so far this season. This is what they are and what they do now. They are going to score a lot of goals.
But those back-to-back clean sheets against Manchester United and Bournemouth; those may well be more deceptive. Even here, in a game in which they were outmatched and outgunned, Burnley managed 16 attempts on goal and scored the game’s first and last goals.
The opening goal in particular is one that will become familiar to Spurs fans: possession lost high up the pitch, and a swift counter-attack in behind an aggressive high line.
The rest of this match showed that the reward of such tactics will more often than not outweigh the risk, but the risk is inherent and there will be days when things don’t all work out for the best.
It is, though, going to be enormous fun finding out just how far this Spurs side can go with these tactics in a season where only Manchester City appear to be devoid of obvious significant flaws.
As for Burnley, their season might not be quite such fun. They remain without a point having watched Sheffield United and Everton each collect their first earlier in the day. It can so often be tough for a footballing side to get promoted, because they just aren’t used to seeing so much less of the ball once they step up in class. Add a rookie manager to that and it could go wrong.
It must also be said, though, that the postponement of their scheduled week two game at Luton through no fault of their own casts a long and unfair shadow over a season that has instead started with defeats against Man City, Aston Villa and now Spurs.
Burnley will not be the only team to lose those games, and they won’t be the only ones thoroughly undone by Angeball and its new focal point.
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