Playing Tottenham these days is a tough enough business: this was their seventh league win in a row (the first time they’ve achieved that in 50 years), a club record 12th home win in a row and they’ve only lost once in the league since December. Bournemouth didn’t help themselves by more or less conceding the game within the first 20 minutes; some careless early errors meant that this one was all over before it properly started.
The final score was 4-0, but frankly it could — and should — have been more. Mousa Dembele’s first goal of the season got things started before Son Heung-min doubled the lead. Harry Kane, back in the starting lineup after his rapid recovery from injury, got a third not long after the break and Vincent Janssen got his first league goal from open play for Spurs in stoppage time.
Bournemouth didn’t manage a shot on target until the 73rd minute: if there was a mercy rule in football, it would have been invoked not long after half-time.
Spurs were ahead in the 16th minute and it was a surprise that Eddie Howe merely raised a frustrated eyebrow afterwards given how easy it was from a Bournemouth point of view. A corner was swung over from the left and Dembele found himself with enough time to take a touch, then force the ball home on the edge of the 6-yard box. He could probably have taken another touch if he wanted to, so laissez-faire was the Cherries’ defending.
A few minutes later it was 2-0 and in delightful circumstances for the home crowd. Jack Wilshere, towards whom those inside White Hart Lane had been directing their spiciest insults, gave the ball away in midfield. Heung-min gathered it and then breezed past the hulking Steve Cook, as if he was a spindly middle-distance runner rather than a meaty centre-half, before slotting home. By that stage the game looked won and Spurs had been asked to do little more than take advantage of a couple of errors.
The doubly frustrating thing for Howe was that Bournemouth played well for the next phase of the match, arguably even dominating for a short time. It would have been more useful if they hadn’t basically forfeited the game by that point, of course.
That spell didn’t last too long as Spurs controlled the rest of the half. Christian Eriksen went close on a couple of occasions — one effort a thunderous half-volley that went just over — while Heung-min shot straight at the keeper. Bournemouth jabbed away but could barely get past the Spurs midfield, never mind their defence.
Bournemouth were out early for the second half, perhaps fired with enthusiasm from a stirring half-time team talk. But any vigour Howe might have stirred within his team was immediately swept away as Kane made it 3-0 a couple of minutes after the break. The returning centre-forward initially looked like he had miscontrolled with his back to goal but ultimately, he recovered brilliantly, manufacturing some space in the area and shooting low into the net.
The remainder of the match essentially represented a damage-limitation exercise for both teams: Bournemouth did their best to keep the score down while Spurs attempted to preserve their key men, both for next weekend’s FA Cup semifinal and for the rest of the league season. Arguably the biggest cheer of the afternoon when, with virtually the last kick of the game, Janssen forced a minor goalmouth scramble into the net at the second attempt.
Upon his return to the starting lineup, Harry Kane played well, scoring a goal and perhaps as much as anything providing a reassuring presence at the point of Tottenham’s attack. Everyone at White Hart Lane just seems to feel a bit more relaxed when he’s there, like a sort of safety blanket but one that has now scored 25 goals in all competitions, despite missing just over two months of the season with a couple of injuries.
That said, Tottenham would still have won this one if Kane had spent 90 minutes sitting in the centre circle doing a Rubik’s Cube. Heung-min’s goal was his 19th of the season: he’s one of four players to reach double figures for the campaign. Even Dembele got in on the fun, grabbing his first of the season, and perhaps this will represent the first of many for Janssen. Well, maybe.
Kane has missed nine league games this season but Tottenham didn’t lose any of them. One of the reasons for their ability to cope without their best centre-forward is that Spurs are a multiheaded attacking beast, providing threats from all parts.
If you keep an eye on Kane, there’s Dele Alli to deal with. If Alli has a quiet afternoon, Heung-min’s there. Should Heung-min not fancy it, here’s Eriksen with a shot. All of which must make them a complete nightmare to defend against, but similarly, it also lessens the importance of their main striker and lightens the pressure on Kane to be the main source of goals.
Tottenham could still do with a little more strength in depth but the number of attacking options in their first-choice team is one of the reasons they’re such a formidable outfit.
Jack Wilshere joined Bournemouth on loan for a few reasons. He needed some regular football, obviously, but he also needed to prove he could keep himself broadly free of injury and make a significant impact on big games. He needed to show that he can play against the best: after all, Arsenal aren’t going to want him back in a hurry if he can’t.
With all of that in mind, Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane probably couldn’t have gone much worse for the midfielder. He was listless throughout and wasteful in possession: he attempted 29 passes in his time on the pitch, and 11 of them went awry. One of them led to Tottenham’s first goal and even though he was far from the only man to blame for Bournemouth’s limp performance, he might as well have stayed at home for this one.
When he went down with an innocuous-looking injury after 55 minutes, almost the entire home crowd laughed and cheered and crowed: not a great look for them, perhaps, but it was hardly surprising. This was Wilshere, a symbol of Arsenal, a man who was supposed to be the fulcrum of their midfield for years to come, displaying every one of his weaknesses and confirming the worst that people think of him as a player, and doing it in just under an hour of calamitous football.
Wilshere has actually been pretty good for Bournemouth this season, hasn’t been especially injury-prone and has displayed plenty of positives. Not from this game, though.
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