From Villa Park – Some scripts write themselves, some narratives fall into your lap, but ultimately there was little luck about what happened at Villa Park on Sunday.
A deflected Harry Kane free-kick gave Tottenham a late 2-1 win at Aston Villa in 2014, and Mauricio Pochettino admitted that it kept him in the job. From there, he was able to build his legacy in north London.
Spurs were able to find another late winner today, and it felt like one more turning point in José Mourinho’s tenure, finally providing a performance befitting of what Tottenham have historically been – a good kind of exciting in attack, a bad kind of exciting in defence.
Yes sir, from the club that brought you DESK (Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane) comes Mourinho’s meddling and mazing SLAB (Son, Lucas, Alli, Bergwijn).
It’s not how the day started, however. Villa came racing out of the blocks, penning Spurs back from the off and not allowing them room to breathe. Mbwana Samatta forced an own goal out of Toby Alderweireld, while Jack Grealish was typically running the show for the hosts, but they were unable to find a second.
Nine of Villa’s starters had arrived in the summer or in January, yet they were the ones who looked like a drilled and cohesive unit, contrasted with the Spurs side who looked like strangers after several seasons together.
Alderweireld made amends for his mistake by firing one into the correct goal soon after; Spurs were level and found a foothold when one didn’t look like coming for them.
It was the shot in the arm they desperately needed to avoid being cut adrift, and the game opened up in the relative absence of midfields – terriers Harry Winks and Douglas Luiz looked tidy, but Eric Dier and Danny Drinkwater respectively failed to support them.
The tempo ramped up and Spurs were clicking in the final third. All of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min made chances for themselves before the South Korean levelled on the verge of half-time.
Spurs’ pursuit of a target man in the January transfer window was well documented, and for much of their time on the pitch without Harry Kane that looked vindicated, but this was the first time the front four were in tandem.
Many of Mourinho’s doubters and detractors pointed to his inability to coach attacking phases as the 2010s closed out, but their attacking quadrant were finally finding joy together, playing a tune that Villa couldn’t handle.
The defence and midfield still had their usual issues – though Mourinho seemingly had one eye on their Champions League fixture with RB Leipzig by resting Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombélé – but there were clear positives going forward, a sense of a plan but also one of trust that four live-wires and flair players could work together.
Where the Manchester City win was born out of clinical finishing, it was refreshing to see Spurs produce such volume in attack.