Even if it was against the most accommodating opposition imaginable, if this is how Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur will play, they could be a very good side. As a statement of intent, and a promise for the future, yesterday could not have gone much better for Spurs’ new head coach.
This was Pochettino’s third game in charge of Tottenham but his first at home, and the White Hart Lane crowd was treated to a performance of very watchable attacking football, against a side without the capacity or obvious desire to stop them. Spurs played with real hunger and power and would surely have beaten far better teams than Harry Redknapp’s bedraggled Queen’s Park Rangers.
Pochettino is trying to instil his philosophy and style in the Tottenham squad and on this evidence they are learning quickly. They played as Pochettino’s Southampton did: pressing high up the pitch and counter-attacking quickly and ruthlessly. Tottenham’s pre-season was intense, full of double sessions, as Pochettino and his staff tried to make the squad fit enough to play his football. It was the physical, rather than technical, edge they had over Rangers that stood out most.
This felt like a different Spurs team from last season, even though it contained just one summer signing in right-back Eric Dier. No player was more obviously changed than Erik Lamela, the outstanding performer, who set up two goals and took the game to QPR throughout. Last season, hampered by injuries, Lamela looked slightly lost in the pace of the English game but now he was far quicker, stronger and sharper.
He set the tone for the whole afternoon when, in the first minute, he stole the ball from Armand Traore, exchanged passes with Emmanuel Adebayor and had a shot deflected wide. That might have surprised some Spurs fans but 10 minutes later he did it again, this time robbing Richard Dunne and starting a move which ended with Adebayor heading Nabil Bentaleb’s cross just wide.
The intent was clear and Rangers did not look strong enough to cope. Two minutes later, Spurs were ahead. Nacer Chadli and Bentaleb combined to win the ball in the centre circle; Bentaleb passed to Adebayor, who took the ball forward, while Bentaleb, Chadli and Lamela sprinted into the box. Adebayor floated a cross to the far post, where Chadli met it, controlled it, and lifted it into the net.
It was not just the attacking players who were taking responsibility. Soon after the goal, Jan Vertonghen won a tackle, stormed forward and angled a perfect pass to Adebayor, whose shot was weak and straight at Rob Green.
Christian Eriksen hit a 30-yard free-kick against the underside of the bar and, though Spurs went through a brief dip in the middle of the first half, they ended it with two goals to kill the game.
Dier headed in his second Tottenham goal, charging away from Leroy Fer at the near post to meet Lamela’s inswinging corner, showing more power and desire than most of the QPR defence could summon all afternoon.
Any doubt over the result was eliminated seven minutes later. Lamela picked up the ball in the middle, spun away from Dunne and darted past Mauricio Isla. He clipped a cross to the far post and there was Chadli again, scoring his second with a simple header.
Redknapp’s 3-5-2 system simply had not worked and Rangers came out for the second half in a more conventional 4-5-1, replacing Dunne with Nedum Onuoha. It helped to slow Tottenham down, although they did not approach the second half with anything like their early intensity anyway, for the simple reason that they had already won the game.
Eriksen went close twice and, 20 minutes after the restart, Spurs did score their fourth. Danny Rose passed forward to Chadli and sprinted beyond him, demanding the return pass. Chadli found him, Rose raced into the space and crossed low to Adebayor, for whom it was a simple finish.
That was the end of Tottenham’s attacking, with Bentaleb, Chadli and Adebayor all replaced to standing ovations in the second half.
Rangers started to grow into a game which they had already lost, and when Bobby Zamora came on for Matt Phillips with 16 minutes remaining they did at least finally have a presence up front. Zamora had one deflected shot saved by Hugo Lloris and then, with two minutes left, he was free at the far post but skied his shot over the bar.
By the end, the Spurs fans were affectionately mocking their former manager Redknapp, who cannot have taken any pleasure from the afternoon at all. His team were bad in all departments of the game and, good as Tottenham were, Rangers could hardly have made it any easier for them. Their three-man defence was torn to pieces, the wing-backs barely got forward, the midfield never got into the game and the front line carried no threat.
They had one good chance when it mattered, when they were still just 1-0 down. Joey Barton played a perfect long ball to Phillips, who took it down brilliantly, skipped away from Younes Kaboul but tried to chip Lloris, from close range, and lifted his effort far over the bar. In a game like this, Phillips needed to score – although Tottenham would still have won if he had.
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