White Hart Lane has entered what will surely soon be officially the post-Gareth Bale era; a new era in which those old certainties can no longer be relied upon. He is no longer around to score the crucial last-minute winning goals. No longer will the visiting full-backs leave the stadium quite so traumatised. Yet, two games in and not a single point has been dropped by Tottenham Hotspur.
In those spurious early season league tables, Spurs are joint second largely thanks to two Roberto Soldado penalties, the second of which was enough to beat Swansea yesterday. Andre Villas-Boas’ team went all 38 games last season without being awarded a single penalty and they have had two already in two games as the new team that is being built here adapts to what is being asked of it.
Bale still casts a long shadow, as he waits on a Marbella beach for a final agreement on his transfer to Real Madrid. Asked about the situation yesterday, Andre Villas-Boas was sticking manfully to the party-line that there was “interest” from Real Madrid and that this was not a done deal. Although by now everyone knows that it is simply a question of when rather than if.
“It’s very, very difficult to help you on this situation,” he said. “There’s interest from Real Madrid ... I’m not sure if the transfer will happen or not. Hopefully I will have more answers in a couple of days.” Might he stay? “There’s always the possibility,” said Villas-Boas, although not even he looked convinced of that.
A naturally serious man, Villas-Boas struggles with these impossible situations that arise periodically in football when a manager feels he has no option but to dodge the question. He was similarly uptight on the subject of losing out to Chelsea on Willian. “The answer I want to tell you is final,” he said, “Willian had made a choice and joined Chelsea. The only thing I can do is wish him ‘Good luck’. He is a person I have a good relation with. He made a choice he feels is important for his career.”
In fact it was only when the subject moved on to Spurs’ move for the Steaua Bucharest defender Vlad Chiriches, a Romania international, that Villas-Boas made the admirable decision to break the tension with a joke. “There is an interest in the player,” he said, “unless someone steals him too.” Boom-tish. Bravo, Andre, let’s have more of that.
Villas-Boas picked a team with six players who were not at the club last season – four new signings and two recalled from loan – and of all of them it was one of the Englishmen who stood out. Andros Townsend won the penalty that decided the game, a very soft decision from referee Neil Swarbrick. In spite of all that, the winger generally looked the liveliest, most dangerous attacker in Spurs’ side.
Villas-Boas said that Townsend had “brought light and spark” to the game and he was right. The winger deserved to be awarded a penalty in the first half when he was the subject of a clumsy challenge from Jonjo Shelvey on the right side of the area. Swarbrick mistakenly thought that was outside the box and gave a free-kick.
In the 57th minute it was Townsend who, having gone past Ben Davies, ran into Shelvey and this time the referee looked kindly on him. Soldado scored from the penalty spot and gave Spurs a lead that they never surrendered.
The diplomat to the very end, Michael Laudrup, did not come into his post-match press raging against the officials. Instead he accepted that “a free-kick was given outside that should maybe have been a penalty and then a penalty in the second half that shouldn’t have been a penalty.” “I don’t know if it is frustrating or not,” he said, “you have to accept it’s like that.”
His team had chances too, in particular a volley from Chico Flores that the excellent Hugo Lloris saved. For long periods of the game Laudrup’s players kept Spurs at bay, in spite of the many attacking options the home team have, although Swansea lacked, their manager admitted, “that run from deep” that would put pressure on their opponents. He wants to sign one more forward, most likely Peter Odemwingie, before the window closes.
For Spurs, there was a first start for Etienne Capoue as one of the midfielders in front of the defence and he looked perfectly capable at this level of Premier League game. On the left side was Nacer Chadli, starting his second league game who is a significant physical presence, if a little raw.
Of all the new players at Spurs it is Paulinho and Soldado, by far the most experienced of that group, who have had the biggest impact. Soldado did little more than score yesterday but his composure from the penalty spot has been crucial for Spurs so far.
As for Bale, there was no mention of him by name afterwards from Villas-Boas, nor footage on the screens. There was, however, an appearance on the pitch at half-time by Glenn Hoddle who recalled his last game for Spurs and the emotional farewell in 1987. Sadly for Bale, he will never get to say goodbye.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris 8; Walker 6, Dawson 6, Vertonghen 6, Rose 6; Dembele 6 (Sigurdsson 5, 63), Capoue 6; Townsend 7 (Sandro, 87), Paulinho 7, Chadli 5; Soldado 6 (Defoe, 80).
Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Kaboul, Naughton, Carroll.
Swansea (4-1-4-1): Vorm 7; Rangel 6, Flores 6, Williams 5, Davies 5; Canas 6; Hernandez 5, De Guzman 5, Shelvey 4 (Bony, 5); Routledge 6 (Pozuelo 6, 58); Michu 6.
Substitutes not used: Tremmel (gk), Amat, Britton, Lamah, Richards.
Booked: Swansea Davies, Vorm, Williams, Michu Tottenham Soldado