Tottenham Hotspur players celebrate their 3-1 win over Manchester City.
Had Manchester City been a little more on their own game after going up 1-0, Tottenham Hotspur might not have been in a position to earn three points on Sunday as they did. Instead, the North Londoners found their way back into the contest, and in a thrilling ten minutes, scored three times to win a game that may prove crucial to them finishing in the top four.
Andre Villas-Boas and his men will not be too concerned with the reasons for the soon to-be dethroned champions lack of endeavor in killing them off. Such good breaks are not to be contemplated why, but enjoyed for the assisting good fortune.
Spurs' season-long aim of earning a return to the Champions League was rescued with that second-half realization of the chance at hand. As uninspired as they were for an hour, the exciting last 30 minutes were a timely reminder of the virtues that have seen them in position to compete for and achieve such lofty ambitions.
Off the back of their recent travails and Arsenal's moving above them in the table, such a spirit-lifting win was certainly needed. Against strong opposition, Tottenham reinforced their credentials as a top-four contender.
Villas-Boas's team selection was partly responsible for the general malaise that plagued his side early on. Unable to account for the ease with which City waltzed into the penalty box for Samir Nasri's opener, the unsurprising lethargy and lack of imagination exhibited by his midfield and attack was more avoidable.
The trio of post-interval substitutions that revitalized Spurs' efforts saw the manager rectify this promptly and intelligently.
Villas-Boas' in-game decision making has varied from shrewd to non-existent. That he understood the need for changes in this situation was a positive sign of intent from a manager making his Premier League bow at this late stage.
Said alterations also emphasized the quality at his disposal, and its upside when utilized in such an effective manner. Gareth Bale's return was an undoubted and important boost, but there is talent besides the Welshman capable of helping Spurs finish the campaign on a high.
On his first start since scoring a brace for England against San Marino, Jermain Defoe showed he may well have found his goalscoring knack again.
The movement and finish for the goal that put Spurs ahead was like watching the striker of five or six months ago. For a player who lives to score, the sight of that ball in the back of the net again may have been all he needed to get over his form and fitness issues of the winter months.
Lewis Holtby's hunger for the ball was intoxicating, inciting signs of life amongst teammates who had previously been largely subdued.
The German sought involvement where others had hid from it, snapping at the heels of his City counterparts and constantly wanting the ball. It was that which led to him winning a tackle in the center-circle and then sending Defoe through for the striker's goal.
Alongside him in Tottenham's refashioned three-man midfield, Tom Huddlestone brought a class to their passing that capitalized on the game's changing circumstances. With Holtby and a re-energized Mousa Dembele applying greater pressure to Man City, Huddlestone was provided time and opportunity to instigate a more thoughtful approach from Spurs (for example his exquisite assist for Bale's goal).
Huddlestone's positive recent cameos have not only reiterated his individual value to the Tottenham cause, but have demonstrated their reliance on certain ways of playing should not be immune to variation.
So prominently have Spurs played through Dembele and Bale this season (often successfully), it is easy to forget they can still be used in lesser roles. Against Man City, both benefited from others relieving them of certain duties, releasing them to excel elsewhere (Bale's goal and his assist for Clint Dempsey was in part a product of his greater freedom stationed on the right).
Villas-Boas and his coaching staff will now be searching for ways to replicate the decisive urgency their side showed in the final half hour on a more consistent basis. The performances of Huddlestone and Holtby in particular (and the tactical restructuring their arrivals brought) have given the Portuguese plenty to think about in regards to the team he selects for Wigan Athletic next Saturday.
As big a win as Sunday's was, there are five challenging and varied tests remaining—the first of which being that trip to the relegation threatened Latics.
Spurs showed they wanted to beat Man City, and in doing so that they want to finish in the top-four and may have enough about them to do so. How much they want to be there ahead of other teams who will be striving to stop them, we will find out soon enough.