Three points is three points, no matter how you slice it. Tottenham will certainly not care a jot about how the goal that carried them past Crystal Palace came about. All that matters was that it came and that the defense, unlike at the start of last term, decided not to drop a lifeline to the opposition.
Of course, Spurs will have plenty of time to think about how things went at Selhurst Park. Come to think of it, they did a lot of thinking right in the middle of the match itself.
Tottenham’s pace of play seemed oddly out of sync on Sunday afternoon. There was an over-preponderance of, well, ponderous play that seemed to stifle much of the squad’s movement.
Did the fact that Palace sat back, instead of coming out gung-ho like most Ian Holloway squads would, throw a massive wrench into the game plan? Was there a team nap two hours before the match from which the squad had yet to wake? Were the players instinctively looking to pass to some Welsh guy, only to realize the only Welshmen on the field were Danny Gabbidon and Jonathan Williams?
Whatever the cause, Spurs were overly deliberate in their actions, and it showed. The squad was stuck on the wings for seemingly all of their major attacking moves, even though Palace had no answers when the play moved inside.
Palace captain Mile Jedinak—while surely a fine player—was made to look almost Nemanja Vidic-like in the middle of the park. Of course, considering that Tottenham’s attackers delayed their moves and passes so long, Jedinak could have quickly recited the full text of Crocodile Dundee in a studio and have been back in time to make stops.
Had Spurs been able to pass with a decent amount of speed, Palace likely would have been put to the sword. Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker repeatedly got in down the right, and even if their distribution was miserable at best, the goal did come from one of those runs.
On the other flank, Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose were not as direct to the end line but might have had the better play by drifting inside from time to time. Palace set up to push the ball to the flanks when they could and often looked susceptible when play moved into the middle of the park.
One would think that Tottenham would have tried to exploit that lack of certainty. They did not bother half the time.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is a good player but looks completely out of sorts when asked to be the fulcrum of the 4-2-3-1 Andre Villas-Boas uses. Sigurdsson is a drifter who has a good shot; here, he is isolated from the rest of the midfield and unable to find a place from which to be threatening.
It might come as no surprise then that reports from Darren Lewis of the Mirror and Sky Sports are indicating that Tottenham are in really hot pursuit of Willian, a player far more suited to the spot Sigurdsson currently occupies. Whether the Brazilian from Anzhi Makhachkala is the right player for Spurs is a debate for another day.
In any case, while the offense looked sluggish and lacking in direction, the defense was rarely tested until very late on. Aside from some jittery clearances, Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen looked pretty good in the opening match.
Having been a spectator for at least the first 70 minutes, Hugo Lloris showed off some good sweeping skills and pulled off a brilliant double stop to keep Palace from leveling. Also, he put in a slide tackle from which someone on the red half of North London could stand to learn something.
The deep midfield combo of Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and later Etienne Capoue was tidy. Paulinho looked like he’d been in the Premier League the last few years, while Capoue probably was wondering what all the fuss was about, slotting in with no troubles at all.
Roberto Soldado was clinical when called upon. Unfortunately, given Spurs’ lack of service, Soldado was deprived of anything resembling service for most of the match. One figures that a steady supply line will be coming soon, and at that point we’ll get a much better viewing of the Spaniard.
Fortunately, we can all look back on the proceedings with at least a smile as Tottenham started the campaign with three points in the bag. There are certainly a few things that need tweaking—perhaps changing the classical literature review time to Friday instead of Sunday—but it’s hard to argue when the club starts out three points better than they did last term.