Tottenham Hotspur vs. Swansea City: 6 Things We Learned
Two victories, both 1-0 wins coming from two penalty kicks taken by Roberto Soldado. On appearances, Tottenham Hotspur's win over Swansea City was not a whole lot different to their season opener against Crystal Palace.
The result fails to tell the whole story of a side that, while still a work in progress, looked an even more confident prospect in Week 2.
Spurs now head into next weekend's visit to Arsenal looking to build on their fine beginnings.
Their opponents, Swansea, are enduring a more frustrating start to their season. Despite the disappointment of remaining winless in the league, they were at least more solid than in last week's 4-1 defeat to Manchester United.
What will Spurs and Swansea take from their meeting Sunday?
Uncertainty over Spurs' Formation, but Players Are Making It Work
Discussion about Tottenham's formation has mainly centered around 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. Against Swansea, Villas-Boas had them set up in a system that more closely resembled a 4-1-4-1 or 4-5-1.
Football's fluid nature makes such things a matter of semantics really. Depending on the nature of a match, parts of a team can look different depending on the work they are having to do.
Andre Villas-Boas is still experimenting with how he wants to use his players. Given the likelihood the club's transfer dealings are not yet over, there remains a degree of uncertainty about how Spurs will look. For the time being, though, the manager will be pleased at how strong his squad is looking.
Over the course of Spurs' opening three games, Villas-Boas has called upon 19 of his players. He will not feel he has been let down by any of them, with performances ranging from commendable efforts to star showings.
Early days these may be, but after their slow start to last season, Spurs' bright beginning this time around is most welcome for them.
Spurs Are Still Searching for the Best Way to Involve Soldado
One area Tottenham do need to work on is ensuring a steady supply line to Roberto Soldado.
It would be harsh to say Spurs have a major issue creating chances, for the Spaniard or otherwise. He was the goalscoring beneficiary of two fine assists midweek in the 5-0 win versus Dinamo Tbilisi, while in their league games they have had 36 shots on goal (a less impressive seven of which have been on target).
A decent amount of these were long-range efforts. As Spurs are looking like they'll be without Gareth Bale's explosive contributions from outside the box, they will need others trying their luck when good opportunities arise.
For a side who became as reliant as they did on Bale, sharing the wealth will be a good thing for Spurs. Nevertheless, with a finisher like Soldado among their ranks, more needs to be done to give him chances to score.
Against Swansea, he was isolated for large parts of the game, with Paulinho's surges from midfield, his main (but infrequent) point of contact in central positions. When Spurs attacked from out wide and managed to cross, he was allowed little space by the Swans defense.
Villas-Boas' experiments with formation have meant Spurs are still working to find the method that most successfully bridges fine work in midfield with chances in the final third.
They have done enough so far, winning the penalties that have led to Soldado's goals. Deciding on the players who can help bring the best out of the Spain international on a consistent basis is one of the big decisions Villas-Boas faces over the coming weeks.
Spurs' Strength and Skill in Midfield Bodes Well
Spurs' strength and skill in midfield was even more pronounced against Swansea than it was versus Palace. The influential Paulinho was eye-catching once again. His control and ability to maneuver himself out of tight spots was a delight, but it was often just as functional as it was entertaining.
The Brazilian operated in a more advanced role than Etienne Capoue in particular. But they, along with Mousa Dembele, combined well in closing in on their Swansea counterparts, stifling their attempts to play. Capoue excelled here. His effectiveness making tackles—in their timing and robustness—will quickly be endearing him to Spurs supporters. He too was composed on the ball.
These new additions have come in to enforce a central midfield that is looking in great condition right now.
Dembele was comparatively quiet, but we know what the dynamic Belgian is capable of. Sandro came on to play a calming role in seeing the match out, a small but timely reminder of the presence the charismatic Brazilian brings to the team.
On paper, the prospect of these players coming up against an Arsenal midfield featuring Jack Wilshere and an in-form Aaron Ramsey next week is an exciting one. The combination Villas-Boas chooses to field against them will likely be less familiar with each other, ensuring a hard afternoon's work lies ahead in nullifying Arsene Wenger's revitalised players.
Still, the quality is there in the Spurs midfield to give anyone in the Premier League a tough game too.
Vorm and Lloris Remain Vital to the Health of Their Sides
Hugo Lloris was in fine form for Tottenham again, while his Swansea counterpart, Michel Vorm, was equally impressive. Both have already proven they are top-quality Premier League goalkeepers. At this early stage in both clubs' respective seasons, it will be reassuring to see they are ready to become important players once again.
Swansea will hope the 4-1 loss to Man United was a defensive aberration. Regardless of the improvements they will seek to make at the back, Vorm is still important to them. Despite their successful 2012-13 campaign, the Swans remain a side that could struggle if one of their key components loses form or is missing.
Gerhard Tremmel showed himself to be a capable deputy for Vorm, so the team is strong there. But the commanding Dutchman is especially vital as a fail-safe when things might go wrong elsewhere. Spurs are not so reliant on Lloris in that respect. Nonetheless, they are a stronger side for his presence.
Already this season Lloris has reiterated his qualities as a sweeper and shot-stopper. Both he and Vorm will have played a large part in any success Spurs or Swansea might have this season.
Swansea Still Unsure of This Season's Attacking Identity
Wilfried Bony has yet to start for Swansea in the Premier League. The Ivorian striker had a mixed experience against Manchester United, missing a couple of good chances, but managing to score one.
He was not presented such opportunities against Tottenham, but worked hard to put himself about and unsettle their defense. He did that reasonably well, and his introduction coincided with a period that saw Swansea begin to apply more pressure to Spurs.
Despite creating a handful of good chances, they never looked consistently threatening.
The identity of Swansea's attack is still in large part what it was last season—the powerful Michu surrounded by an array of quick and skillful performers.
It worked well, and you imagine it might again (it has already in their Europa League outings). It is clear though that Michael Laudrup is still searching for the best way to incorporate Bony while retaining the best of what worked last time.
Spurs Have a Big Chance to Get an Early Advantage on Arsenal
The winner of next weekend's match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal will not decide who is going to be the superior team in North London this season. Even at this early stage, though, a win would be big from Tottenham's point of view.
Confidence is building around the White Hart Lane club. With all the new additions that have come in, however, they are comparatively an unknown quantity as to how good they might be.
Despite the now annual unrest that surrounds Arsenal's prospects, they remain a quality football side. Time and time again they have proved their superiority over their neighbours. Seizing an early advantage in the race for a top-four place would be a big boost for Villas-Boas and his team as they look to prove themselves the real deal.
One that would do wonders for their overall morale and belief. Especially as a failure to do so could mean Arsenal getting the same boost for their own cause.