Tottenham 3-1 Bournemouth (Sarr 9′, Son 71′, Richarlison 80’| Scott 84′)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM — Roll up, roll up, get your good vibes here. As the stadium announcer declared pre-match, something special is happening at Tottenham Hotspur. Even Richarlison is scoring now, five in his past five games, albeit after a litany of miskicks, shanks and ugly pulls wide. Still, you can’t have everything.
Ange Postecoglou’s first half-season at Spurs hasn’t been defined by results or moments or individual brilliance, but by vibes, by a perceived freeing of the soul-fettering stasis the club have endured since Mauricio Pochettino left.
Of course, Spurs were the poorer side for much of this match. They conceded 24 shots with a central defensive partnership of Emerson Royal and Ben Davies. They withstood over 30 minutes with a barely functional midfield duo of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp, an anti-Ange axis if there ever was one. Brennan Johnson and Richarlison both spent large periods of the game acting as poor caricatures of themselves.
Yet somehow, they are now just one point behind an Arsenal side still being discussed as genuine title contenders and three points from the Premier League’s summit. If this is crisis, then it’s hard to fathom the halcyon potential of the days to come.
Perhaps the clearest embodiment of the transformative nature of the Postecoglou era is Giovani Lo Celso. He is only still a Spurs player because the right offer never came in. At 27, this is the same entity consigned to oblivion by Nuno Espirito Santo, Antonio Conte and Cristian Stellini.
Yet against Bournemouth, Lo Celso’s two assists were joined by two more key passes, 34 of 37 passes completed, 60 touches, nine ball recoveries and four fouls won. He has started four Premier League games under Postecoglou – his first league starts in over two years for Spurs – scoring two goals and creating two more.
How does this happen? How does a player seemingly running down his contract become next in line for a new one? The unfortunately predictable answer is Postecoglou. By creating a flexible tactical system on the pitch and providing clear instruction and support off it, Lo Celso can simply swap in and out, acting not just as a physical replacement for James Maddison, but as an adequate alternative.
Bournemouth can return to the south coast knowing they convincingly huffed and puffed and couldn’t quite blow Guglielmo Vicario down. They have still won seven of their past 10 games, beaten Manchester United and Newcastle and drawn with Aston Villa. Ryan Christie can justifiably claim to be the Inverness Iniesta, while Dominic Solanke had nine shots, yet couldn’t add to his nine goals in his previous eight games.
Yet Andoni Iraola’s side were subsumed by the sheer power of the cult of Angeball. Within the first 10 minutes, the miraculously fit Rodrigo Bentancur rushed a poor Neto goal kick, providing Pape Matar Sarr with the requisite space and time to stroll inside the penalty area and score. The Senegalese midfielder was then forced off with a hamstring injury after half-an-hour, adding to Tottenham’s epic poem of an injury list.
Bar a 25-yard Emerson Royal shot saved well, perhaps the purest example of good vibes, the first half petered out from here. Tottenham and Bournemouth made Tottenham and Bournemouth shapes, Tottenham and Bournemouth noises, made vertical passes and positive runs and final-third tackles as anticipated. Solanke hunted and harried without success. Justin Kluivert ran in directions of varying usefulness. An end-to-end game looked like it may never make it to either end.
LAFC-bound Hugo Lloris was paraded at half-time, already turtle-necked and trench-coated like a pundit of the future, graciously nodding and smiling, as clear a sign of the transition from old Spurs to new you could imagine.
In a second-half Bournemouth dominated, Son Heung-min and Richarlison both finished good moves well, before substitute Alex Scott rolled in a consolation after 84 minutes. Alejo Veliz came on, then came off again injured, with Postecoglou looking close to a touchline scrap trying to get him help. Scott had another goal disallowed in injury time, as the Cherries threatened to claim the result they had probably earned. All the chaotic signs of the Spurs we’re used to are still here.
Yet Spurs now do what they have so rarely done before – play poorly and win, beg, borrow and steal moments, find the necessary streaks of quality to produce the requisite results. Good vibes are filling the gaping gaps in their squad composition and performances. There is always a solution when Big Ange is around, mate. Even with Son now off to the Asian Cup and Sarr and Veliz both injured, something special is happening in Tottenham.