Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Match Report

Tottenham Hotspur could not have asked for a less taxing afternoon than this. So poor and lacking in energy were Watford that it is tempting to wonder whether Mauricio Pochettino’s team will have a more comfortable Premier League assignment in 2017; they must surely have expected a tougher hurdle before Wednesday’s meeting with Chelsea but were able to play out the entire second half at testimonial pace while giving the impression that the score could be augmented at will.
That is not to deny them credit for a performance that convinced throughout and had moments of coruscating brilliance. Harry Kane and Dele Alli, who scored twice each, were both exceptional and two assists for Kieran Trippier provided a reminder that the squad has depth in one of its most important positions. Tottenham have ticked off two tricky-looking lesser assignments in style over the past week and will now look for a statement win against the leaders.
Watford’s mascot, Harry the Hornet, opted not to build the kind of diving routine that had so enraged Sam Allardyce on Boxing Day into his pre-match choreography. He could probably have blamed any tumble on the surface; this was a sodden, brooding start to 2017 in Hertfordshire and it began gloomily for the midfielder Camilo Zúñiga, whose injury in the warm-up pushed an already-stretched squad to the limit and necessitated a late summons for Odion Ighalo.
Accordingly Watford, now missing nine players, began as disjointedly as they would continue. It looked an act of generosity for the referee, Michael Oliver, not to award Tottenham an 11th-minute penalty when Christian Eriksen’s shot from a Danny Rose cutback was clearly blocked by the outstretched arm of Étienne Capoue. The ball had been struck at close quarters but that was not really to excuse the method of intervention.
It quickly became clear that Tottenham’s frustration was unlikely to linger. Watford could not retain the ball; their opponents looked compact, accomplished and completely at ease with Pochettino’s switch to a three-man back line. Rose foraged inside to thrash over from the edge of the area after Alli stepped over Trippier’s pass and then, after Nordin Amrabat had been caught in possession, Alli was released and hit the crossbar with a sweetly struck effort from 25 yards.
The evident gulf in quality told within seconds of Alli’s near miss. Kane’s goal was nicely worked, clipping past Heurelho Gomes from a tight angle after a perceptive pass around the defence from Trippier, although pressure on the ball was negligible as Tottenham created the chance with a triangle of passes near the corner.
Kane almost reached a scooped ball from Alli shortly afterwards but did double the lead in the 33rd minute. Trippier has been a marginal figure this season, consigned to bit-part appearances by Kyle Walker’s excellence at right-back. Trippier was given his first league start of the season here, with Walker suspended, but he showed the sharpness of a regular and his second assist for Kane was a work of art. Watford were not beyond reproach, Kane showing far more hunger than two defenders to get in front and jab the ball high into the net, but Tripper’s whipped cross on a bouncing ball was virtually unplayable. It fell perfectly into the corridor of uncertainty – an apt phrase throughout the game – between Gomes and his defence; Kane was quick to acknowledge his provider.
Son Heung-min should quickly have scored a third, side-footing Eriksen’s free-kick wide after escaping a sluggish Craig Cathcart, but there was little doubt more would follow. Alli, a joyful bundle of ideas here, deserved a goal on his first-half performance although it was teed up for him by Younès Kaboul, who hopelessly miscued a Kane cross. Cathcart might still have salvaged the situation but, as usual, it was a Tottenham player quicker to the ball and Alli finished unfussily. The home supporters booed their discontent: who comes out at lunchtime on New Year’s Day for this?
The Watford coach, Walter Mazzarri, had complained that he needed “a priest” to improve his squad’s ill-fortune but the last rites on a sloppy, dejected performance had already been read. Alli dispensed with any slither of doubt within 58 seconds of the restart after half-time, found by Kane’s right-sided delivery with half the penalty area at his disposal. Again his low shot beat Gomes; again a Watford player, this time Sebastian Prödl, had been caught hopelessly off the pace in the buildup.
It would have suited everyone to wind things up there and then. Alli, who is back to last season’s level of effervescence, was given the last half-hour off and Rose quickly followed him to the dugout.
There could still have been more goals: Kane was denied a hat-trick when Gomes did superbly to tip a low free-kick around the post and Son again missed from a good position with 14 minutes left.
Watford, who gave a debut from the bench to young full-back Brandon Mason, offered nothing until the dying seconds, when Kaboul squeezed in a goal that, even with Tottenham easing off, had seemed completely improbable.
TG

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