When Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur play as they did here, particularly in the first half, the talk about this being the year when they finally claim the league title does not sound too fanciful.
West Bromwich Albion have come to be bogey opponents and their reputation for being a tough nut to crack under Tony Pulis has long been established. Spurs simply blew them away during the opening 45 minutes, which was as one-sided a half of football as will have been seen for some time, before they finished the job in the second period.
Harry Kane helped himself to a hat-trick, which was a lovely way for him to celebrate the birth of his first child, Ivy, last weekend, but he could have had many more, while once again Christian Eriksen excelled and Dele Alli was not too far behind in the ratings.
For now Tottenham are up into second place – on the back of six straight league wins – and they have hit top form at the same time as they did last season, when they seriously challenged for the title. Pochettino’s three-at-the-back system looked perfectly calibrated and the only disappointment was a serious ankle-ligament injury for Jan Vertonghen. The message from the home support rang around White Hart Lane. The leaders, Chelsea, ought to watch their backs.
West Brom had come to be compact, with a tight midfield trio plus wide midfielders who were so deep at the outset that the formation looked more like a 6-3-1. Tottenham laid waste the plan and Kane might have had his hat-trick inside the opening 25 minutes. In the first half alone he had five clear sightings of goal and the visitors could be thankful that Ben Foster’s reflexes were on point.
The one that Kane did score before the break was a precision finish but it was underpinned by shoddy West Brom defending that felt so uncharacteristic for a Pulis team. Eriksen collected the ball from Victor Wanyama and he clipped a simple pass through for Kane, who was played onside by the dawdling Craig Dawson. Kane took one touch before lifting the ball over Foster into the near top corner.
As is so often the case with early kick-offs, the atmosphere was subdued for long periods. The home crowd merely settled back to be entertained. They were. Alli pushed up alongside Kane while the imperious Eriksen floated between making a third man in central midfield and getting forward. Pochettino said it looked as though his team had used “100 different systems”.
Three of Kane’s first-half chances were from close-range but he guided the first from Danny Rose’s cross past the far post while Foster saved the other two. Kane also saw the Albion keeper tip his low shot from outside the penalty area on to a post and away in the 35th minute.
Tottenham’s second goal in the 26th minute was marked by good fortune but nobody could say that Eriksen did not deserve it. He took a shot from the edge of the area and it deflected first off Jonas Olsson and then Gareth McAuley to wrong-foot Foster. The stadium announcer called it as a McAuley own goal. Alli had the ball in the net again moments later, from Eriksen’s lovely return ball only to be called back for a narrow offside.
The travelling Albion fans were treated to a half-chance shortly after half-time, when Salomón Rondón ran through and dragged a shot wide of the far post, while Pulis made a tactical switch on 54 minutes when he sent on James McClean and went to a 3-5-2 formation. Matt Phillips and McClean were the wing-backs. It was Pulis’s way of trying to combat Tottenham’s Kyle Walker and Rose – which is a preoccupation for every opposing manager these days.
Albion were better in the second half but Spurs still carved out chances and Foster further enhanced his status as the only visiting player to emerge with any credit. He made a double save from Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen following a corner while, after Alli had nutmegged Darren Fletcher and fed Kane, Foster beat out the striker’s shot. He also denied Wanyama after further prompting from Eriksen.
The loss of Vertonghen was a grisly moment. He rolled his ankle as he chased a ball into touch on 64 minutes and when he was helped off, he covered his eyes with his hands. The distress was obvious and it is already plain that he faces a lengthy layoff. Pochettino said that the prognosis would be clearer on Monday.
Tottenham turned the screw in the closing stages and Kane’s second was a moment to forget for McAuley, who dithered as Walker chased Alli’s pass up the line and was robbed by the wing-back, who crossed. Kane finished with a side-on shot, while he completed the hat-trick with eight minutes to go with a volleyed finish from Alli’s scooped ball over the top. For Tottenham, it was the near-perfect afternoon.TG