- Harry Kane's hat-trick on Sunday gave Tottenham its eighth straight home league victory and more notes from this EPL weekend.
Perhaps Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, had a hidden agenda on Friday when he made public an angry letter to various local authorities complaining about their failure to follow through on funding promises tied to the club’s new stadium.
White Hart Lane has filled the same footprint for more than a century. The new stadium, which, the club has suggested, will have a different name, is slightly to the north, but, because it overlaps, the old ground will have to be demolished before the new one can be completed. The club plans to use Wembley for all its home games next season. The last four days have suggested that might not be a happy experience.
The 4-0 victory over Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday was Tottenham’s eighth straight home league victory. In all, it has won 11 and drawn two of its league games at White Hart Lane this season.
Meanwhile, at Wembley, where Spurs have played their European games this season, they have won one, lost two and drawn one. On Thursday, before a crowd of 82,000. Tottenham drew 2-2 with Gent, a mid-table Belgium side, and was eliminated from the Europa League, itself only a consolation prize for finishing only third in its Champions League group.
On Sunday, back at White Hart Lane, Tottenham faced a much tougher opponent. Furthermore, Stoke had not played for 15 days, Spurs fielded the same lineup that had started against Gent less than 72 hours earlier.
Yet fatigue was never a factor. Tottenham demolished Stoke in the first half, scoring four times. Spurs walked through the second half. It was a measure of Tottenham’s domination that both center backs, Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, were prepared to ask to come off the pitch in the second half and Mauricio Pochettino, the Spurs manager, was willing to oblige.
"I think they were very tired, it is very difficult with the recovery and after 4-0, they asked to leave and I think it was for caution.”
Only Chelsea, which has won 12 and lost one of its 13 games at Stamford Bridge has collected more home points this season. Tottenham is second in the standings, one point ahead of Manchester City, because it has picked up 10 more home points. It has, in theory, just six league games left at White Hart Lane the last two are against Arsenal and Manchester United.
If Tottenham wins all of those, it will leave the Lane heading not only for Wembley, but for the Champions League.
But like anyone planning to move to an expensive new dwelling, Daniel Levy may be worrying that there is no place like home.
HOW DOES HE DO IT? Harry Kane rather tarnished his boring image on Sunday. It wasn’t any of the three goals in his third hat trick of 2017. They were all typically dull: see ball, shoot ball, hit the corner of the goal, although Kane told Sky Sports after the game, “I had a bit of luck with the third” which deflected off a defender.
“Just tried to get my shots off,” said Kane, striving, as ever, to deflect praise and keep the post-match interview dull and low-key. “Just one of them days.”
The problem was the touch that beat Bruno Martins Indi to allow Kane to break free on the right to set up Dele Alli for Tottenham’s fourth goal.
Kane’s hat-trick took him to 17 league goals this season, joint top with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez and one ahead of Diego Costa. And Kane has missed six league games with injury. Unlike Lukaku, Kane is neither blindingly fast nor overpoweringly strong. He does not carry the constant menace of Costa. Unlike Sánchez, he is not a skillful bag of tricks. Indeed, unlike the other three, Kane is often ungainly. Yet the hat-trick on Sunday took him to 102 career goals, including 17 on loan to lower-division clubs. Asked if he remembered the first, scored while on loan at Orient, he said with a grin: “Back post little poacher’s goals like all of them.”
Sunday’s hat-trick also took him to 66 in 107 Premier League appearances, a better strike rate than Costa, Sánchez or Lukaku.
Kane prefers to keep things simple but he showed on Sunday that he can produce world class trickery when he absolutely must. Just before half time, with his back to goal, and pinned against the touchline by Martins Indi, Kane received a difficult waist high past. He lifted it past the defender with the top of his boot and then spun past the bemused Martins Indi. Kane could have gone for a fourth but as he raced toward the goal he saw Alli free and passed to him.
Thierry Henry, working as a pundit on Sky TV, said it showed that Kane was a “good teammate”. Alli’s red card on Thursday sabotaged Tottenham’s Europa League changes. Henry said he believed Kane looked up, saw Alli and thought “he needs a goal.”
After the match, Pochettino made clear that Kane’s edge is in his head.
“He’s one of the best strikers in Europe,” the Tottenham manager said. “His mentality is the best.”
MAGIC NUMBERS It took 72 minutes for Chelsea to impose itself at home against a Swansea team that has suddenly discovered the virtues of discipline, organization and application.
Maybe the Blues enjoyed some good fortune in its 3-1 victory. With the score still tied, César Azpilicueta, might have given away a penalty.
“It was a clear handball,” Paul Clement, the Swansea manager, told the BBC after the game.
Three minutes later, Lukas Fabianski, the Swansea goalie, allowed a shot by Pedro to bounce over his hands.
“It was a soft goal,” said Clement. But Clement had to add that “Chelsea deserved to win.”
Swansea played well. Chelsea was much, much better. It again oozed title-winning quality.
Clement talked of the “great quality” of Chelsea’s third goal, created by Eden Hazard and finished by Diego Costa, but many of the home team’s attacks carried similar menace.
After the game, Antonio Conte made clear that, even with almost a third of the season still to play he is already thinking magic numbers.
“We need 29 points to be champions,” the Chelsea manager told the BBC.
That’s still quite a big haul from 12 games. In practice, Chelsea only needs 29 points if Manchester City wins all its 13 remaining games and outscores Chelsea by 14 goals. Conte probably already has the game against City at Stamford Bridge on the weekend of April 1 ringed in his diary.
THE FEEL-BAD FACTOR Three days after Claudio Ranieri was fired, it suddenly seemed to dawn on the Leicester City players that they were no longer soccer’s darlings. On Saturday, amid predictable media speculation that they had stabbed the Italian in the back, Leicester players started tweeting their gratitude and love for their former manager. It will be interesting to see how the club’s fans, who played such a huge role in the success of the last 24 months react when Leicester hosts Liverpool on Monday.
On the face of it, Liverpool is the perfect foe for Leicester. The Reds have made a bad habit of losing to teams struggling in the league. Meanwhile, just about the only respectable results for the Foxes in the last three months have come against big teams. One of their only two league victories since late October was a 4-2 victory over Manchester City at the start of December. In that time, the Foxes have also drawn at Tottenham. Their last game was a 2-1 away loss to Sevilla in the Champions League last Tuesday which makes them, statistically at least, slight favorites to win the tie.
Yet on a tactical level, Leicester seem particularly ill-suited to coping with Liverpool’s high-speed, high-energy play. Leicester’s veteran defense lacks pace, which is Liverpool’s most dangerous attacking weapon. Measured in miles run, Liverpool outworks every opponent. This season, many Leicester players seem to prefer resting on their laurels rather than working up a sweat.
Leicester will start the game in the bottom three after Crystal Palace won on Saturday. The only consolation for Leicester is that even if it loses it will have 21 points and sit 18th. That’s three more points more and two places higher than after 26 matches two seasons ago. Even though another much-travelled Italian, Roberto Mancini, is being linked to the vacant job, it is hardly surprising that another name has surfaced. Reportedly the players want Nigel Pearson, who master-minded the Great Escape in 2015, to come back. The first question is whether they are prepared to put in the effort they did then. The second is whether the fans will offer the same unwavering support.
QUITE BAD MIGHT BE GOOD ENOUGH With three of the top six resting this weekend, Tottenham playing on Sunday and Liverpool on Monday, the focus on Saturday was on the other end of the table with five of the bottom six playing.
Crystal Palace eked out a 1-0 victory over another bottom-feeder, Middlesbrough and Hull gained a home point against a Burnley team that played the last couple of minutes with 10 men. That meant the five strugglers picked up four points between them, about their season’s average.
The bottom six are all averaging less than a point a game. The bottom four are all well below 0.9 points a game.
At that rate, it would take just 33, or perhaps 32 points to escape the drop. So, disappointed as Hull might have been to drop home points, if it only draws all its remaining matches, it could survive.
After Palace won at home for just the third time in 13 league matches this season, Sam Allardyce, it manager told the BBC, it was “A great victory.”
“Hopefully we can move on from there,” he added in a voice that contained not a single ounce of conviction.
Palace almost certainly won’t move on. It has been consistently awful for the last three months and it will be awful again more often than not between now and the end of the season.
Dire as Palace has been, the victory still lifted it out of the bottom three. Sunderland, Leicester and Middlesbrough are all struggling as badly.
Big Sam likes his stats. He knows that if any of those teams can win four of their remaining 12 or 13 matches and draw a few others, they will probably be safe.