New Year, same old Tottenham. Spurs bounced back into the Premier League’s top four with a 3-0 home win over Leeds United featuring another star turn from the partnership that remains so integral to their hopes of success this season: Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
Both reached significant personal milestones. Kane’s successful 29th-minute penalty broke the deadlock and meant he became the first player to reach double figures for both goals (10) and assists (10) in the top five European leagues this season. Son’s 43rd-minute strike was his 100th goal for Tottenham in all competitions. And in collecting Kane’s superb cross to sweep home right-footed, it means as a pair they have now combined for 13 Premier League goals in a season, matching the record set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton in 1994-95 at Blackburn Rovers.
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Of course, Blackburn won the title that season and for Spurs to have a genuine chance of doing the same, Son and Kane will have to be as clinical as they were here against a Leeds United side who once again exuded tactical sophistication and spirited endeavour undermined by a porous backline that ranks among the worst in the division. It is a central tenet of Jose Mourinho’s ethos to pounce on such mistakes and in that regard this was another victory for the Portuguese’s pragmatism, one he no doubt savoured a little more given it came against the much-celebrated Marcelo Bielsa.
There was plenty to like about the visitors’ endeavour — so much so that the mind starts to wander over what Bielsa could achieve in England with a more talented group of players — but the match could simply be distilled down to this: Leeds had the ball, Tottenham have the points. The difference came in individual errors at the back and the quality of Spurs in capitalising. Both Kane and Son are far exceeding their expected goals numbers for this season and their clinical finishing swung this game irrevocably in Tottenham’s favour.
Leeds goalkeeper Ilian Meslier is clearly an exciting prospect but he is unable to avoid the lapses a 20-year-old would be expected to suffer. After almost half an hour in which Leeds looked marginally the more likely to score, he played his team into trouble, passing the ball out to Harry Winks, who quickly looked to feed Steven Bergwijn. Ezgjan Alioski was caught the wrong side of Bergwijn and could only bring him down, with VAR confirming contact took place just inside the box. Kane made no mistake, scoring his first goal against Leeds in the top flight and meaning he has now scored against all 30 Premier League teams he has faced.
Leeds, as they so often are, were unperturbed and continued to press for an opening, but a perfect encapsulation of Spurs under Mourinho doubled the home side’s advantage on the stroke of half-time. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg won a 50-50 challenge with Rodrigo, Kane popped up on the right flank and whipped in a sublime cross. Son timed his run to perfection and finished coolly past Meslier. It was Son’s only shot of the half, Spurs had scored from two of their three attempts on target.
Toby Alderweireld removed any doubt with Spurs’ third goal five minutes after the restart, meeting Son’s corner with a downward header for which Meslier was initially poorly positioned and then slow to react to as the ball squirmed across the line. Having someone other than his main two goal scorers find the net is something Mourinho would like to see more of in the future.
“[Son and Kane] are good players as you know for many years,” the Spurs manager said after the match. “They play together for many years too. That together, plus the way we want them to interact brings goals. I want more goals, especially more goals from other players but today the second goal is great.
“It is also great because it is something we spoke about. Against a team that defends the way Leeds does, it is very important to have that mobility — a striker in the right wing and to have a winger scoring on the first post is something that pleases us from a strategic point of view.”
Leeds ended with 64% of the possession, completing almost 250 more passes and with 18 shots to the home side’s 20 — most of those coming as Spurs attacked space with the game opening up — but nothing to show for it. Although Matt Doherty was sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow card after a clumsy tackle on Pablo Hernandez, Tottenham simply didn’t make the mistakes Leeds were guilty of when the game was in the balance, earning their first win since they beat Arsenal 2-0 on Dec. 6 with sort of clinical counterattacking that had propelled them into the title race in the first place.
In fact, this all felt very 2020 for Tottenham, right down to the COVID-19 breach that overshadowed the buildup with Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso all condemned in a strong-worded club statement after the emergence of a picture appearing to show them breaking government guidelines to celebrate with their families, West Ham midfielder Manuel Lanzini and his loved ones during the Christmas period. Spurs players broke lockdown rules on several occasions last summer with Mourinho seen holding a personal training session in a north London park and Serge Aurier among several players also found to be breaking the rules.
Those indiscretions were overshadowed in a sporting sense by Tottenham’s strong end to the 2019-20 season that continued into the current campaign, spearheaded by Kane and Son, who are just three short of former Chelsea duo Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba’s all-time record of 36 Premier League goal combinations. Kane and Son seem near-certainties to surpass that number given their current rate, assuming they remain available for selection.
Panic spread at an alarming rate during one brief first-half moment when both players appeared to be struggling with injuries, underlining the precariousness of Tottenham’s title push, even with Gareth Bale and Carlos Vinicius, a late substitute for Kane here, in support. But the longer they continue like this, the more Tottenham will start to believe anything is possible.