Tottenham rewarded for relying on tired stars in routine win at Cardiff
CARDIFF, Wales -- Three quick thoughts from Tottenham's 3-0 Premier League win over Cardiff City in South Wales on Tuesday.
1. Pochettino's decision to return to tired stars vindicated
Tottenham bounced back from their home defeat to Wolves in style as they triumphed 3-0 at Cardiff and moved back above reigning champions Manchester City into second place in the Premier League table, six points behind leaders Liverpool.
Mauricio Pochettino has relied upon a select group of trusted players throughout the festive period, and that policy has generally paid off.
The consistency in his team selections initially paid dividends as his side completed a four-match winning run with comprehensive 6-2 and 5-0 victories over Everton and Bournemouth either side of Christmas Day. However, it then backfired against Wolves as his overworked players tired and capitulated, conceding three goals in the final 20 minutes as a 1-0 lead turned into a chastening 3-1 defeat.
Pochettino admitted after Saturday's loss that fatigue had been an issue, so he had a decision to make here against Cardiff three days later: pick the same familiar faces once again or ring the changes and introduce fresher squad men such as 18-year-old midfielder Oliver Skipp.
The answer was emphatic and unequivocal. There was just one change from the lineup selected against Wolves, with Danny Rose replacing Ben Davies at left-back. It meant that five of Spurs' front six players -- Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane -- started for the fourth match in a row, with all of those games taking place in the space of just 10 days.
Pochettino's plan seemed clear: put the best, or most experienced, players on the field and aim to kill the game off before the legs started to go again. It worked perfectly.
Spurs were ahead with less than three minutes gone as Cardiff made a complete mess of defending a Kieran Trippier cross and the ball bounced into the net off Kane's shin. The north Londoners then doubled their lead in the 12th minute as Kane, Sissoko and Son combined to find Eriksen, who clinically found the bottom corner from the edge of the box. And it was 3-0 in the 26th minute as Kane helped Sissoko's pass on to Son, who fired across Neil Etheridge.
With the job done so early, it was surprising that Pochettino declined to withdraw any players until the 76th minute -- especially as his slowness to make substitutions in the 5-0 victory over Bournemouth probably contributed to the fatigue against Wolves. However, the Argentine can be expected to make wholesale changes in Friday's FA Cup tie at Tranmere and ensure his main men are fresh for Tuesday's Carabao Cup semifinal against Chelsea.
2. Resurgent Sissoko adding a threat to his game
It is funny, or perhaps alarming, to think that if Tottenham had been offered their money back for the £30 million man in the summer, they would surely have taken it with glee. A few months on, the January window is now open and Spurs remain keen to offload a handful of foreign players as they bid to increase their homegrown quota, yet Sissoko's status at the club has changed dramatically and it now seems unthinkable that he would be sold.
Such has been his resurgence that he has started the past eight matches, and he is still improving, having now added a threat to his game.
Sissoko has always offered pace, power and energy, but his technical qualities and lack of end product often let him down in the past. However, he was heavily involved in two goals against Cardiff, first playing a neat first-time pass infield to help set up Eriksen's strike and then making the driving run through midfield that produced Son's goal.
He still needs to work on his finishing but, given his price tag has weighed heavily on him for much of his time at Spurs, it is interesting to ponder what he would be worth now.
3. Slow starts hurting Cardiff's confidence on home turf
These clashes against top-six sides probably won't define the Bluebirds' season and decide their fate in the relegation battle. However, their home form will be vital -- four of their five Premier League victories this season have come in front of their own fans.
Neil Warnock will therefore be disappointed and maybe a little concerned by what has happened in his side's past two home matches against Manchester United and Spurs. On both occasions, Cardiff have fallen behind in the third minute and gone on to ship three goals before half-time. Man United went on to win 5-1.
While it will be relatively easy for Warnock to shrug off these losses to Champions League sides, he will hope that his players' confidence isn't affected when they are next at home, especially as they will be hosting relegation rivals Huddersfield.