Shorthanded Spurs sure looked like trophy contenders in Premier League opener

(The Independent)

Are Spurs for real this season? If the first game of the new Premier League campaign is any indication, they could be.

Tottenham breezed past Newcastle United 2-1 on Saturday thanks to first-half goals by Jan Vertonghen and Dele Alli. But it was the noticeable swagger with which Mauricio Pochettino’s team played, on the road against a team that finished in the top half of the table in 2017-18, that will have fans of the Lilywhites optimistic about their chances of witnessing something special this season.

Pochettino started eight players who participated in the 2018 World Cup. Six of them, including Alli and Vertonghen, represented teams that reached the final or third-place game less than a month ago in Russia, meaning they had begun training with Tottenham only a few days ago.

There were few obvious signs of rust from the visitors. Compared to Manchester United’s sluggish performance a day earlier in an unconvincing  2-1 victory over Leicester City, Spurs were rampant. Vertonghen’s strike came just eight minutes into the match, when he got his head on the end of Davinson Sanchez’s knockdown off a dangerous Christian Eriksen corner:

And while the hosts answered almost right away, when Spanish forward Joselu sneaked behind Sanchez to nod home the equalizer, it seemed only a matter of time before Spurs regained the lead.

It took all of seven minutes:

And even with Newcastle chasing the game furiously following Alli’s strike, Spurs never appeared overly vulnerable. World Cup-winning goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was there on the rare occasions that the Magpies broke through.

The Frenchman raced off his line to snuff out a quality scoring opportunity following a poor touch by winger Kenedy shortly after the intermission. Around the hour mark, Lloris was able to bat away Ayoze Pérez’s shot off a broken play on what was perhaps the home side’s best chance until substitute Salomon Rondon sent a deflected shot off the crossbar with five minutes to go.

It was the closest Newcastle would get. Spurs tired toward the end, as expected. But their technical superiority was obvious throughout; the Magpies just couldn’t get enough of the ball to keep any sort of sustained pressure on Lloris’s back line. Newcastle managed only 40 percent possession, a remarkably low figure for a team playing from behind for three quarters of the match in front of some of the most demanding supporters in the Prem.

Look, let’s not make too much of Tottenham’s opening day victory. Winning the league probably remains a long shot for Pochettino and Co., especially after the Argentine stood pat at the transfer deadline. The likes of United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all have bigger budgets, and money is usually the decisive factor in the world’s richest league.

But Tottenham continues to impress. With six players unavailable because of injury and another 10 basically in preseason form, they comfortably won a more difficult opening-day contest than any of those wealthier foes will face this weekend, apart perhaps from Sunday’s City-Arsenal clash. There seems to be a chemistry with this team and a confidence that it’s greater than the sum of its considerable parts.  

It’s a long season. Bigger challenges await, and we’ll learn more about this Spurs team as time goes on. But on Saturday, they passed their first test with flying colors.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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