Tottenham Hotspur started their campaign on a winning note with a hard fought 1-0 victory over Premier League new boys Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Roberto Soldado, the 26 million import from Valencia netted the winner from the penalty spot as fellow debutants Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Étienne Capoue put in a shift for the side from north London.
Spurs started the game against Ian Holloway’s side in an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with Paulinho and Moussa Dembele operating in the double pivot preferred by their Portuguese manager. Chadli, Sigurdsson and Lennon made the attacking trio in front of which Soldado was operating in a lone striker role.
The Eagles, however, started in a rather defensive 4-3-2-1 system, with Kagisho Dikgacoi, Owen Garvan and Mile Jedinak all sitting deep and protecting the backline by choking Tottenham’s free flowing football. Their attack, which was rather subdued uncharacteristically by Holloway’s strategy put to use today, was led by Dwight Gayle and supported by Aaron Wilbraham and Stephen Dobbie on the wings.
The opening exchanges were dominated by Spurs, although any attempts to penetrate were all rebuffed by a well-drilled Palace defense. The creative impetus was ever present with Chadli and Lennon putting their trickery and pace to good use, which however counted for little as the final ball lacked precision. Sigurdsson, Soldado and Lennon were all allowed to take shots on goal with the right hand side of Tottenham’s attack being the primary source of all the attacks with Walker combining well with Lennon; the duo being well supported defensively by Paulinho. The young right back though will need to keep his concentration levels in check as he cost his side possession, not to mention also gave away needless free-kicks on multiple occasions.
Chadli and Danny Rose on the left hand side were also offering decent link up play but the space behind Palace right-back Ward was not exploited completely due to the Belgian persistently getting drawn towards the centre.
Soldado scores on debut
Palace, on the other hand were set up in a defensive manner with three men in front of a back four to make the area just outside the eighteen yard box a tad too congested for Spurs to operate in. Soldado and Sigurdsson both tried to link up but failed to create any clear cut openings apart from shots from outside the box. The wing play needed to be utilized and that was exactly what Lennon provided them with. It was his run and attempt to cross which was handled in the area by Dean Moxey, thereby giving Soldado the opportunity to open his account on his league debut.
With Palace now needing to score to have hopes of at least a point, the game began opening up as they pushed up to create openings. Jedinak was their go to man as the Australian began dictating tempo for his side by attempting to string together some passes in Tottenham’s half, before veteran Kevin Phillips, ex-Gunner Marouane Chamakh and Jonathan Williams came on to spur on their side to try draw level.
The Moroccan almost had an immediate impact as he skipped past two challenges to release Gayle clear only for the pass to be a bit heavy for the striker. From then on, it was an end-to-end game as Phillips had a couple of half chances where he was let down by a poor first touch, while Chadli and Jermain Defoe (who was brought on for Soldado) spurned more than decent chances to put the game beyond doubt.
Overall though, Spurs had a decent game with some positives with respect to the new signings on show. A definite worry for Villas-Boas will be the lack of cutting edge they have in the final third without a certain Welshman (who was reportedly out with an injury) and had it not been for a penalty, the three points would surely have been difficult to win. Their finishing was not very clinical with chances missed, most notably by Sigurdsson and Defoe which could have made the points safer a lot earlier in the game.
On the brighter side, Soldado and Paulinho look to have adjusted to new surroundings rather quickly, as a good start for them will go a long way in ensuring they do attain that elusive Champions League spot.
Crystal Palace also showed glimpses of what they bring to the league, with committed defending and fearless attacking, which will certainly, on their day, bring them dividends. One can expect Holloway’s side to keep the ball moving forward with an intent to score but a varied strategy on the opening day of the campaign here has shown his adaptability.
However, being the first match of the campaign, it is in fact too early to predict the fate of their respective seasons. What can be predicted is an attacking brand of football from both sides, especially the one from South Norwood, with their coach having displayed tremendous courage and flair with his former team Blackpool, the last time he was managing in the Premier League.
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