Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou was given plenty to be excited about as his side rounded off 2023 with a fine 3-1 victory over in-form Bournemouth. Goals by Pape Matar Sarr, Son Heung-min and Richarlison pushed the north Londoners into fifth and only a point behind rivals Arsenal. Here are five things Express Sport took from the game.
Sarr shines but hobbles off with AFCON in doubt
Sarr started the match in delight, scoring a fine early goal, but hobbled off in tears soon after his 9th-minute strike. The young midfielder latched onto excellent pressing by Rodrigo Bentancur and Giovani Lo Celso, closing in on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area before driving low past Neto to hand the north Londoners an early lead.
But Sarr was distraught just after the half-hour mark, walking off the pitch in tears with his Africa Cup of Nations hopes now in doubt. The 21-year-old will hope that he will be fit in time to feature for Senegal when their tournament begins on January 15.
Bentancur improves Spurs’ midfield
Bentancur made a surprise return for Spurs after recovering from ankle ligament damage. The Uruguayan appeared set for a lengthy absence when he was the victim of a crunching tackle by Aston Villa’s Matty Cash in late November.
But Bentancur has taken just a month to come back for Spurs and his presence at the base of Postecoglou’s midfield was the key to their victory over Bournemouth. His tackle in midfield sprung Spurs forward, with Sarr eventually receiving the ball to fire home.
None of Spurs’ rivals for the final place in the top four have a defensive midfielder as good as Bentancur. Sofyan Amrabat and Casemiro have struggled for Manchester United. Newcastle’s midfield have lacked consistency, while Aston Villa might lose Douglas Luiz in January.
Bentancur can guide a revived Spurs into the Champions League in 2024.
Postecoglou sees light at the end of the tunnel
Bentancur’s return is one of few reasons for Postecoglou to be excited heading into the New Year. The midfielder will hope to remain fit for the remainder of the season having endured an injury-hit 2023.
Postecoglou will welcome the return to fitness of his best midfielder, and a talent Spurs’ rivals do not possess. The Australian head coach has endured a tough few months after a fantastic start to the season, but will now see light at the end of the tunnel.
Sarr’s injury will hopefully not rule him out of international duty and one of the shining lights of the early Postecoglou era will return only as late as February 11, when the tournament finishes. That will mean he will miss just a maximum of four Premier League games, with a winter break and the FA Cup taking precedence in January.
James Maddison’s likely return early in the New Year will also come as a major boost to Postecoglou, ensuring he can select his best midfield. If Spurs are to press as well as they did against Bournemouth, they will need to be able to call upon a midfield of Bentancur, Maddison and Sarr for the remainder of the campaign.
Lloris bids emotional farewell
Hugo Lloris said his final goodbye to Spurs supporters at half-time. The Frenchman – exiled from the club’s Premier League squad at the start of the season, has agreed a deal to join Los Angeles FC. Aged 37, Lloris will depart after 12 years with the club for whom he played 444 times.
Asked to give a message to Spurs fans, the goalkeeper said: “A big thank you… it’s time for me to say goodbye, but goodbye as a player, not as a man. I will be a Spurs fan for the rest of my life.”
Speaking about his greatest moment as a Spurs player, Lloris referenced the club’s Champions League final defeat to Liverpool four years ago: “Bringing all the Spurs community to Madrid in 2019, I think we were close to making a big success. This time at that time won a lot of respect from all the Spurs fans.”
Solanke the answer to the No 9 issue?
Richarlison’s late goal continued the Brazilian’s excellent form, but Spurs would be well advised to sign a proper replacement for Harry Kane in 2024. They should look no further than Bournemouth ace Dominic Solanke.
The English forward is in his prime having hit 12 Premier League goals this season. He was unfortunate not to add to that tally at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and was on more than one occasion denied by the excellent recovery speed of Destiny Udogie just as he appeared set to bear down on Guglielmo Vicario’s goal.
Solanke’s profile makes him a similar player to Kane – he uses his strength to hold off defenders, has excellent technical ability, and is able to bring supporting players into the game. The 26-year-old will not come cheap but must be considered by the Spurs hierarchy.