Tottenham finally got a big win and an important three points by defeating Fulham on Monday. With the victory, the Spurs fended off a team chasing them for fifth in the table and have, at least somewhat, righted a listing ship.
Much of the game, particularly the first half hour, suggested that the result would not be the case. The squad looked hesitant, with players slow to get the ball off their feet. Rodrigo Bentancur, in particular, looked loathe to pass and the ball moved slowly. Fulham made considerably more advances into the attacking third than Tottenham.
Spurs, though, found their rhythm toward the end of the first half, and by the time Harry Kane’s record-tying goal happened, it had begun to feel inevitable. Even as Fulham got into their offensive end more frequently, Tottenham did so more dangerously, with more touches in the box.
The team’s approach looked much the same as it has all season. If Antonio Conte has heard the desire for variety in the game plan, he’s ignored it. The team came out in its usual 3-4-3 formation and played the requisite methodical football.
Tottenham did put one interesting twist into its attack. Emerson Royal drifted more toward the middle than he has all season. Coming inside adds extra support in the middle of the field, something lacking against Arsenal in particular, and it gives Dejan Kulusevski the space to play as wide as he likes. (We’ve noted in the past that the opposite arrangement works better on the left side of the field, moving Heung-min Son inside.)
The slight change gives the Spurs a slightly different look, moving Emerson away from the weakest part of his game: long crosses. With his work rate, the wing-back can cover the necessary territory, allowing Tottenham some variety on offense and an immediately tight shape on defense.
That positional adjustment may have been subtle, but it had immediate dividends. On the build-up to Kane’s goal, Emerson begins in almost the exact center of the pitch. He passes wide, but the next ball goes to Son, who maintained his position as an inside forward from the start of the sequence. Fulham’s defense has to shift a bit, allowing Kane an isolated moment to get just a step on defender Tim Ream, enough room to get his shot off.
One goal and a little tweaking might not be a big deal. More than having one more piece of scripted soccer, it suggests that the Spurs can find flexibility within Conte’s strictures. Mixing rigid form with fluid movement can be a winning combination and inspire some hope for the rest of the season.
After all, the team sits just three points out of the top four, with transfers on the way and some momentum building.