Spurs began their pre-season action on Wednesday with a very entertaining 6-3 win over Team K League — a select side from South Korea’s top division.
Eric Dier opened the scoring and Harry Kane forced an own goal for Tottenham’s second before he and Son Heung-min each helped themselves to second-half doubles.
On an eventful night when head coach Antonio Conte confirmed summer signings Yves Bissouma and Fraser Forster had tested positive for COVID-19 and were isolating, this is what The Athletic took away from a chaotic match at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.
Richarlison shows what he’s all about
On his debut, new signing Richarlison offered a neat summary of exactly what Spurs fans can expect from him this season.
There was the versatility (the former Everton star played in all three of the forward positions at various points), the running battles with opposition defenders and frequent appeals for free kicks, and the dangerous moments mixed in with a few less refined touches.
With less than a quarter of an hour gone, for instance, he dummied past a defender and then the goalkeeper but his touch was a bit heavy and the ball fell to Emerson Royal, who stretched and nudged the ball wide from only a few yards out.
Before that, we saw another Richarlison staple — asking referees for free kicks. It was refreshing and slightly amusing to see his appetite even in a friendly, as he screamed at the officials for a dubious foul on fellow Brazilian Lucas Moura with only seven minutes played.
Richarlison was signed partly because of his versatility, and throughout the first half here he switched from a centre-forward position to one on the left, often swapping positions with Moura, before moving to the right for the second half.
As the first half wore on, Richarlison grew into the game and did some good work down the left — mixed in with a few overhit passes, like one to Ryan Sessegnon that rolled out for a goal kick.
The chances started to come, and after Dave Bulthuis just nipped in to clear Sessegnon’s cross, Royal’s delivery picked Richarlison out but his header was tame. It’s an area of his game he has improved a lot and that poor effort was most likely down to a bit of rust having only just joined up with his new club for pre-season.
Once Richarlison moved over to the right for the second half, he spent most of his time beating players but then going down and not winning free kicks. Encouragingly he lasted 75 minutes — as long as any of the Spurs players.
“Today, I’ve seen a lot of positive things about Richy,” Conte said. “The first half he played like a No 9 and the second half he played on the right, behind the striker. I think he can play in all these three positions.
“I think he is strong physically and a good personality — good character, good quality. Also in this period, he is working and we are working on the tactical aspects with him, because he has to go into our idea. At the same time, we have to work on the physical aspects, for him to be fit. But for sure he is a player that gives me important positions (options) up front.
“He’s a good player, strong and very good to protect the ball and attack the space. Also, he made a good assist (sending Son through for a chance that led to a red card and Kane scoring from the resulting free kick), I’m very happy that we signed him.”
It was a slightly ragged first performance in a Spurs shirt but, as ever with Richarlison, he was a very eye-catching presence. And once those rough edges are smoothed out a touch, Tottenham will have brought in a very useful forward.
Kane blows off the cobwebs
Vomiting during training appears to have agreed with Kane. Two days on from Monday’s brutal session, he was extremely impressive here (caveat of the quality of opposition et cetera).
Within 10 minutes of coming on for the second half, he had forced an own goal with a typically accurate whipped cross and then scored himself with a low left-footed strike from about 25 yards.
Looking full of confidence and in that mood where he knows he is miles better than everyone else on the pitch, Kane played a couple of sumptuous long passes from right to left to Son.
He scored his second of the night with a 75th-minute free kick to make it 5-3. Given his pretty wretched record from direct free kicks, the joke quickly circulated that Spurs’ new set-piece coach Gianni Vio must already have been working his magic.
Kane also gave local hero Son a goal by allowing him to take a penalty with the score at 3-2. And Son, it turns out, remains absolutely elite, too — scoring twice and causing the opposition defenders all sorts of trouble after replacing Royal early in the second half.
Sanchez has a stinker
There’s a saying in theatre that a lousy dress rehearsal means a good opening night. And if pre-season friendlies are football’s equivalent of the former, then Davinson Sanchez is in for a storming start to the season.
Because in Wednesday’s game, this was very much a case of Bad Sanchez. Very, very bad. The Sanchez we didn’t see at the end of last season when he stepped in so ably for the final few games in Cristian Romero’s absence.
Not much more needs to be said on his performance other than to quickly recap the following. He…
- Could easily have given away a first-half penalty
- Should have been booked twice for lunging slide tackles
- Lost Cho Gue-sung for Team K League’s first goal
- Deflected Lars Veldwijk’s shot past Hugo Lloris for their second
- Gave away the free kick that led to Jun Amano’s third
All in all, not a great night for the Colombian.
Thinking about it, theatre superstitions are so odd that another one is that you can’t say “Macbeth” or “good luck” before going on stage. So maybe this wasn’t such a positive portent after all.
Skipp and Bentancur axis shows promise
When Rodrigo Bentancur joined from Juventus at the end of January, there was a lot of excitement at the club over a potential midfield partnership between him and Oliver Skipp.
Because of injury though, Skipp didn’t play at all last season after Bentancur’s arrival, and only made his comeback here.
Thankfully for Tottenham, he looked like he’d never been away. Besides now wearing the No 4 shirt, their former No 29 appeared exactly as he had before that January injury.
He and Bentancur are an intriguing duo as they are pretty similar players. Both are very fit and are solid in all areas without being especially spectacular in any single department. Both also enjoy a tackle and are happy doing the defensive as well as the attacking side of the game.
Against Team K League, they took it in turns to get forward, with Bentancur scuffing a shot after a driving run, before Skipp latched onto a Moura flick (one of many impressive moments from the Brazilian) and swept a pass out to Bryan Gil on the right. Gil too put in a good shift before being replaced with Kane at half-time.
Skipp and Bentancur went off at the interval and while it’s very early days in their partnership, they look like being interesting options for Conte — alongside Bissouma and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in Spurs’ impressive stable of central midfielders.
(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)