Tottenham Hotspur overpowered Sheffield United in the Premier League on Sunday, winning 3-1 to move into fourth place.
Spurs started fast and were quickly rewarded with the opening goal, Serge Aurier heading in from a corner amid extremely slack defending. Son Heung-min then raced through to hit the post soon after, as the Blades struggled to contain the away side.
Aside from one or two counter-attacks there was little positive from Chris Wilder’s team and Spurs increased their lead with a fantastic solo goal from Harry Kane, who finished into the bottom corner from outside the box.
Spurs never looked in danger of dropping points from that moment and even after David McGoldrick headed one back just before the hour mark, Tanguy Ndombele quickly produced an incredible individual goal to restore the two-goal lead.
Here are five things we learned from the game at Bramall Lane.
Recovery talk premature
A long-overdue first victory of the Premier League campaign sparked some optimism that, even if they weren’t close to getting out of the bottom three, Sheffield United’s season might finally kick-start into gear.
After Saturday’s results and this performance, that mindset has been given a dose of reality.
The Blades beat Newcastle who have been arguably the league’s most negative and out-of-form side over the past month or so, but few other teams will give so few problems in defence and the Blades’ back line was ripped open time and time again, with little organisation, aggression or technical competence on show.
This defeat, plus wins for West Brom and Brighton earlier in the weekend, means Chris Wilder and his team are six points from 19th and a full 11 from safety. Even if only 32 points are required to stay up - a woefully low tally - they must win nine of their remaining 19 games to get there, having won one from 19 so far.
Sheffield United are already all-but-down.
Keeping the foot on the pedal
Spurs have been criticised for dropping points in recent weeks after initially taking the lead in games.
Jose Mourinho’s habit of sitting in and protecting a lead has backfired, with draws of late against Fulham and Wolves proving costly.
There was no such approach this time until after their third goal, with Harry Kane and Co. keen to keep pushing forward, exploiting the spaces and committing numbers into the attack.
It would be remiss to point the finger of blame at one person at United, given the entire team is responsible for so many defeats, but goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has had a terrible season which continued here.
His handling is suspect, decision-making inconsistent, comfort in dealing with aerial balls almost non-existent and his distribution is middling at best.
The club spent a massive amount on him in the summer and it has been proven a dismal investment so far, with several more errors of judgement apparent on Sunday against Spurs.
Chris Wilder keeps faith in him, but that hasn’t been repaid with performances or confidence imparted to his defence.
For the second time this season, Mourinho opted to switch up his tactical plan to match that of a team playing a back three. Against Wolves, and now against the Blades, Spurs’ usual back-four system was altered, with the three-man defence largely doing a sterling job against the home attack.
It was in midfield where Spurs out-matched and out-played Sheffield United, though, with the wing-backs, double-pivot and roving three-man attack all working together in style to create angles and overloads that Wilder’s team simply couldn’t cope with.
Again, Harry Kane dropping into deeper spaces was a feature for Tottenham, but so too was Steven Bergwijn adept at being an outlet in surprising areas of the pitch and providing a link pass into the final third.
A tactical victory, as much as a literal one.
Top four favourites?
One more goal for Spurs would have taken them up into third place above Liverpool on goal difference, ahead of the Reds’ afternoon kick-off. As it is, they are into the top four once more, a quick repair job on that key objective having dropped 12 of the previous 18 points available.
Spurs must, even with the heightened competition this season, consider themselves top-four favourites.
Mourinho’s tactical nous, the solidity of his teams on a longer-term basis and some key attacking talents make it so.
Yet one stand-out factor above all else remains: Kane. His goal was brilliant, yet will be overshadowed by the even more spectacular effort from Ndombele. But it was Kane’s all-round showing which led the way again, his work rate and creativity, his industry and finesse, and his ability to put the ball in the net on such a consistent basis.
With him fit and in-form, Spurs are certainties for one of those coveted Champions League places.