Tottenham Hotspur maintains their European hopes with a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday evening.
Eyes were on how Spurs would respond after being embarrassingly knocked out of Europa League on Thursday night and comfortably beaten by their North London rivals last Sunday.
The early signs at Villa Park were not promising, with Dean Smith’s men dominating possession, but a moment of brilliance by Lucas Moura set-up Carlos Vinicius for his first Premier League goal on the half-hour mark.
Villa struggled to create any opportunities without Jack Grealish, as Harry Kane extended Spurs advantage in the second half from the penalty spot after Matty Cash clattered the England captain.
The victory keeps Spurs Champions League hopes alive, rising to sixth in the table and now sit three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.
Story of the game
Supporters were looking for a statement by Jose Mourinho after Thursday’s disgraceful performance, and he certainly didn’t hold back as he made seven changes from the squad that faced Dinamo Zagreb.
Kane, Lucas, Davinson Sanchez, and Hugo Lloris were the three players that remained in the starting eleven. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg returned after serving a suspension mid-week, partnering alongside Tanguy Ndombele and Giovanni Lo Celso, with the latter making his first start since December.
Carlos Vinicius was handed his second start in the Premier League, while Japhet Tanganga and Joe Rodon replaced Matt Doherty and Toby Alderweireld, who were both out due to illness.
Aston Villa continued to be without Grealish, who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Villa had only won once without Grealish in seven attempts. Without their leading talisman, it was time for others to step up, including Bertrand Traore, John McGinn and January signing Morgan Sanson.
Eyes were on how Spurs would line-up with Kane and Vinicius on the pitch, and within the opening 10 minutes, it was clear to see a fluid 4-2-3-1 with Kane in the central role of the three.
The new system saw a confident start by the visitors, especially with Kane and Lo Celso finding spaces in-between Villa’s midfield, but similar to Thursday, it never really progressed into any dangerous position that tested Emiliano Martinez.
Smith’s men started to cause problems for Spurs new-look defence as the game entered the 20-minute mark. Traore picked out Matt Targett with a terrific diagonal ball, but the Englishmen can’t lay it back to any of his teammates inside the box.
Then, completely out of the blue, after a long spell of dominant by the hosts, Vinicius broke the deadlock at Villa Park to score his first Premier League goals since joining Spurs. A poor clearance by Martinez was collected by Lucas, who played a one-two with Kane, before slotting it across to Vinicius to tap home into an empty net.
Since going behind, Villa struggled to threaten Lloris, with Ollie Watkins being a lone figure in the hosts half throughout the first half. Trezeguet cut on to his right foot and lofted a ball onto the head of Watkins, but the forward saw the cross sail over his head.
The half-time was blown, with Spurs taking an undeserved 1-0 lead after another lethargic opening 30 minutes. However, Villa had a good spell of domination before Vinicius’ opener, causing a few problems across Spurs back-line, but didn’t create any clear-cut opportunities, with chances few and far for either side.
Neither manager made any changes at the break, notably, Smith who had the experienced Ross Barkley to call upon if needed.
The opening stages of the second half saw Spurs playing the ball forward quicker, with Kane sending an effort just inches wide of the post that was initially deflected off the foot of Tyrone Mings.
Lucas, who has been a positive highlight in a disastrous week, continued to shine at Villa Park, as he dazzled past three or four defenders before trying to play it across to Kane, but the ball was cleared by Mings.
Sergio Regulion was forced to give way 10 minutes into the second half after picking up one or two knocks in some feisty tackles, as Ben Davies replaced the Spaniard.
Villa began to pick up the pace, and Trezequet’s tidy footwork released Sanson down on the left, who tried to return the favour to pick out Trezeguet in the middle, but his effort is cleared by Rodon. Shortly after, Anwar El Ghazi replaced Traore.
Spurs European journey to Croatia started to get better of their legs as the midfield especially began to get tired, which saw the introduction of Steven Bergwijn for Lo Celso on 65-minute mark, while Smith brought on Barkley to replace Sanson.
Mourinho side is well-known to sit on one-goal leads, usually leading to conceding goals in the final few minutes, so a second goal was necessary, and their leading marksman delivered that in the 68th minute.
Kane was played through; however, he completely miscued his touch and was caught by a sliding Matty Cash just on the by-line, forcing the referee to point to the spot, and Kane made no mistake from six yards out.
A significant goal to settle the nerves for Spurs, but more importantly, Mourinho.
Spurs looked to finish the game strongly as Hojbjerg won the ball on the edge of Villa’s box before he unleashed an effort that forced Martinez into a low save.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, both managers tried to insert fresher legs, with Kieran Davis replacing Trezeguet for Villa’s final change, while Moussa Sissoko came on for Ndombele.
A lack of concretion by Sanchez could have brought the hosts back into the game with just eight minutes left on the clock. The newly introduced Davis got around the Colombian before sliding the ball across to Barkley, whose effort was superbly blocked by Tanganga.
Villa couldn’t mount any comeback as Mourinho ended a troubled week with a vital three points that keep their Champions League hopes alive, but more importantly, sends them into the international break on the back of an important win.
Villa performed the basics well throughout the 90 minutes but lacked the sucker-punch in front of the goal.
Man of the Match – Lucas Moura
A standout performance by the Brazilian.
He was involved in the opening goal, winning the ball back before setting up his international teammate.
But the Villa players just couldn’t touch him. Lucas was dancing through the midfield and caused havoc for defenders. He even attempted several roulettes in the final stages of the match, highlighting his confidence at the moment.
The only thing missing was a goal, which would have been thoroughly deserved.