A return to the top of the Champions League group for Tottenham Hotspur but, more importantly, a return to form for Son Heung-in and Harry Kane. It wasn’t just that they both scored two goals each as Antonio Conte’s side came back from a deficit to defeat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2. It was because they lined up so fluidly again, with the way Son flew away with that full third also reflecting the release they both felt.
Of course it’s too early to say this was a turning point, especially given Kane skied a late penalty, but it was something to build on; a very positive moment. That was all the more important given the pressure and all the more fitting given the circumstances.
There were a number of factors that may have contributed to this rebound.
One was the simple fact that Spurs had to win. The group looks so much easier now, but that wasn’t the case at 8pm on Wednesday night. This is one of the reasons why the fourth matchday is usually so decisive in these times. Here the group tables are usually divided between the richest and those who form the numbers there. Frankfurt is now fighting that they are not the latter.
They admittedly met a Spurs who had plenty of conviction tonight and not just because of the consequences of lost points.
There was also the emotion swirling around this stadium. While Saturday’s win over Brighton felt like the true moment in which team Gian Pietro Ventrone was remembered, this was his first home game since his sad death and viewers more than acknowledged it. “There’s only one Gian Piero” sounded regularly.
‘The Marine’, as he was affectionately known, would no doubt have admired the Spurs’ resilience as they came from behind and then just kept running.
This was perhaps the most relevant factor in the nature of this attack plot. Spurs looked their best for a month, certainly since beating Leicester City, which was the last time Son and Kane linked.
Maybe they actually had to go after them.
After all, one of the topics of the last few weeks has been Conte’s performances that are much more reserved than usual. The Spurs have played counterattacks so conspicuously that they have shown many unconvincing performances. It has indeed been reminiscent of some of the worst games under Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo, albeit with some wins.
There is a school of thought that stems from Conte trying to limit the team’s “physical load” ahead of the World Cup, so trying to conserve energy.
There’s also a belief that he’s becoming more and more conservative as his career progresses. This was certainly a far cry from his Juventus and Italy teams.
Either way, Spurs were a changed side when they fell behind. There could also have been an element of embarrassment.
The goal they conceded was ominous, the resurgent Eric Dier suffering a slip as he gifted the ball to Frankfurt with a terrible touch before letting it through his legs, and Daichi Kamada finally scored.
The problem for the Germans was that unlike a Conte team, they are never non-open. Their willingness to move forward left gaps, and that’s what finally got Kane and Son together. Within minutes, Kane had played one of those passes, and the Korean was too light between center halves to simply roll the ball into the corner. All the momentum was with the Spurs. They locked Frankfurt back. The Germans were desperate. Legs flew and Kane eventually went down for a penalty.
Many will no doubt say he went down too easily, but Kristijan Jakic’s check was all too clear. Kane powered it to the web in vintage fashion. It was certainly a very different approach to the later penalty as if trying something different. He may not have returned there as the ball was sent high into the stands.
Son was much more in control with the much more difficult moment that ended up making the difference between the sides. In the 36th minute, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stormed down the left flank before delivering an inviting cross not always associated with the Dane.
Son found plenty of space and he found the top of the net in an absolutely spectacular way. It must have been a volley that was even more satisfying to catch than to watch. It was so good. It symbolized how Spurs were in complete control.
There was late action when Tuta was sent off for two warnings within minutes, anger at which seemed to give Frankfurt a late advantage. Substitute Faride Alidou scored a superb header to unnecessarily tense Spurs, and then Kane’s missed penalty in added time made it worse.
Conte’s side then showed a bit of old-fashioned defense with some desperate but clear hacks, capping a night largely dominated by old attacking breezes.