Yes, it is the season of goodwill – but unfortunately for Crystal Palace their Boxing Day opponents weren’t feeling very festive. Tottenham were ruthless here, no Christmas spirit whatsoever.
Without head coach Patrick Vieira, who had tested positive for Covid amid the outbreak that has infiltrated their first-team set-up, Palace were already fearing the worst, illustrated by their attempts to have this game postponed.
Their efforts fell on deaf ears with the Premier League and Antonio Conte’s men were just as unsympathetic.
Tottenham eased past Crystal Palace on Boxing Day with striker Harry Kane on target for the second game in a row
Lucas Moura was also on target with a close range header minutes later as Spurs quickly took control of the game
Son Heung-min made it three in the second half as the club’s top scorer netted his ninth of the campaign after Moura’s assist
It continues Tottenham’s impressive run of form under Antonio Conte, winning five of their last six games in all competitions
Palace hardly helped themselves either; why Wilfried Zaha felt compelled to lash out at Davinson Sanchez in the 38th minute having already picked up an earlier booking would have been beyond Eagles assistant boss Osian Roberts, who was standing in for Vieira on the away bench.
The winger’s actions are unlikely to have made his isolating boss feel any better, either.
Spurs boss Conte will certainly empathise with Vieira – who had an open line of communication to the Palace bench on Sunday.
The Italian’s own team were gripped by their own Covid surge earlier this month which cost them their place in Europe.
Conte will appreciate Palace’s predicament – but only to a point. He has bigger fish to fry. Tottenham are on a roll; Conte’s team remain undefeated domestically since his arrival as Nuno Espirito Santo’s replacement last month.
Kane rifles home from just inside the six yard area from Lucas Moura’s assist as Tottenham burst into life after slow start
It was Kane’s third goal of the Premier League season following a tough start to the campaign so far for the England captain
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Tottenham (3-4-3): Lloris 6.5; Sanchez 7, Dier 7, Tanganga 7; Royal 7.5, Skipp 7, Hojbjerg 7.5 (Ndombele 78), Regulion 7; Moura 9, Kane 7.5 (Bergwijn 64, 6), Son 7.5 (Gil 76). Subs: Gollini, Doherty, Winks, Gil, Rodon, Alli, Davies.
Subs not used: Gollini, Rodon, Alli, Doherty, Winks, Davies
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-3-3): Butland 6; Ward 6, Andersen 5, Tomkins 5.5, Mitchell 6.5 (Ferguson 82); Gallagher 6.5 (Schlupp 75), Kouyate 6, Hughes 6; Ayew 6, Edouard 5.5 (Mateta 63), Zaha 4. Subs: Matthews, Guehi, Kelly, Riedewald. Red: Zaha.
Subs not used: Riedewald, Matthews, Kelly, Guehi
Referee: Jonathan Moss 6
Spurs appeared headed for another season of ineptitude and discontent. Instead, they head towards 2022 with an air of excitement an anticipation.
A Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea is on the horizon; a game that will inevitably mean an awful lot to Conte – or at least his pride.
But perhaps more pertinently for Tottenham, they are in the thick of in the race for a top-four place and a return to Champions League football.
And while Conte may lament UEFA’s decision to effectively eliminate his team from the European Conference League last week because they could not re-arrange their postponed clash against Rennes before the December 31 deadline, the ruling could well be a blessing in disguise.
We all saw how Chelsea benefitted from having no European distractions under Conte during the 2016-17 season.
Moura then turned goalscorer as he leapt up superbly to power in Tottenham’s second just moments after their opener
The Brazilian celebrates with his team-mates after getting on the scoresheet again, his third strike in his last four games
Now, no-one is suggesting Tottenham are going to win the Premier League but a top-four finish would be viewed as a major triumph – certainly by Daniel Levy.
Of course, bigger tests lie ahead for Conte but the signs so far are entirely promising. In his own understated way, Conte tried to keep a lid on growing expectations after the victory, saying: ‘For sure we have to continue to improve, to exploit the confidence that is going to improve us.
‘We know very well, I know very well, we have a big job to do. It’s good to get three points, to score three goals with your three strikers.
‘It’s good to keep another clean sheet. But we know very well we have to work very hard to improve the situation.
‘We could have scored more than three but there was a lot of very positive things. Now we have to recover and make the best decision for the next starting 11.’
Palace forward Wilfried Zaha was given his marching orders towards the end of the first half after picking up a second yellow
Conte isn’t fooling anyone, though. This is a team on an upward trajectory. Yet, had Jordan Ayew kept his composure when set-up by Odsonne Edouard inside the opening minute then things may have turned out differently.
But from there on in, Spurs turned the screw. Jack Butland was at full stretch to deny Heung-min Son’s low shot in the third minute before Olivier Skipp saw his effort whizz narrowly wide soon after.
And it wasn’t long before Tottenham were ahead, Lucas Moura’s inch perfect square ball dispatched ruthlessly by Harry Kane. It was only the England captain’s third top-flight goal of the season; a dismal return given his incredible standards.
Contrastingly, however, this was Kane’s second Premier League goal in as many matches – a positive sign for Tottenham, and an ominous one for the club’s rivals.
Moura turned goalscorer just two minutes later as he sprung emphatically, albeit with a running jump, above Joachim Anderson to nod home Emerson Royal’s cross.
Son increased Tottenham’s command by adding a third as he steered the ball home after Moura had drilled it into the box
Son wheels away having continued his hot streak by putting away his fourth goal in five games under Conte
Roberts, assisted by highly-rated first-team coach Shaun Derry, will have asked questions as to how Moura, at 5ft 7ins, was able to beat 6ft 4ins Andersen in aerial combat.
But that was a mere sideshow, all that mattered here was that Tottenham – inside 35 minutes – were home and hosed. Moura, unquestionably, has been one of the stand-out performers during Conte’s revolution so far. The Brazilian enters the final two years of his contract this summer; stick or twist time for Spurs and Levy. On this evidence, Tottenham should be looking to secure his long-term future as a matter of priority.
Even if Palace harboured any hopes of a comeback, they were dashed by the petulance of Zaha who inexplicably threw his hands in the face of Sanchez to pick up a second yellow in the 37th minute. The look on the Ivorian’s face suggested that he’d been the victim of an outrageous injustice.
You’d imagine Zaha will revise his opinion upon seeing the incident again. That would have been cause for zero consolation to Palace, who shifted into damage limited mode.
The second half was a non-event; Conte using the opportunity to rest key-men Kane and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg ahead of Tuesday’s game visit to Southampton.
Yet there was still room for a Tottenham third, Moura setting up Son to score with his final touch before bing substituted in the 75th minute to put the result beyond any doubt.
Antonio Conte will be encouraged by another confident display from his side as they prepare for a trip to Southampton next