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A Year in Review – Matches of the Season, Pt. 1

Who loves a good roller coaster? There is not a better analogy for the 2021-22 Tottneham Hotspur season than that of a roller coaster, and I am here to guide you through the roller coaster that was this season. My name is Dustin Gentile, and over the next few weeks, I will be here to give you my take on the 2021-22 Tottenham Hotspur season. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be bringing you my take on the best goals, most exhilarating matches, the biggest moments, and brightest stars from the season that was 2021-22. If you missed last week’s countdown of the top goals of the season, you can find part one here and part two here.

Without much further ado, let’s look at this week’s list…

Matches of the Season (#10-6)

When looking at the matches of the year, there are a few standout candidates for the best of the season. When compiling this list, I judged all of the matches on the following criteria: the impact the match had on the season, the riveting moments of the match, and the quality of the match itself. Before we get into the list, I do have a few honorable mentions that just missed the cut.

3/7/22 – Tottenham 5 – Everton 0

It was a pretty dreadful year for Everton. It took a second half comeback in the penultimate match of the season against Crystal Palace to keep the second longest running streak of consecutive seasons in the top flight alive. Spurs did their part in keeping that uneasiness alive in March as they took the Cobra Kai approach to this contest:  “strike first, strike hard, no mercy.” A blistering start saw Tottenham ride a 3-0 lead into the half, and the squad played add-on early in the second half to cruise to a 5-0 win at home.

1/1/22 – Watford 0 – Tottenham 1

In a recent episode of the “Last Word on Spurs” podcast, one of the guests remarked that had the season not ended in the fashion it did, more fans would be talking about this match as one of the highlights of the season. Regardless of how well this match will be remembered in the annals of Spurs’ history, the team was able to start the year of 2022 off with a gutsy three-points on the road at Watford. Davinson Sanchez played the role of hero on the day with a smashing header deep into stoppage time to snatch the victory on the day (a goal which I named the #9 goal of the season in last week’s edition of the season review). If anything, it was a victory that showed a change in mentality in this Spurs squad that we have desperately needed.

Onto the Top 10 List…

#10 – 12/26/21 – Tottenham 3 – Crystal Palace 0

I mentioned in last Tuesday’s post that I love the various cups of European football. One of the other things that I love about this match, and more specifically the Premier League, is the Festive Fixtures. As a teacher, I love being able to enjoy my winter break with a very large dose of Premier League, and Boxing Day is always a day I very much enjoy on a yearly basis. Whether I am watching the match in my in-laws’ basement in Union, KY or I have ventured out to watch the match with the Cincinnati Spurs Supporters’ Club, it makes for a great way to spend the day. Once again, Spurs delivered a very nice Boxing Day/London Derby present. 

When these clubs squared off on matchday four at Selhurst Park, things were… in a word: awful. Spurs were embarrassed by their London rivals, they played with no conviction, and saw the sending off of Academy Graduate (and one of my personal favorites) Japhet Tanganga. As bad as that performance was, the reverse fixture on Boxing Day was a complete 180-degree turnaround. The team played with the pace, creativity, and determination that made many of us fall in love with the club. 

This match can be perfectly encapsulated in a five minute span in the first half. In the 32nd minute, Emerson Royal started a Tottenham counterattack with a lovely pass up the right sideline to Lucas Moura. Lucas would then slide a pass onto a cutting Harry Kane who’s first touch was a blistering shot past the Palace keeper for a 1-0 lead. Royal, Lucas, and Kane would then link up two minutes later as Kane would be the one to unlock the Palace defense as he found Emerson on the right side of the box. The Brazilian right wingback would then put in a perfect cross that would be smashed home by Lucas Moura who hurled himself through the air like a Brazilian lawn dart to beat his defender and double Spurs’ lead (and – for the record – earn an honorable mention spot on my list of the top goals of the season). The final act of this five minute span was particularly juicy. Remember before when I mentioned Japhet Tanganga was sent off in the reverse fixture. This was the result of a questionable challenge on Palace winger Wilfred Zaha. It was now time for Zaha to return the favor as he lashed out in frustration in the 37th minute shoving Davinson Sanchez to the ground and earning himself an early visit to the showers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium via a second yellow card.

Spurs would close out the win with a second half goal from Son Heung-min in the 74th minute with a simple flick on goal from a Lucas Moura shot-pass. It was the Brazilian forward’s day as he was involved in all-three Tottenham goals to help the squad jump from seventh place to fifth place in the league, which would seem to be the narrative of the second half of the season. 

#9 – 2/26/22 – Leeds 0 – Tottenham 4

After a letdown at Burnley following the thrill ride that was our stoppage win at Manchester City (stick around, it will pop up on this list), Spurs needed to make a statement at fledgling Leeds after slipping out of the European spots and into eighth place. To make matters worse, Antonio Conte had openly questioned whether or not he was the right man for this job in North London. It was due or die time, and the club was in need of a statement win at Elland Road. Much to the delight of Spurs fans around the world, the club responded with an empathic 4-0 win that was marked by a strong start and a historic goal to cap off the day. 

The match started with a trio of unlikely heroes getting in on the goal scoring action as Harry Winks would spring wingback Ryan Sessegnon free down the left side before unleashing a great cross that would find the foot of fellow wingback Matt Doherty to open the scoring in the 10th minute. It was a great moment for the Irish international who had struggled to find his way in North London, but had started to find a good run of form since his cameo in the Leicester City comeback (yes, we will definitely come onto that mtch very shortly) and was rewarded for his efforts with his first goal in a Tottenham shirt. The lead would soon be doubled as the slick footwork of recent addition Dejan Kulusevski led to another tighty finish in the 15th minute as the recent signee from Juventus pocketed his second goal in three matches for Spurs. It was the first of multiple goals from the Swede where he would use a combination of his silky footwork, deceptive strength, and lightning fast release to add to the team’s goal tally. I still find it hard to believe that Deki is only 21-year old. 

Spurs would continue to pad their lead before the half time whistle as everyone’s favorite viking destroyer, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, would float a tantalizing pass over the Leeds’ backline to a streaking Harry Kane who only needed a swing of his left boot to grow the Tottenham advantage to 3-0. The three points were wrapped up for, as Podspur’s fearless leader Matt affectionately calls them, the gumball kit-clad squad from North London, but there was still time for a bit of Premier League history, which is what sees this match fall on our top ten list for the season.

As the match winded down, the attacking duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min found themselves still tied for the all time lead in goal combinations alongside Chelsea-legends Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard with 36 goal combinations. The pair broke the single season goal combination record of 14 in 2020-21, and it was now just a matter of when the pair would take their place at the top of the all-time list. That moment came in the 85th minute at Elland Road as Harry Kane spotted Sonny making his run through the middle of the Leeds half. The England captain uncorked a picture perfect pass to the South Korean who buried his chance to give the duo the record and cement this match’s place on the top ten matches of the season list. The Kane and Son show have since seen their record grow to 41, and it is the hope of Spurs fans across the world to see that number continue to grow as these two continue to produce in their prime years. 

#8 – 3/20/22 – Tottenham 3 – West Ham 1

It’s fitting that two of the first three matches on this list are derbies as there is nothing sweeter in sport than knocking off your rivals. So let’s enjoy one of these sweet moments from this season. 

Entering March 20th, these London rivals were deadlocked at 48 points on the season. While Spurs had a match in hand, coming away with all three points would give either team a huge boost in their push for a Champions League spot. To add extra incentive, 5th place would also be up for grabs as Manchester United had the weekend off to balance out the schedule. If Spurs had any chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, this match was essentially a must-win.

Those chances of securing that win increased significantly in the ninth minute as it appeared that Kane and Son combined for yet another goal, but it was determined that Kane’s pass actually went in off a deflection from West Ham defender Kurt Zouma. In a race this tight, every goal in the back of your opponent’s net is a good goal. Once again, Spurs found themselves with early control. The Kane and Son Show would add another chapter midway through the first half when the record breaking duo doubled the Tottenham lead in the 24th minute, and it seemed as the team was cruising up and into the 5th place spot on the Premier League table. That cruise would hit a bit of turbulence before the end of the half as West Ham’s Said Benrhama would bring the scoreline to 2-1 Spurs in the 35th minute. If Spurs wanted to claim that 5th spot at the end of the weekend, they would need to come together and put up one of their best half performances of the season.

Fans were treated to a stellar second half that saw Spurs outshoot their rivals from East London 12-2 (with neither of the Hammers attempts finding their way on target), complete 91.7% of their passes, and create 24 dangerous attacks. It would be fitting that the Kane and Son Show would write another chapter to seal the deal on a derby day win in the 88th minute. Spurs’ captain Hugo Lloris would get the play started with a long boot that met the head of a leaping Harry Kane, and the England captain was able to direct the ball to Sonny who killed the match with precision and ease. It was the perfect end to a decisive London derby. To put the icing on the cake, West Ham would fail to finish above their London rivals for the rest of the season.

#7 – 8/15/21 – Tottenham 1 – Manchester City 0

Oh the joy of the opening matchday of the season. It is the one day of the year that every team starts on an even playing field. It had been a very odd offseason in North London with the countless attempts and failures for Tottenham to find a permanent manager after Ryan Mason took the reins at the end of the season as a result of the sacking of Jose Mourinho just six days before the Carabao Cup final. The search finally came to a close when former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santos came in to lead the charge. While the appointment may have divided opinion, most fans were hopeful. More would jump on that boat with a positive result against the defending champions.

Things would be even more worrisome entering the match as Spurs knew they would be without Harry Kane who would not be able to feature in the match as he reportedly was still getting back to full fitness after returning from his post-Euro 2020 holiday (if you believe the reports). This came on the heels of a summer where he expressed his intentions to take on a new challenge and was linked to a nine figure move to none other than Manchester City. This never came to fruition as some claimed that Spurs’ asking price of £150 million was too high while others claimed City never submitted an official offer. Regardless of what really happened, the England Captain would not make the squad. New summer signing Cuti Romero would also be absent from the starting XI as he was still dealing with a slight knee injury. It seemed as if the deck was stacked against the North London side.

While City controlled the opening frame, Spurs were not without their opportunities in the interval as Lucas Moura had a shot blocked on the goal line and Son Heung-min saw his best chance of the half drift just wide of a stretching Ederson, and both teams entered halftime goalless. Things would pick up for both sides to start the second half as both teams saw a string of early chances, but failed to connect. It really became a contest to see who would blink first, and to the joy of the home supporters and the shock of everyone else, it would be the champions. As the 54th minute became the 55th, Lucas Moura would win the ball back just outside the top of the Tottenham box and spring forward his attacking partners with clearance that would find the feet of Steven Bergwijn. The Dutch international would then slide a through ball towards the right touchline to Son Heung-min as the team approached the Man City third. Sonny would then create some space between himself and Man City defender Nathan Ake with a neat step over move that gave the South Korean just the window he needed to bury a long range shot into the back of the net and send, as NBC Sports commentator Arlo White would describe it, “into rapture.” Spurs had the lead, now they just need to hold the line.

Man City would continue to possess the ball over the final 35 minutes of play, but Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris and the back four of Sergio Reguilon, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier, and Japhet Tanganaga were equal to the task and saw off the final 35 to secure a season opening win over the defending champions. My personal favorite moment of the match came in the 83rd minute as Spurs’ academy graduate and one of my personal favorites, Japhet Tanganga, was subbed off for right back Matt Doherty. As Japh made his way around the goal and back to the bench, he was serenaded with a thunderous rendition of “he’s one of our own” from the adoring Tottenham faithful. It was a great moment for the young defender who always plays with great passion for the badge (even if he has had some inconsistencies in playing time and in performance). It was just great to see one of my personal favorites get some well-deserved recognition.

#6 – 4/3/22 – Tottenham 5 – Newcastle 1

Coming out of the final international break of the season, Tottenham sat fifth in the Premier League table at 51 points with nine matches to play as they entered their April 3rd match against Newcastle. The pressure was mounting as Manchester United also sat at 51 points, but Spurs held the advantage on goal difference and had the benefit of a match in hand on the Red Devils. Wolves and West Ham sat two and three points behind the club, respectively, entering the match week with hopes of leapfrogging the two clubs. Arsenal occupied the final Champions League spot with 54 points and a match in hand on their North London rivals. It was due or die time for Spurs knowing that they would need almost all of the 27 points from their remaining fixtures if they wanted to overtake Arsenal for that coveted final spot in the Champions League.

The early stages of the match saw both teams fail to convert on some early chances. It seemed destined to be a back and forth affair from two teams who were both playing at a high level. While Spurs controlled the majority of the ball, the visiting Magpies were able to find chances on the counterattack throughout the first half. Newcastle was able to find the initial breakthrough in the 39th minute as Fabian Schar converted on a direct free kick from just outside of the Tottenham box that snuck past a partially screened Hugo Lloris. A season ago, this type of goal would have rattled Spurs and sent them into a tailspin, but the squad had begun to show signs of resiliency in these moments, and would quickly level the score. After a Son Heung-min cross was recycled back out of the box, the South Korean would fire another cross back into the box that would find the head of unlikely scorer Ben Davies who guided the ball into the back of the net in the 43rd minute. It was the Welsh defenders first Premier League goal since the opening day of the 2018-19 season.

The second half began with Spurs on the attack and it would only take a matter of minutes for the team to take their first lead of the match. After a poor Newcastle cross found the feet of Dejan Kulusevski, Tottenham immediately set forward on the attack as Harry Kane would weave through the Newcastle defense and send a cross into the box that failed to find Sonny, but was met a diving header from another unlikely scorer, Matt Doherty, to put Spurs ahead 2-1 in the 48th minute. The quality finish would set the tone for the high-flying Tottenham attack on the half and land Matt Doherty on our list of Goals of the Season. It would only take six minutes for the team to double their advantage, only this time it came from an expected source. The play started with a Kane pass that would spring Kulusevski down the right hand side of the Newcastle half. The Sweden international would then find a wide open Son Heung-min who left no doubt and buried the ball into the back of the net. It was only the eighth Premier League start for the front three of Deki, Kane, and Sonny, but they had already put their entire Premier League on notice.

Spurs would blow the match wide open in the 63rd minute as a nice interchange between Deki and Matt Doherty would free the Irishmen up for a cross that would be met by the outstretched foot of Emerson Royal and trickle over the line to make it 4-1 on the afternoon. It was Emerson’s first goal for Tottenham and another unlikely name on the scoresheet for a club that had seemed to reach its top gear. The fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium were treated to a final moment of celebration as Lucas Moura, who was subbed on in the 76th minute for Kulusevksi, would find Steven Bergwijn, another late substitute, on a breakaway in the 83rd minute, and the Dutch international would put his stamp on the match for 5-1. It was a scintillating performance for the club that showed everyone chasing top four they were for real. The result also proved huge as Manchester United would draw at home to Leicester City and Arsenal would drop all three points on the road to Crystal Palace to move Tottenham into that coveted fourth spot at the end of the matchweek.

This brings us to the end of part one. Be sure to check back in on Thursday as I unveil my top five matches of the 2021-22 season, which promises to be full of late drama, derby day performances, and stellar performances against the league’s top teams.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking here. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. COME ON YOU SPURS!

-Dustin Gentile

Published by dgentile25

Follower of Christ. Husband. WKU Alum. Teacher/Asst. Athletic Director. Let's Go Preds. Go Tops. Go Blue. Come on You Spurs. Let’s Go Reds. Psalm 105:4

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