Pochettino closes on trophy as Spurs secure Wembley semifinal place
Three thoughts on Tottenham's 3-0 win vs. Swansea in the FA Cup quarterfinal.
1. Tottenham can win FA Cup at 'home'
On more than one occasion, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has been keen to emphasise that winning a trophy like the FA Cup isn't necessarily an important step in the progression of his team.
But he perhaps underestimates the importance of this competition -- at the very least to Spurs fans -- and the glory that might come with winning it to cap four years of play that has been thrilling, but featured few crescendos.
And they're probably favourites, given they're essentially two home games away from winning the thing. Victory over Swansea on Saturday, orchestrated by the brilliant Christian Eriksen, put them into a semifinal that will be played at Wembley, where they'll try to qualify for the final, also to take place at Wembley.
The days of the "Wembley curse" are long-gone -- Juventus being the only team to beat Spurs there since October -- home advantage could be crucial in taking Spurs not just to their first trophy under Pochettino, but their first silverware of any description for a decade.
Saturday's game was a relative stroll in the park. Swansea's plan was to keep things tight early on, but that went out of the window after 11 minutes. Eriksen advanced towards the edge of the penalty area and, with the entire home defence bafflingly standing off and watching, he curled a beautiful shot into the corner. Eriksen is phenomenal player when the opposition is trying to stop him; when they don't, that sort of thing is even likelier to happen.
Spurs were entirely dominant and, seconds before the break, Erik Lamela made the scoreline reflect the state of play more accurately. Again, the Swansea defence sat back and Lamela was allowed to curl the ball around the inert Kyle Bartley, an unsighted Kristoffer Nordfeldt not even offering a dive.
Swansea improved in the second half but, just after the hour mark, Eriksen made the game safe when shot from 20 yards got through a fairly weak attempt at a save from Nordfeldt. The last half an hour was played out with both sides accepting the result, as Spurs looked forward to the chance of glory.
2. Eriksen leads Spurs' creators
The hand-wringing is inevitable, to an extent; being without Harry Kane would be bad news for any team and concerns among their support are entirely understandable.
But while Spurs have got Christian Eriksen, they might just be OK. With the obvious caveat of Swansea's performance -- allowing one of the world's best playmakers as much room as he liked was a surreal approach -- the Danish midfielder was nonetheless masterful in directing his team to victory.
Eriksen's goals were terrific, but arguably the best thing he did all game was a brilliant pass over the top that Son superbly controlled and then struck into the net, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside (a VAR consultation confirmed he was a few inches beyond the last man).
"It's about recognising the players around you," Eriksen told the Independent this week. "Before you get the ball, knowing where your teammates are. Then making and taking a decision really quick. So it's really just instinct in the game. We have really instinctive players who take the decision really quick and in the game."
With Eriksen and Son, as well as Lamela and Dele Alli, Spurs supporters know their side will not be short of players who can create openings, Kane or not.
3. Swansea pay the price for passive approach
You wouldn't expect a full-strength Swansea to beat Spurs. But given the players not available to Carlos Carvalhal -- among them Jordan and Andre Ayew, Lukasz Fabianski and Leroy Fer -- this was far from a full-strength Swansea.
Then again, though, you wouldn't have expected them to win half the games they have since Carvalhal took over in December. His entire tenure has been based on Swansea achieving the unexpected and much of that has been down to the way his side have played.
Swansea's recovery from relegation certainties in December to survival probables in March has been -- for a large part -- down to playing positively, not as if they were strugglers expected to lose, but as proactive aggressors.
Given all of that, then, you wonder why they were so defensive in the first half of this game. The home side essentially played a 5-3-1-1 system and sat back, waiting for Spurs to attack. The big problem there is that, even without Kane, Pochettino's men are quite good at that and will do so happily.
Swansea essentially began where they left off in their last game, which saw them forced to batten down the hatches and defend for 79 minutes for a 0-0 draw after Jordan Ayew was sent off against Huddersfield. But rather than facing Steve Mounie and Rajiv van la Parra, it was Eriksen and Son. That's asking for trouble and getting it with gusto.=
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.