What is this Tottenham side’s natural resting place? A comfortable defeat of Brentford offered no definitive clues but, given their claim to a top-four position has grown appreciably over the past fortnight, Antonio Conte’s concerns about their standard may yet be allayed. A propensity to drop their tempo for extended periods will not be lost on the head coach but there was plenty for him to enjoy here too, particularly an exhilarating second goal that speaks promisingly of their ability to scent blood.
Brentford were a pale shadow of their freewheeling early season selves, only posing a genuine threat when their cause was beyond redemption. But they had begun to prompt nervous murmurs around the stands with a spell of pressure either side of the hour mark and the fear was that Spurs had not extended the lead a vigorous start to the game had brought.
Then Son Heung-min took a pass from Davinson Sánchez eight yards inside his own half, deftly laid it into Harry Kane’s path and, seven seconds later, could celebrate the tap-in that sealed the points.
Son had set off into Brentford territory while Kane, looking up and finding the perfect angle, released a marauding Sergio Reguilón. There was no catching the left wing-back, whose first touch sent him haring into the penalty area and allowed him to cross for Son’s simple finish. The goalscorer had not broken his stride since combining with Kane all that way further back. It was a blistering move and heightened the sense that Reguilón, perhaps more than most in this Tottenham squad, is going to enjoy himself hugely in Conte’s system.
“When we have space I think this team is very good because we have players with quality but, at the same time, fast players, very good at exploiting the space,” Conte said. “On the other hand, we have to try to improve when we don’t find the space to move the ball better, to find the right solution.”
The point was well made: Spurs have speed to burn when the grass opens up but, even during their long periods of control here, laboured familiarly when the brakes needed applying. They sprung out of the traps, anche se, and for the opening dozen minutes it was as if the shoddy defeat by Slovenian minnows Mura had never punctured the momentum built in their rousing second half against Leeds. Last week’s embarrassment caused Conte to lament that Tottenham’s level is “not so high”. His players emerged as if intent upon proving him wrong and Lucas Moura had already drawn a fine save from Álvaro Fernández when the breakthrough arrived.
It was doubly unfortunate for Sergi Canós, who had defended smartly to concede a corner when Reguilón sought to reach a perceptive pass from Eric Dier. Son took it short and, receiving the ball back, delivered a cross that Pontus Jansson met first. Canós, challenging nearby, was in the way of his header and the speed of the point-blank ricochet gave Fernández no chance; a sheepish Ben Davies, who was closest to the inadvertent scorer, took plaudits from his teammates. Spurs celebrated scoring from a corner for the first time this season and Conte could begin considering a more positive appraisal than the one he had offered seven days previously.
“I think you can learn more about a loss than a win," Egli ha detto, underlining that the ghosts of Mura still linger. “To get three points is not easy against Brentford but today we showed great desire. For sure we can improve, we have a lot of space for improvement in possession. Without the ball I think we did very well, we put pressure from the start until the end.”
Brentford were largely smothered although they remained in the game when Fernández denied Son and then, after half-time, a clean-through Kane. The striker is yet to score in the league under Conte but elements of his game looked crisper here. Spurs let much of the opening period pass them by after Canós’s aberration but their opponents, who have lost five in seven, have mislaid the capacity to ask questions that rocked all-comers in the campaign’s early weeks.
Ivan Toney shot at Hugo Lloris before Son’s goal and was denied again late on, but Brentford’s most sustained period of attacking gusto came too late.
“In many ways I’m quite satisfied with the performance,” Thomas Frank said. “Overall, we lost fair and square to a better team on the day.” Spurs could plausibly be fourth if they beat Norwich on Sunday. For all Conte’s misgivings, he has put them straight back in the conversation.