After Harry? James Maddison wearing Harry Kane’s No 10 shirt presented a pointed kiss-off to Tottenham’s one‑of‑their-own all‑time top goalscorer last seen enduring defeat in the German Supercup.
Ivan Toney’s absence until January, meanwhile, leaves Brentford’s forward line in the more than capable hands of Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo – tricky, zesty and both goalscorers amid Spurs’ reversion to a back four under Ange Postecoglou.
Destiny Udogie at left-back and Micky van de Ven partnering Cristian Romero ahead of the new goalkeeper, Guglielmo Vicario, added further unfamiliarity. “We took a bit of a gamble throwing them in, they handled the pressure really well,” Postecoglou said. “Micky had only had three sessions with us but he’s going to be a very good player.”
With David Raya Arsenal-bound, Mark Flekken, Brentford’s Dutch keeper, was also making a Premier League debut but Thomas Frank’s selection was far more recognisable than Postecoglou’s. As was Brentford’s style of play compared to the remodelled Tottenham, work with considerable progress to make but showing signs of traditional Spurs values as opposed to the doggerel of Antonio Conte, over an eventual 105 minutes.
“Football clubs move on pretty quickly,” Postecoglou said. “I haven’t needed to give them a warm fuzzy cuddle.” Richarlison stepped from Kane’s shadow as the lone striker, Maddison’s shirt number suggesting him as a creator in the Hoddle/Sheringham mould. Central but drifting, Maddison had the stage his talents have long deserved and he was his team’s best performer.
His dead-ball proficiency has never been in question and a cross from the left‑hand corner of Brentford’s box supplied the first goal of the Postecoglou era, Romero and Richarlison queueing to score. The Argentina international got there first but on‑field celebrations were delayed by a lengthy VAR review and Romero leaving the field with a concussion sustained during a previous collision with Mbeumo.
On came Davinson Sánchez, a pariah last season but with rave pre‑season reviews. One of Postecoglou’s tasks is to polish the faded jewels he inherited, Yves Bissouma, showing flashes of his Brighton self in midfield, being another. “Bissouma has been outstanding through pre-season and was superb today,” Postecoglou said.
A delayed kick-off, blamed on “sanitation issues”, briefly threatened the game taking place at all, the stadium’s toilets flush out of water until an emergency plumber answered the call. When the start eventually came, Brentford swarmed at Spurs, Wissa and Mbeumo soon hounding Vicario’s one-touch passing skills.
After that storm abated, Tottenham played concerted minutes of creative, passing football promised by the new manager and scored their opener, only for Brentford to go again. The unfortunate Son Heung-min, the new club captain, was caught by VAR’s all-seeing eye, his slight trip on Mathias Jensen punished before Mbeumo sent Vicario the wrong way with his penalty.
Vicario was left equally helpless by Brentford’s second. Rico Henry blazed past an idling Emerson Royal and cut back for Wissa’s shot to rattle off Van de Ven’s trailing leg. Emerson, within the 11 minutes added on to the first 45, made swift amends, the ball breaking from Maddison for him to lash home, uncharacteristically but spectacularly.
The PA announcement of those 11 minutes had seemed to take the wind from Brentford’s sails; such added football asks different questions, Frank said later. Still, Henry, again leaving Emerson for dead, supplied Mbeumo with a golden chance he shanked over in the half’s closing seconds.
The second half brought change and a Spurs improvement. Brentford’s main creative outlet remained their hard press. Frank, typically positive about his team, expressed disappointment they had not won. “I thought we definitely created more chances,” he said. “In a relatively tight game I think we should have won it. We kept them to little with a low block. The two goals were the smallest chances that they had.”
Richarlison’s first-half lack of movement, chastised by Son at one point, had been unhelpful to Spurs though he began the half looking more interested, perhaps after receiving some Melburnian invective. Maddison’s angled pass gave the Brazilian his best chance to shoot but Flekken had narrowed the angles. “We didn’t use him enough,” Richarlison’s new manager suggested.
As 90 minutes closed out, two very different sides had nullified each other. Vicario’s wobbles continued with a couple of scares, before just four minutes of injury time was called.
Spurs closed out passing the ball while unable to find a goal, settling for the same scoreline as last season, when Kane was still around to save them. “We wanted to go out and give our supporters some hope and belief in the team,” Postecoglou said. “I thought they did that today.”