Antonio Conte said his Tottenham side could “smell the blood” of their rivals and took advantage of their slips by beating Aston Villa 4-0 at Villa Park.
With Arsenal’s loss at home to Brighton adding to previous defeats to Wolves and Manchester United, Spurs had the chance to strengthen their grip on the fourth and did so in emphatic style.
Heung-Min Son’s hat-trick helped open a three-point lead over the Gunners and Conte was delighted by the mentality shown by his side as they withstood heavy pressure in the first half.
“A strong team needs character and personality to be strong mentally, because during a match you can have a period where you suffer because the opponent pushes you a lot.
“Today the first half was difficult but we knew that because when we play Aston Villa in this stadium with this fantastic atmosphere, I don’t think there is a single team that wins easily.
“For that reason, I was happy with the attitude of the players, the composure. They decided to stay strong. And then in the second half, I think we won the game in a big way.
“Of course we have to be more good when there’s that kind of pressure and try to keep playing. Because every time we had the ball we had chances to score.
“If you have the opposition playing under high pressure, space will open up to attack. In the second half we were much better I think because the intensity at Aston Villa was slower.
“It was a big win for us. Especially when you play a game after your rivals for a Champions League place – Wolverhampton, Manchester United and Arsenal – lost.
“Right now you are starting to feel the blood. It is important at this moment not to fail. We are working a lot on the mentality and the players give me satisfaction.
“Of course, seeing this improvement makes me proud. It gives me great satisfaction. At the same time, I know that we have to work on this improvement.
“Because it’s not just the tactical, technical and physical aspects but there’s the mentality. There’s a lot of room for improvement. But today they showed me that they have improved this aspect.
The formidable Tottenham trio
Heung-Min Son now has 17 Premier League goals this season and in this form could still rival Mohamed Salah for the golden boot. This connection to Harry Kane seems deadlier than ever, with the England captain’s assist for the third goal underlining his extraordinary vision.
But maybe it’s time we talked about that magical trio at Tottenham as well as a perfect partnership. Dejan Kulusevski ran to score thanks to another assist from Kane and then became Son’s provider for the fourth goal. The Swede has been a revelation since his arrival.
There wasn’t much missing from Kane and Son, but he added it. A natural left foot, he knows when to slow down play and speed it up, and that composure in the final third sets him apart from other contenders for that third position in Tottenham’s attack.
Gareth Bale’s return to the club on loan from Real Madrid last season had briefly hinted at a one-line dream team forward – and the Welshman has scored. But Kulusevski was better. This time around, it looks like that could be enough to carry Spurs into the Champions League places.
Gerrard’s take on the top three
When asked if Tottenham have the best front three in the Premier League, Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard was full of praise but didn’t agree.
“They are definitely top players. I would say two of them are world class and I think Juventus youngster Kulusevski is potentially a top player.
“That’s my opinion on that, but I think you have to remember there’s City, Liverpool and Chelsea who all have world-class players as well.
“So I don’t know where Tottenham are in the league, but normally the team that wins the league has the best attacking line.”