LONDON — Three thoughts from Tottenham’s 6-0 win against Millwall in the FA Cup quarterfinals at White Hart Lane.
1. Spurs dealt Kane blow
Tottenham’s FA Cup dream is on, but it took just six minutes for their worst nightmare to come true. There is little that could have marred this occasion — a supremely comfortable 6-0 win — more than a serious injury to Harry Kane but the club faces an anxious wait after the striker limped off with a suspected ankle injury. Kane spent this week being favourably compared to the game’s great goalscorers past and present after a double against Everton last weekend took him to eight goals in his last three domestic appearances, and top of the Premier League scoring charts.
There is no one better than Kane in a London derby and he scored a Hat trick against Fulham in the last round. He was expected to take League One Millwall — admittedly boasting a tremendous defensive record this year — to the sword. He was just getting going when he forced a save from goalkeeper Tom King after five minutes but a defender’s momentum took him into the England striker, whose foot turned awkwardly as he fell. He limped straight down the tunnel and was replaced by Christian Eriksen. That the Dane scored Tottenham’s first goal and set up the fourth and sixth, and Son Heung-min, who went up front, scored a brilliant hat trick will be little consolation to Spurs and manager Mauricio Pochettino if Kane is seriously hurt.
Without him, Spurs are toothless against top opposition. He missed ten games earlier in the season with ankle ligament damage and, after winning the first four, Spurs went six matches without a win, managing one goal from open play. Their only other recognised centre-forward, Vincent Janssen, scored his first goal from open play here but he has not looked a £17 million striker so far. Son was so impressive as an auxiliary forward, and made it six goals in the FA Cup this season, but he is not a striker and he is not Kane.
The only comfort for Spurs is that there is only one game — next Sunday’s home match against Southampton — before the international break, so even if Kane misses a fortnight he could be back for the match at Burnley on Apr. 1. England manager Gareth Southgate will be sweating on his availability for the friendly in Germany on Mar. 22 and World Cup qualifier at home to Lithuania four days later. England should be fine against Lithuania without Kane, just as Spurs were against the Lions, but it will be a different story in the Premier League, and it is easy to imagine that a bad injury will be a decisive blow to their slim hopes of catching Chelsea, and beating their top-six rivals to the FA Cup.
2. Business begins now
To Tottenham’s credit, the loss of their talisman did not distract them and they dispatched a lower league opposition for the third consecutive round. This is expected to be the last ever cup game at White Hart Lane and, if it was not the most dramatic, it was one of the more professional at the old stadium, which was rocking for the clubs’ first competitive meeting since 1990. Spurs attacked Millwall with controlled aggression from the off and King had already made three smart saves by the time Kane limped off. Son was initially tasked with buzzing around the England striker, before he moved up front, where he stretched Millwall centre-backs Byron Webster and Tony Craig, who have helped the club to clean sheets against three Premier League sides in this competition.
A few minutes after Dele Alli had a penalty appeal waved away, Eriksen opened the scoring with a superb, instinctive half-volley after Millwall had failed to clear a cross. The second goal was even better: there were groans from the crowd and a frustrated swing of Alli’s arm after Son got a simple pass trapped under his feet. But the South Korean recovered quickly, stepped inside from the right flank and curled a wonderful left-footed shot into King’s top corner. Son’s form has fluctuated this season and he has been in and out of the team but that was his 12th goal of the campaign and his 13th — a fine first-time volley from Kieran Trippier’s pass — came shortly after half-time to put the game to bed. As Millwall tired, Alli continued his excellent goal-scoring run with a tap in from an Eriksen cross. The 20-year-old has now scored in three consecutive matches since being sent off against KAA Gent — a superb response that has gone largely unheralded. The superb Son’s hat trick in stoppage time had an element of fortune, King fumbling his volley over the line.
The cherry on the cake was Janssen’s first goal from open play for the club, a clinical side-footed finish into the bottom corner from Son’s pass. It was starting to look very bleak for the Dutchman, who had trudged back to the dugout when Pochettino called for Eriksen to replace Kane, and you could see his relief when the ball hit the back of the net. He simply stood and allowed his teammates to embrace him, while the home fans chanted his name. The Dutchman played the final ten minutes with a spring in his step that has been absent since his first couple of appearances in a Spurs shirt.
The real work begins now for Tottenham, though. Pochettino’s team are excellent at beating teams that they should beat in the league and domestic cups, so much so that it has become difficult to draw many conclusions from their run of impressive home victories. That is because Spurs have come unstuck when it really matters — in games against their top six rivals. They have beaten Chelsea and Manchester City at home, admittedly, but if they want to win the FA Cup for the first time since 1991, they will need to beat two of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal or City at Wembley — which has not been a happy home for them so far this season. They have won once in their last nine matches at the national stadium.
The game was overshadowed by alleged racist chanting from Millwall fans but they finished the game singing: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Shrewsbury.” It is Spurs who are going back to Wembley.
3. Spurs win makes it perfect semifinal lineup
The FA Cup needed a boost and it is hard to imagine a more perfect season for the famous old competition. In a normal season, Millwall’s run to the quarterfinal, seeing off Bournemouth, Watford and Leicester on the way, would have been the biggest story but it has been overshadowed by the runs of non-league Lincoln and Sutton. And yet for all the upsets and fairytale stories, four of the Premier League’s top six will make up the semifinalists. The Football Association and their broadcast partners must be licking their lips.
This trend seems to be mutually beneficial, though. The FA Cup needs the top teams to take it seriously to dispel accusations that it is decreasing in significance but the top clubs also need the FA Cup. Spurs need a trophy to back up all the progress made under Pochettino, while United and City must justify the appointments of super-coaches Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in the summer, and a top-four finish in the league will not be enough. This competition matters again.
Dan is ESPN FC’s Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.