Three talking points as Tottenham eased to victory over minnows APOEL Nicosia
Tottenham made it five wins from a possible six in the Champions League group stage as Mauricio Pochettino’s experimental team cantered to a three-goal win over Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia.
With passage to the last 16 already secured ahead of the final round of fixtures, the Tottenham manager awarded rare starts to Juan Foyth, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and striker Fernando Llorente.
And it was the £12million deadline day signing from Swansea City that got the hosts off to the perfect start, collecting the ball inside the six-yard box before swivelling and finishing in one swift move.
Son Heung-min then got in on the act shortly before half-time when his curling effort from the edge of the area – finishing off a smart one-two with the impressive Llorente – left APOEL’s goalkeeper helpless.
The visitors needed at least a point to salvage any chance of a Europa League spot and although Praxitelis Vouros went close after the break when his deflected strike fizzed narrowly past the post it was Pochettino’s side who added a deserved third late on, with N’Koudou’s strike cannoning into the net.
Tottenham – who can claim the accolade of finishing the group stages with the most points of any team to qualify – will now turn their attention to Monday morning when the draw for the last 16 gets underway.
Youth given a chance as Pochettino rings the changes
With Tottenham already assured of their passage to the knock-out stages as Group H winners, and considering the minnow status of the opposition, it offered the chance for youth to be given a shot.
Juan Foyth – bought from Argentinian side Estudiantes during the summer transfer window – and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou were awarded the opportunity to impress by boss Mauricio Pochettino, whilst academy product and 19-year-old striker Kazaiah Sterling was introduced for his Spurs debut.
Whilst it wasn’t particularly the most testing 90 minutes of football that these young players will ever face in a Tottenham shirt it offered a glimpse of the future, with Foyth in particular impressing.
The 19-year-old defender slotted in nicely alongside the beastly figure of Davinson Sanchez, seeming comfortable when repelling any of APOEL’s endeavours in attack and dealing with problems in a composed manner, and Pochettino would have been pleased with the Argentine’s tidy performance.
And it was N’Koudou who added some deserved gloss to the score-line late on, wriggling his way into the penalty area before his deflected effort found its way in for his first ever Tottenham goal.
It’s unlikely that these players – nor Kyle Walker-Peters, a second-half substitute – will all of a sudden become first-team regulars overnight, but it was valuable first-team exposure nonetheless.
Llorente off the mark in a Tottenham shirt
The last few months have been something of a struggle for Fernando Llorente, overcoming an arm injury whilst trying to impress in the little first-team action he’s been awarded since moving to north London.
Due to the way that Pochettino sets his side up week-in, week-out, packing the midfield instead of utilising two strikers, and due to Harry Kane’s undroppable nature, it’s been tough going until now.
Yet with Kane given a rest for an essential ‘dead rubber’ final group stage match, Llorente was awarded his first start of the Champions League this season and certainly sent a message of intent to his manager.
The 32-year-old was a potent outlet throughout – with his height and strength causing no end of problems for a weak APOEL defence – and his goal inside the opening 20 minutes wasn’t one affiliated with a man devoid of confidence, smartly turning his man before firing into a gaping net.
It was a goal that got his Tottenham tally up and running after 17 appearances – and nearly seven hours of football – and it will no doubt feel like a huge weight has been lifted from off his shoulders.
His performance went from strength to strength after that early boost too, with his cushioned one-two putting the ball into Son’s path for the second, and he could – and arguably should – have doubled his efforts on the night when he completely mis-kicked a clear shot from just a few yards out.
As with the other fringe players on show on Wednesday night it is unlikely to ever see Llorente marching out ahead of Kane anytime soon but it showed he could be a key squad player as the season goes on.
Pochettino clears up Rose incident
Whilst Wednesday offered the chance for a lot of fringe players to get a taste of first-team football in Europe, it offered Danny Rose the chance to continue trying to stake a claim for his starting berth back.
Since returning from a long-term injury he has found it difficult to reach the heights of last season when he was named in the PFA team of the year, playing just two of Spurs’ last five league matches.
And he was certainly in the thick of the action at Wembley Stadium – albeit mainly for the wrong reasons – as he escaped with only a yellow after reacting rashly to a challenge before storming straight down the tunnel by himself after being hauled off by Pochettino with 20 minutes remaining.
At the time it seemed that he was frustrated at being taken off prematurely, although speaking shortly after full-time Pochettino cleared up the issue and said:
“Players are never happy when they are going out. He had a big cut and the doctors said he needed a stitch and it was impossible to play. Of course the player was frustrated because it was Champions League but nothing is wrong.”
It transpired that Rose needed five stitches to a cut above his eye as a result after falling on the wrong end of an APOEL challenge, with Pochettino left with no choice but to end his night early.
But in terms of his contribution on the pitch the England left-back did very little to convince the Tottenham boss that he merits a starting role ahead of Ben Davies, failing to impress once again.
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