New signing Son Heung-Min scored two first half goals and Erik Lamela added a late insurance policy as Tottenham Hotspur defeated Azerbaijani champions Qarabag FK at White Hart Lane on Thursday, in both sides' first Europa League match.
Mauricio Pochettino sent out a somewhat controversial side for the Europa League opener Thursday night, making five changes to the starting lineup and giving Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier their Tottenham Hotspur first team debuts.
It was very clear what Qarabag were doing from the first kick. They were content to let Spurs have the ball and when it came into the final third, then swarm and break. Or if there is a giveaway by Spurs in the midfield, an all out break. Spurs seemed ready for this, though, and at times the press was stifling in the sense that Qarabag couldn't play out, but it produced very few chances early on.
And then, in the sixth minute, the inevitable happened.
Breaking down the left, Qarabag attacker Ansi Agolli enticed a clumsy challenge from Trippier in the box and the visitors had an early penalty. Richard Almeida made no mistake from the spot and Tottenham were up against it.
For the next fifteen minutes Spurs saw a lot of the ball without much cutting edge, seeing Toby Alderweireld put a header over from a corner in addition to a worrying lack of movement.
On 22 minutes Tom Carroll, yes Tom Carroll, won a ball back with a challenge that ignited the crowd, and that seemed to kick the team on a bit. The possession seemed a bit more purposeful after that and the home side began to put the Horsemen under pressure.
The pressure finally paid off after successive corners resulted in a much needed equalizer. Son Heung-min opened his Tottenham account with a tap in after some bad marking from the visitors.
Spurs were buoyed and it was time for sexy football as minutes later Tottenham turned some hard work from Alderweireld and Erik Lamela into a move that had Dele Alli fool a defender, leaving him on the ground with a turn, and calmly squaring the ball for Son's second.
Tottenham were rampant at this point, and our big Belgian center back had a free header from eight yards go over, fluffing a chance to go up two goals.
The only thing that seemed to hurt Tottenham in the first half was Tottenham. Danny Rose made a huge mistake at the 38th minute that could have, and should have been, costly. He attempted to chest the ball back to Hugo Lloris, but did so poorly, which resulted in a one on keeper situation for Qarabag. The shot was put wide, however, and Spurs were lucky to remain on top.
This seemed to take Spurs out of their rhythm and the half ended unceremoniously.
The second half opened brightly for Spurs as they continued to cut out chances, including a beautiful move between Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, and Eric Dier. Lamela got on the end of a sneaky good final ball only to send it, unluckily, off the post.
Things got a bit dicey about an hour in as the defense failed to mark the countering Azerbaijani side as well as they had since the penalty. Sensing a shift in momentum, Pochettino introduced Clinton N'Jie for Andros Townsend and Harry Kane for Sonny in a double substitution.
There was a bit of a scare soon after that as early season stalwart Eric Dier came up lame after a sliding challenge. He walked it off and managed to continue, but was quickly replaced by Harry Winks as his health in the long term is of the utmost importance.
The game was cagey for a few minutes afterwards, but there was a lovely ball weighted through to Danny Rose by Winks in the 80th minute that demonstrated why he is so highly regarded.
Spurs put the game to bed five minutes later as Harry Kane picked won the ball off an unsuspecting defender and put Erik Lamela through on goal. He ended the move with a neat chip, and a goal he probably deserved.
It wasn't easy, but three points in the bag.
- Andros Townsend is bad at crossing, but pretty good at slipping through through balls and chips. He created some nice chances while still being Andros.
- Toby Alderweireld has good service out of the back, but head one home, man!
- Tom Carroll was quietly good.
- Our defense lost its shape on the counter a bit too much for my liking, but we live to see another day.
- Dele Alli is Berbatov-esque in his self belief. He will do things that other players have never dreamt of doing on the first touch or in taking the extra touch. Bow down to him. He's magic.
- Erik Lamela is all action. Sometimes bad, often good: he never stops. Give him credit for a positive response to some early hardships this year.
- Clinton has terrifying pace and he is going to be a handful.
- Sonny scored a brace! We didn't break a new signing!!