Look, I’m not going to lie. Going into Wednesday’s Champions League match between Red Star and Tottenham Hotspur in Belgrade, I was worried. It’s not just that Tottenham have been terrible lately — they have — but also because the Marakana Stadium is known for being one of the most intimidating atmospheres in Europe. Liverpool came here exactly one year ago in the group stage of their title-winning campaign... and lost 2-0.
So to see Spurs roll out to a comprehensive 4-0 win over the Serbians on the road, their first road win in any competition this season, and following up their 5-0 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, was both relieving and encouraging. Giovani Lo Celso scored his first ever goal in a Tottenham shirt, Son Heung-Min added a brace, and Christian Eriksen added the (highly deflected) cherry on top.
Here are four things we learned about Tottenham Hotspur from this win in Belgrade.
Juan Foyth looks like he could be the real deal at right back
Unless you’ve managed to somehow tune in to watch Argentina play during the past couple of international breaks, this is the first time that we’ve had the opportunity to see Juan Foyth play in his new role at right back. While the sample size is small and the competition was pretty poor, there’s a lot of reason to be excited. Foyth was calm and composed with the ball at his feet in Belgrade, completing 94% of his passes and serving as a nice outlet for Davinson Sanchez and Lo Celso.
He’s not the fleetest of foot and he still needs more time to develop his offensive moves — he was only 2/6 on his take-ons and didn’t have a successful cross in this match. That’s okay. He’s a converted center back, and these skills take time. What he didn’t show was the poor decision making that marred his early appearances for Spurs. He has good defensive instincts and looks like he wants the ball at his feet.
I don’t know if he’s THE answer for Spurs at right back this season, but I’m more convinced now that he’s AN answer. Now that he’s finally healthy, I’d like to see more of Juan at right back against Premier League competition.
Spurs’ new signings are justifying their price tags
When Ryan Sessegnon came in as a late substitute in the second half, it marked the first time that all three of Tottenham’s summer signings were on the pitch at the same time this season. Sessegnon, Giovani Lo Celso, and Tanguy Ndombele were all astute signings that addressed positions of need in Spurs’ roster, but thanks to injuries it’s taken until now to see all of them on the pitch and rounding into form.
Ndombele was again a revelation in Belgrade, driving forward with the ball and showing his range of passing options, though he had one awful hospital ball that nearly led to a Red Star goal in the second half. Even with that gaffe, he was outstanding in possession, full of progressive passes, strength in possession and lots of little tricks and spins that on occasion made me gasp.
Ndombele linked up especially well with Lo Celso, who made his first start for Spurs, and who buzzed pleasantly around the right side of the pitch. Lo Celso had two key passes and one scrappy goal from the first half “Benny Hill” sequence but also went close on a second occasion late in the match. Even Sessegnon got in on the action, providing the assist to Eriksen for Spurs’ fourth.
Red Star were real bad, especially when they were forced to open up and play football in the second half, but part of the reason Spurs have shown this early season malaise comes from using the same aging, declining squad they had last season. The inclusion of quality new blood makes everyone better, and while it’s fair to say that none of the three new boys have hit their stride yet, their performances make fans want to see more of them on the pitch. Spurs will continue to get better as long as they continue to play.
Sonny’s going to be just fine
Any concerns that Spurs fans might have had about Son Heung-Min after the horrifying injury to Everton’s Andre Gomes at the weekend should be put aside now. Sonny may not be his bubbly, vivacious self quite yet, but that hasn’t prevented him from playing a very good football match.
Sonny scored a brace in Belgrade, and both of his goals were well taken. After his first, which he fired into the roof of the net after an assist from Tanguy Ndombele, he didn’t even celebrate, instead looking at the camera and seeming to apologize to Gomes. His second goal was just as good, poking home a lovely cross from Danny Rose.
What happened with Gomes is something that Sonny’s going to have to live with for a long time and I’m sure that he feels no shortage of guilt for his role in the injury. But this match shows that he can put that aside and do his job even when he feels sad. A Champions League brace didn’t put a smile on his face, but hopefully it’ll help lift him out of the dumps.
Spurs’ magic number is two
This was an important win for Tottenham’s Champions League campaign. Bayern Munich clinched progression out of the group stage, as expected, with a win over Olympiacos, but with the win over Red Star, Spurs cut their “magic number” to two. Basically, beat Olympiacos at home in their next match and they’re in, but even if they draw there’s still a very good chance that they can slip out of the group, if Red Star drops further points.
FiveThirtyEight has Spurs with a 92% chance of qualifying for the group stages (and a 2% chance of winning it all!). Considering how the season has gone that’s about as much as you can ask for.