Tottenham Hotspur got the job done on Thursday, closing out the Europa League group stage with a 2-0 win over Royal Antwerp that earned the team top spot in Group J and the distinction of being a seeded team for the Round of 32 draw.
José Mourinho played his Europa League usuals in a 3-4-3, which included the likes of Joe Hart in goal and Gareth Bale up top. Antwerp dominated the earliest stages of the match, but quickly the rhythm of the game established itself: Tottenham would either earn possession on their own or receive a gift from the opponent. Though Spurs did not struggle for possession, they struggled to create great opportunities for a large chunk of the first half. The issue was not quantity — Spurs had ten shots by halftime — but quality, though they improved as the half went on. The most significant opportunity of the half came from Giovani Lo Celso’s 35th minute chance, which he sent just wide while in the box.
Spurs, though, did manage to successfully limit Antwerp to just a single shot after half an hour, though it missed the target.
Spurs again were actively taking shots in the second half, and finally got a reward in the 57th minute. The play began with a wonderfully taken freekick from Bale, which hit the crossbar. Carlos Vinicius was the quickest to the rebound, and scored from close range.
Spurs went up a gear just a minute later when Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, and Tanguy Ndombele came on to close out the game. It was a clear boost to the team’s attack, bettering the quality of shots. Spurs got the insurance goal in the 71st minute, courtesy of Lo Celso. In a central position, Kane sent the ball to his right, where Lo Celso was making a run. From there, the midfielder made a run into the box and scored from an angle for his fourth Europa League goal of the season.
Spurs had one more great opportunity to close out the game, when Kane took a shot while falling in the 88th minute and the ball managed to skip just past the right side of the goal. Still, it was smooth sailing for Spurs for the final 20 minutes to cap off an uncomplicated win.
Spurs will find out their next Europa League opponent on December 14, when the Round of 32 draw will take place. The two-legged tie is scheduled for February 18 and February 25.
Thoughts on the Match
- Among the players who did well against Antwerp: Lo Celso, Vinicius, and Lucas Moura.
- Something that might be worth watching is Mourinho’s choice to substitute on Kane, Ndombele, and Son. The choice might not have only been about closing out the game, but giving the group some familiarity playing together and with Lo Celso. Lo Celso and Ndombele have spent little time in midfield together this season, but this move could signal the start of a new midfield preference from Mourinho.
- Bale did well with the freekick that ended with Vinicius’ goal, but it is worth noting that he still has room for improvement. His skill is there, but his speed still isn’t.