Spurs 3 Quarabag 1
I enjoyed it. Even when I saw the line-up before kick-off and questioned why every single year before the Europa League starts I tentatively bang the drum in support of us taking the competition seriously. 'Seriously' defined by fielding strong sides that will get the job done convincingly whilst also building up momentum for the next (league) game.
If it's one thing we need, it's momentum. Some tempo and fluidity to our shape and transitions from deep midfield to final third. Easier said than done, every God damn year. A gentle tap on the shoulder reminds me we only have the single out and out striker and a multitude of midfielders injured and I then remember that these games (Qarabag, at the Lane) are more about risk management than statements of intent.
Modern management of the fixture list and the much maligned group stages literally suck dry any of the notions of Glory Glory nights. It's a 90 minute job to be undertaken professionally with a calculated dynamic that the selected eleven can get it done.
This realisation pretty much slapped me back into reality just after the line-up was revealed, so I settled and immersed myself into a game not too many of us appeared that bothered about.
Naturally, we shot ourselves in the foot early on. Kieran Trippier with movement akin to someone outside a night club that wants to back up his best mate in an argument and half-heartedly gets involved but doesn't really want to. Trippier jumping and body-checking and instantly regretting it. Still, I don't blame him. It was early on, it was his début. When all you have is the training ground you'll likely to err a few times when you finally get let out.
It's the same with the returning Danny Rose. Here's someone with the impossible task of having to live with scoring one of the greatest North London Derby goals and then having to fight against the doubt and lack of belief bestowed on him by many Spurs fans in the aftermath. He got his head down, developed and improved immensely. He's a fighter and he's not scared. His two mistakes were forgiveable. Mainly as they didn't lead to punishment. I'll rather focus on the fact he's fit and not too far off from a starting appearance in the league. His pace and intent going forward will make a positive difference.
Qarabag were decent enough. It's only when you read up on some of their recent European conquests and results that you realise they're not too shabby. Technically, they're actually alright to watch. Thankfully, also naive enough for us to create chances against and slot them away.
Enter Son Heung-min and his brace.
Two minutes of awakening that saw us break free of the slumber. The first (from an Andros Townsend corner) was easy pickings. No movement from the defence, the keeper slow to react, Son knocking it in. The second was excellent. Son and Alli working so well together. Son finding Alli, the 19 year old with a sharp turn to leave the defender dead and then having all the time in the world to wait for Son to run towards goal and finish off the returning ball. Two jabs and an uppercut.
Son isn't a forward and yes the opposition isn't Crystal Palace, Arsenal or Manchester City. It's still good to have someone that isn't fazed and is willing and able to do a job. He'll be far more suitable cutting in from the flanks and in the coming weeks I'll hope to see just that. If anything Harry Kane can do with more directness around him with plenty of quick thinking movement and vision. Create the space, the time and it's easy. Not so easy when the opposing side are far more adaptable and solid in defending, but we still need to be looking for it no matter who we face.
Alli himself was effortlessly sublime. Great footwork, great all round play. He has a bit of everything about him. Can play box to box, involved in build up play (bringing others into the penalty box), has an eye for goal and isn't short of confidence. Floats wonderfully well and I'm sure he'll sting in time as he works through what will be a baptism of fire. I love that we've got so many young players that are mature beyond their years. All a little rough round the edges but a healthy group of talent that could - if we don't balls it up - turn into stars. Kane, Mason, Bentableb, Dier, Alli. Some academy, some new blood. There's more coming up the ranks. It's a baptism of fire for all to be fair thanks to the lack of additional experience and leadership we could have got in to aid their ascendency.
Erik Lamela also impressed. You could hardly miss the bulge in his pants when he celebrated our third goal, one he finished himself. Earlier was disappointing with his first touch (which would have lead to a grand opportunity to score) and was also guilty of hitting the post. Unlucky, but you wonder had Alli not seen the ball nicked away from him, he might have scored himself. Still, I find it difficult to hate on Lamela. I'm hoping the failed loans this summer will somehow force him to finally give us something that is wholly influential in games that truly matter. It's not just about end product, it's about being good enough to boss games or at the very least produce defining moments to change games (or win them).
Lamela's touch and occasionally giving the ball away isn't something new. Neither is his effort to win balls back and be involved in the final third, with minor moments of vision. He's obviously talented, he's switched on enough to find team-mates with astute balls but only if given the space to do so. It's a bit like an overly ambitious oven baked cake that looks like a mess on a plate yet a spoonful has you enjoying its taste. No one will change their opinion on the Argentine until he does this in the league consistently and he removes the shackles of the very same pressure and expectancy that has him trying so hard to impress. He's caught in a paradox. Wish he would just stop giving a **** and engage some arrogance.
All in all, decent result. Anderlecht and Monaco drew. We'll have to play far more suitable (stronger) sides against the two of them. For now, onto Sunday where surely there is no excuse for a lacklustre performance. Even if the team that faces Palace is mostly made up of players that were rested on Thursday night. Which means it's a continuation from the Sunderland game rather than the midweek 3-1.
Got a feeling I'm not going to enjoy that games as much.