Tuesday 21 August 2018

Llorente makes most of rare start to get Spurs up and running

Tottenham 3 Apoel Nicosia 0

Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Sissoko jumps over Apoel Nicosia's Junior Carlao. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Sissoko jumps over Apoel Nicosia's Junior Carlao. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Jeremy Wilson

Fernando Llorente was never a striker whose worth could be measured simply in goals but, having waited 17 matches for his first as a Tottenham player, the sense of relief was still considerable.

Harry Kane has scored few better this season than the first-half strike here by Llorente that ensured Tottenham completed a Champions League group campaign with a fifth win.

They will go into Monday's draw as Group H winners and, while the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus might yet still loom in the last-16 stage, the performances against both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have felt like a coming of age.

We already know Tottenham's intense pressing style can overwhelm just about any opponent, and this was also a timely reminder that they are better equipped with Llorente this season to occasionally rest Kane. Yes, Llorente does not carry anything like an equivalent goal threat, but his all-round ability to lead the line remains formidable.

Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-Min (right) gets away from Apoel Nicosia's Nuno Morais. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-Min (right) gets away from Apoel Nicosia's Nuno Morais. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

As well as scoring with a wonderful first-time turn and finish, he provided an assist for Heung-min Son, and was generally the focal point around which Tottenham eased to victory.

Pochettino had made eight changes from the side who drew at Watford on Saturday, with only Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Davinson Sanchez starting. It also meant a tactical switch to 4-2-3-1, but it soon became obvious that Tottenham, for whom 19-year-old Julian Foyth had started at centre-back, would have had no use for an extra central defender.

Spurs had beaten Apoel comfortably in Cyprus and, even with key players rested, the central core of Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Alli were dominant in possession.

Apoel had needed to avoid defeat to have any chance of at least making it to the Europa League, and their initial game plan did not seem to extend much beyond achieving the goalless draw.

Even with only two centre-backs, Spurs full-backs Serge Aurier and Danny Rose were both soon pushing forward. Aurier shot wide and then Rose played in Llorente, whose deft header into the path of Son was scuffed wide. Apoel then had a lucky escape. Llorente headed the ball into the six-yard box but, after Sanchez somehow failed to connect with his effort, Georges-Kevin N'Koudou followed in and forced a brilliant goal-line clearance by Jesus Rueda.

Llorente narrowly failed to convert one Aurier cross, but the next one magnificently. With one silky touch, he brought the ball under control and simultaneously turned Rueda, before aiming his shoot past keeper Nauzet Perez.

Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele (left) and Apoel Nicosia's Roberto Lago battle for the bal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele (left) and Apoel Nicosia's Roberto Lago battle for the bal. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Only 20 minutes had elapsed but it was almost impossible to see an Apoel a recovery. A swift one-two duly followed between Llorente and Son, who shot past Perez to double Tottenham's half-time advantage. Apoel brought back another defender to stem the Spurs flow, but the hosts were soon able to reassert themselves.

Son sent several long-range shots wide and Llorente's attempted volley could connect only with thin air with the goal at his mercy. It mattered little. N'Koudou was another waiting for his first Tottenham goal and, having dribbled through much of Apoel's defence, his deflected shot sealed a comfortable victory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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