Of all the fallout from Tottenham’s stupendous Champions League semi-final win, with Lucas Moura scoring a remarkable second-half hat-trick, one man has been slightly overlooked in his crucial role in Spurs’ European success. Fernando Llorente.
He may have only started two games in Europe this season - both of which Spurs lost - but he is the impact sub that Mauricio Pochettino needs to lift the trophy in June. Last night, with his side 2-0 down on the night, 3-0 on aggregate, Poch turned to his much-maligned Spanish forward to save the day.
Victor Wanyama came off in a move that allowed Moussa Sissoko more space in the centre of the park. Llorente came and stood on the Ajax defender Daley Blind and quite frankly bullied him for the second 45 minutes. That move allowed Tottenham to bypass Ajax’s high press with simple but effective long balls to their target man and play from there. Time and time against he would bring the ball down and lay it off to one of the attacking trio behind him, Heung Min-Son, Dele Alli or the effective Lucas Moura and this is exactly what happened in the move that won the tie in the final minutes.
Sissoko pumped the ball forward, Llorente deftly flicked the ball onto Alli who turned the ball forward for the onrushing Moura who finished with aplomb to spark bedlam in the away end. Cue full-time. Hoddle’s speech. Poch’s tears. Jenas’ voice trembling with disbelief. Tottenham in the Champions League final.
But it wasn’t the first time this season that Llorente has made a big impact in this competition, just when Spurs needed him most. He came off the bench at Wembley with Spurs 1-0 down against PSV Eindhoven and got the assist for Kane’s equaliser before the captain bagged the winner.
Although he was not directly involved in the crucial equaliser at the Nou Camp, his mere physical presence in the box was enough to create space for Lucas Moura to poke home and send Spurs into the knockout stages. Against Dortmund in the last 16 he scored the vital third goal in the first leg that took the tie out of reach of the German side but his most crucial involvement was still to come.
In that crazy quarter-final second leg against Manchester City, he watched on from the bench as City gained a 3-2 lead before the break. An injury to Moussa Sissoko saw him enter the fray and again provide Spurs with an out ball against a side that love to press high. Sergio Aguero put City ahead on aggregate before Llorente scored the most crucial goal of the season, using his hip to find the net from an inswinging corner.
Llorente is a handful for defenders. It may not be pretty to watch but he has shown he is an effective weapon that Mauricio Pochettino can rely on from the bench. Beware Jurgen Klopp, given the way this competition has gone, the Spaniard may just have a major say in the final.
- Changed game at home against PSV, setting up both goals
- Scored late third against Dortmund
- Scored decisive goal at Man City
- Changed game at Ajax