Goals from Fernando Llorente, Heung-min Son and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou secured a comfortable 3-0 win for Tottenham as they ended the group stage campaign with more points (16) than any other Champions League team.
1. Tottenham’s defence going forward
Davinson Sanchez’s red card in the 1-1 draw with Watford last weekend forced Mauricio Pochettino’s hand. The Tottenham boss was widely expected to chop and change for the welcome of APOEL - he made nine changes to the side that started the stalemate at Vicarage Road - but with the Colombian suspended for the next three Premier League games, and Toby Alderweireld sidelined with a hamstring injury, Juan Foyth could be the man to deputise at the heart of the defence.
Pochettino could elect to drop Eric Dier in alongside Jan Vertonghen, but the logical decision would be to keep the England international in midfield in a 4-2-3-1 setup and persist with Foyth. Upcoming meetings with Stoke and Brighton are navigable enough, however the trip to Manchester City will be a baptism of fire for the teenager. Foyth, though, was solid at the heart of the defence on just his third start in a Spurs shirt.
In what was little more than an exhibition match for Tottenham, Foyth was effective enough at the back to restrict APOEL to zero shots on target. The 19-year-old played the ball out from the back with consummate ease, mustering a 91% pass success rate, and refused to be bullied in the air by striker Mickael Pote, as the Spurs centre-back won six aerial duels, more than any other player in the Champions League clash. He’ll come up against sterner opposition in his career, yet the former Estudiantes defender can take solace from a confidence boosting display against APOEL.
2. Hope for Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
Wednesday night presented Georges-Kevin N’Koudou with his first competitive start of the season and in a Tottenham side that has struggled to break down staunch opponents on more than one occasion this season, the Frenchman’s good performance against APOEL will give Pochettino plenty to mull over as the games come thick and fast in the build up to Christmas. A three-man defence may afford Spurs greater defensive solidity, yet without the fit again Danny Rose and now Manchester City star Kyle Walker flying down the flanks, the north London side have been frustrated time and time again this season.
However, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, there is a place in the team for N’Koudou. The 22-year-old’s delivery may have been found wanting against APOEL, but he broke down the left well to stretch the APOEL backline time and time again. The young winger has struggled for game time following his arrival from Marseille, yet he displayed just why he should come under consideration for a spot in the team in the coming weeks.
APOEL were often forced to double up on N’Koudou, yet he dealt with the extra attention like a seasoned pro, linking up well with left-back Danny Rose, prior to his second half withdrawal due to a face injury, and Dele Alli, who was given license to drift across the final third. As Spurs look to get back on track, N’Koudou could well prove to be Pochettino’s secret weapon in their quest to secure a second successive top-4 finish, with his goal in the dying embers expected to boost morale to no end.
3. The summer signings beginning to come good
For the first time this season, Tottenham started with all four summer outfield arrivals on the pitch. Davinson Sanchez has slotted in seamlessly in England, his red card at Watford aside, but Fernando Llorente, Serge Aurier and to a lesser extent Juan Foyth have struggled for consistency, be it performance wise or in playing time. However, the latter trio were all effective in their own right on Wednesday night, with Aurier providing the cross for Llorente’s opener, before the towering Spaniard turned provider for Heung-min Son.
It’s taken some time for Aurier and Llorente to click in a Spurs shirt since their respective summer arrivals, yet both were hugely influential in defence and attack against APOEL. The Cypriot side may not have been the most testing of opponents, yet Aurier pressed forward well to overlap down his right while Llorente linked up effectively with Son before the South Korean’s withdrawal midway through the second half. Both Llorente and Son struggled to strike up an understanding during Spurs’ 3-2 defeat to West Ham, but were very much on the same wavelength in midweek.
Indeed, the 3-0 win over was undeniably Llorente’s best in a Spurs shirt, with the Spaniard leading the attack well. He made more key passes (4) than any other player, while Aurier proved why the north London outfit spent big to sign him from PSG. With each and every manager expected to apply ample rotation in weeks ahead, the summer arrivals showed plenty of signs that they are beginning to suitably find their feet in London and at just the right time too.
4. Roland Sallai introduction improves APOEL
Somewhat surprisingly, 20-year-old Roland Sallai started the meeting with Tottenham on the bench, despite showing good form in the league matches leading up to Wednesday’s must win match. The Hungarian had scored three goals in two outings in wins over Olympiakos Nicosia and Ermis Aradippou, only to be included among the substitutes at Wembley. Giorgos Donis made amends at half time, however, introducing Sallai at the start of the second half.
The improvements in APOEL’s attacking play were immediate, with Donis’ side applying early pressure to the Tottenham defence, mustering three shots in the 10 minutes following the restart. Sallai drew three fouls to help put Spurs on the backfoot and while it didn’t have the desired effect as the hosts quickly regained control, there was a case of what could have been had Sallai started at Wembley. His second half booking tainted a commendable cameo from the winger, but he offered drive and purpose down the right having replaced the underwhelming Vinicius.