Football Features

“He must play when Eriksen doesn’t” – Five things learned as Spurs thrash Red Star

By Steve Jennings

Published: 22:04, 22 October 2019

Tottenham stemmed the rising tide of discontent in north London with a convincing victory over Red Star in the Champions League on Tuesday evening.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side were quicker out of the blocks than they have been for a while now, going into half-time with a three-goal lead thanks to Harry Kane’s header and a Heung-Min Son double.

Erik Lamela made if four after the break and Kane added another as Spurs cruised to a much-needed three points.

Here are five things we learned on the night.

1. Lamela must play when Eriksen doesn’t

Tottenham were totally devoid of creativity against Watford on Saturday, which can primarily be put down to the lack of Christian Eriksen or Erik Lamela in the starting line-up. Indeed, it’s no conincidence that Spurs were twice as inventive with Lamela in the team against Red Star.

The Argentinian made the first two goals, first swinging a pinpoint corner onto the head of Kane – for what it’s worth, Lamela undeniably takes a better corner than Eriksen – and then putting the ball on a plate for Son. He was rewarded for his creative exploits with a goal of his own, twisting and firing home with panache.

With Eriksen’s status in the squad uncertain, Pochettino must now put his faith in Lamela to be the primary playmaker until January at least which, as it turns out, is usually the time of the season when fitness problems begin to blight Lamela. Put simply, he must start when Eriksen doesn’t.

2. Quality of Son and Kane supersedes club issues

With Tottenham in freefall going into this fixture, predictions ranged from a 5-0 win to a 3-0 defeat. In the end, they were on the right end of the thumping, mostly thanks to the undoubted attacking quality Spurs possess.

Heung-Min Son was at his electric best against Red Star

Even when in turmoil, Pochettino can always turn to the class of Harry Kane and Heung-min Son. The pair were in irresistible form here, bagging a brace each and constantly threatening to add more. Son was particularly electric in the early stages, outpacing his marker at every opportunity and finishing clinically.

Kane came into own in the second half. His passing was stunning and continues to develop into one of his most valuable traits. Fittingly, he essentially passed the ball into the bottom corner for the fifth goal to ensure the fans could forget about the club’s troubles, at least for now.

3. Dele Alli the odd one out

While the hosts were slick in attack, Dele Alli did seem a bit like the odd one out. He took too many touches to control the ball whenever he received it and was slow to think about his next step, which often resulted in the loss of possession through a loose pass or a tackle.

Alli has had a difficult 12 months. When he was fully fit last season, he played some of the best football of his career. But he was rarely fit and often a shadow of his former self. That continues to be the case, and Pochettino will be hoping the 23-year-old can play himself into some form sooner rather than later.

It will be interesting to see if Alli is in the starting line-up to face Liverpool this weekend after another underwhelming showing.

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4. Winks’ absence yields mixed results

Harry Winks has proved divisive among the Tottenham support so far this season, with some seeing him as essential and other labelling him needless. In reality, his presence is required in some situations and not needed in others.

In the first 20 minutes against Red Star, the midfield two of Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele looked like an inspired choice. Ndombele was especially good, covering so much ground and showing an impressive range of passing. But towards the end of the first half, Winks’ absence became more evident.

Tanguy Ndombele was particularly impressive for Spurs

As Red Star finally began to get a bit of a foothold, Spurs could have done with Winks’ propensity to receive the ball and keep it, thus helping the side to see out their lead until half-time. In the end, Tottenham added to their lead, but they could just as easily have seen it halved. And so, Pochettino must decide when to use Winks and when not to – a task not many would envy.

5. Spurs still searching for a convincing full 90 minutes

This was Tottenham’s most convincing performance of the season so far, not that there is much competition. But even when Spurs have been at their free-scoring best – as they were here and in last month’s 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace – they have failed to be fully persuasive over 90 minutes.

The flowing football the team is clearly capable of producing comes in spells, which isn’t an uncommon occurrence in football. But Tottenham always seem to suffer a sustained period of inviting too much pressure onto themselves.

If the visitors had more quality, they likely would have made Spurs pay for their dip before the break. It’s an ongoing concern Pochettino must address.