Victory over APOEL Nicosia in the Champions League was the icing on the cake for Tottenham in this season’s group stage.
It wasn’t important that they won it, but the triumph means that Spurs have, in some sense, won the group stages: of all the teams in all the groups, it was Mauricio Pochettino’s side – in the toughest group – who won the most points.
And yet something of a weakened team did the job over the Cypriot minnows at Wembley. Indeed, there was one stand-out player whose form will give Spurs hope that he can be the player they hoped he would be when he signed.
On Wednesday night, Fernando Llorente scored his first Tottenham goal, and there are hopes that it might kickstart an upturn in form for the World Cup winning striker.
Bought from Swansea on deadline day, Llorente had been poor in his first few months as a Spurs player and his form soon slumped, and perhaps he hit his nadir in his side’s defeat to Leicester City at the end of November. He was viewed as something of a plan B for Pochettino, a secondary option to take when his team were going to face stubborn defences and would need an aerial presence or a player with some extra experience. Against APOEL, however, he seemed to come into life.
It wasn’t just his goal which impressed, though his perfect first touch and great finish certainly lit up the evening. It was just how effective Llorente was, against admittedly inferior opposition. Across the whole evening, everything Llorente touched seemed to come off, every tackle was a success, as was every time he jumped for a header.
More than his contribution, though, it was his style of play which was encouraging. He wasn’t in the game much, making just 16 passes all evening, but four of them were key passes – that means he created a chance once every four passes. He may not have got the ball much, but like a true target man, whenever he did, he brought others into play. Hitting him was like an end goal in itself, as Llorente’s next pass seemed always to be an important one.
That bodes well for the rest of the season. Spurs don’t just need Llorente to hit form, but they also need his directness and effectiveness in attack. And although it was only a meaningless Champions League tie at a time when they’d already qualified as group winners, it looks like the Spaniard now has the platform to become the perfect plan B. It could be the night we look back on as the catalyst for a Spurs comeback.
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