Fernando Llorente and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou get off the mark on good night for Spurs at Wembley
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Champions League Group H: Tottenham Hotspur 3 APOEL 0
Mauricio Pochettino witnessed a near perfect night for Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley as for the second time in Group H of the 2017/18 Champions League campaign, they defeated APOEL 3-0.
Fernando Llorente opened the scoring with his first for the club on a positive night for the Spaniard overall before Heung-min Son made it 2-0.
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, on a rare first-team outing, then wrapped up the points with his maiden goal for Tottenham.
There were plenty of positives for the Lilywhites and they’ll look to build on this result when they host Stoke City on Saturday.
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Pochettino, as he had revealed in his press conference on Tuesday, made a number of changes at Wembley – eight in total.
Only Davinson Sanchez, Dele Alli and Son retained their starting places from the 1-1 draw with Watford in the Premier League on Saturday.
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Hugo Lloris, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane were all given the night off, but Jan Vertonghen, Ben Davies and Mousa Dembele were on the bench.
Michel Vorm took over the goalkeeper duties and wore the captain’s armband while Serge Aurier and Danny Rose returned with the pair operating on the right and left of a back four.
Juan Foyth partnered Sanchez in the heart of the defence and Harry Winks was with Alli and Moussa Sissoko in the centre of midfield.
Son was playing as a right forward while Nkoudou, making his first start since January 28, was on the left and Llorente was up front.
Although this was a dead rubber for Tottenham, APOEL needed a draw to keep alive their hopes of finishing third in the group and securing Europa League football in 2018.
Spurs started strongly, however, with Aurier firing wide with two minutes on the clock before Son tested Nauzet Perez less than 60 seconds later.
The hosts went even closer in the ninth minute with the ball somehow staying out of the APOEL goal.
Winks firstly picked out Llorente with a free kick and he headed towards goal, but Perez got down low to save.
He could only push out to Sanchez though, and he saw an effort blocked by the away goalkeeper before Nkoudou hit the rebound towards the net, but his shot was headed away right on the goal line by APOEL defender Jesus Rueda.
The opener hadn’t arrived, yet it appeared merely a matter of time before it did and after recent sluggish starts, this was already a lot better from Spurs.
After a slight lull in proceedings, the next opportunity for Tottenham occurred in the 19th minute.
Both full-backs were involved with Aurier’s centre forcing a corner, which Spurs took short and duly won another corner.
From the resulting set-piece, Rose produced a wonderful outswinger and Foyth, unmarked and only 10-yards-out, met the ball, yet could only head over.
It was a great chance for Pochettino’s side to take the lead, but seconds later it was not to matter as they did make the breakthrough.
Again it came from the full-back area with Aurier controlling a good pass from Winks before looking up and picking out Llorente in the penalty area.
The former Swansea City forward controlled and swivelled in one moment to create some space away from APOEL centre back Rueda before duly firing past Perez from eight-yards.
It felt like an important moment for the summer signing, who had struggled since making the move to Spurs.
With Tottenham scoring the first goal in a game for the first time since November 5, when they beat Crystal Palace 1-0, the confidence soon returned to the team.
Alli first of all tried a couple of neat flicks before Rose and Aurier again showed their quality and already the benefits of playing two speedy full-backs against a defensive-minded side at Wembley was bearing fruit.
Sissoko went closest next when Llorente turned provider and chipped into the area, but the header from the ex-Newcastle United midfielder was tame.
APOEL reminded Spurs of their threat just past the half an hour mark when Lorenzo Ebecilio was picked out by a long pass.
The visitors’ captain tried to bring the ball down, but went down just outside the area with Rose in close proximity.
Despite appeals from the APOEL supporters, nothing was given and Tottenham kept up the pattern of the match of them being on the front foot and the away side doing their best to stop the ball going in their net.
It seemed only a matter of time before Spurs’ second arrived and it did with eight minutes of the first half remaining.
Sissoko passed into Son’s path and he turned before linking up with Llorente on the edge and curling into the corner.
The South Korean had his sixth goal of the season and it was the first time he had scored in back-to-back games since April.
But straight from the kick-off the Cypriots looked for a way back into the contest with Aurier being caught out on two occasions.
The ex-Paris Saint-Germain full-back first of all failed to intercept a pass and Stathis Aloneftis got in on the left and crossed in for Mickael Pote, but his delivery was just too high and the APOEL man could only head straight up in the air for Vorm to catch.
Moments later, in the 40th minute, the visitors got in again with Aurier failing to thwart a through ball and Aloneftis’ eyes briefly lighting up before Foyth came across to block his shot.
There was still time for another Tottenham chance before the interval with Llorente and Son linking up impressively and the latter testing Perez from 25-yards, but having an effort pushed away from goal.
Referee Slavko Vincic soon blew for half time to bring a virtually perfect first 45 for Spurs to an end.
APOEl came out fighting after the break with the visitors going so close in the 49th minute at Wembley.
Poor defending from Tottenham saw Aloneftis get in, but Foyth poked the ball out of his path, though to Praxitelis Vouros on the right and he fired towards goal, but Rose made an outstanding block to prevent a certain goal.
Substitute Roland Sallai headed the resulting corner wide as the away side showed their intent after the break.
Spurs responded with Alli passing into Nkoudou’s path and the winger having a shot deflected just wide.
The next opportunity went the way of the visitors, yet Ebecilio smashed high, wide and handsome under the arch.
Llorente, who was having his best game in a Tottenham shirt, did have a moment to forget in the 58th minute when an APOEL defender misjudged a cross and deflected the ball into his path, but the forward miscued his volley with just Perez to beat.
It was a rare blot on his copybook for the evening, however, and Aurier nearly atoned for his error, but the visitors’ custodian saved his fierce drive.
Nkoudou forced Perez into another stop with 62 played, as he controlled Sissoko’s pass before firing low into the corner, but the Spaniard got down well to parry away from his goal.
Some ill-discipline crept into Tottenham’s play soon after with Foyth, Aurier and Rose picking up bookings in the space of four second-half minutes.
The caution of Spurs’ left-back was for turning around with force and whacking into Sallai, who was directly behind him.
It was an incident which ended Rose’s night as he needed treatment for a cut to his head and was replaced by Kyle Walker-Peters with 20 minutes remaining.
Both teams appeared to be going through the motion after, but there was time for another goal in the 80th minute.
Nkoudou and Alli combined impressively on the edge of the area and the former cut inside before curling past Perez via a deflection.
It was the Frenchman’s first goal since February 2016 and his first ever for Spurs to cap a good personal night for the winger.
Having received limited chances under Pochettino before, Nkoudou showed he can be useful, especially against defensive-minded opponents.
With the points now 100 per cent secured, it was time to give one of the youngsters on the bench a chance and Kazaiah Sterling was summoned.
The 19-year-old forward, who is part of Wayne Burnett’s under-23s, came on with two minutes left.
Sterling replaced Alli, who ran off quickly in order to allow the youngster, once part of the Leyton Orient academy, to get some extra seconds on the pitch.
He had actually been ready to come on from the 82nd minute, but had to wait until the 88th for his debut.
Three minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end of the 90 and it allowed Sterling to get at least one touch of the ball.
Shortly afterwards the full time whistle was blown to bring Tottenham’s Group H campaign to an end.
After being put in the so-called group of death, Spurs finished unbeaten and with 16 points – the most of any club in the Champions League.
The draw for the last-16 takes place on Monday in Nyon, Switzerland with Tottenham set to face Basel, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk or Porto.
First of all they have the task of hosting Stoke at the national stadium this weekend looking to end their run of four league games without a win, but after this victory they will have a lot more confidence.
Tottenham Hotspur: Vorm; Aurier, Sanchez, Foyth, Rose (Walker-Peters 70); Sissoko, Winks, Alli (Sterling 88); Son (Dembele 65), Llorente, Nkoudou.
Unused substitutes: Gazzaniga, Davies, Vertonghen, Amos.
APOEL: Perez; Vouros, Rueda, Carlao, Lago; Vinicius (Sallai 46), Nuno Morais; Zahid, Ebecilio, Aloneftis (De Camargo 75); Pote (Antoniou 81).
Unused substitutes: Gudino, Alexandrou, Farias, Merkis.