A win over CSKA Moscow has Tottenham sitting in second place of Group E.
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MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur leads his team out ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group E match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stadion CSKA Moskva on September 27, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Losing to AS Monaco the way that Tottenham did, by conceding two goals in the first half, and sitting in fourth place of Group E was not what Mauricio Pochettino and his team envisioned in their return to the Champions League.
Now with a trip to Russia to take on the reigning Russian Premier League champions in CSKA Moscow, it was clear that Spurs needed to get a positive result on matchday two.
Leading up to tonight’s match, Pochettino would be without five players as Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembélé, Moussa Sissoko and Danny Rose weren’t fit to play. Anytime a team loses four starters and a key substitute, it makes things more difficult.
And with Spurs featuring a solid starting XI but a very inexperienced bench, would it be enough to get a much needed win on the road? Fortunately for Tottenham, it was, but tonight’s win was anything but surefire once the match got underway.
Let’s take a look at five interesting points following Spurs’ 1-0 win.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Heung-Min Son of Tottenham Hotspur holds off Aleksey Berezutskiy (6) and Mario Fernandes of CSKA Moscow (2) during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stadion CSKA Moskva on September 27, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Statistics will say otherwise, but just watching both CSKA Moscow and Tottenham play tonight, each side found plenty of success stretching the defense.
There were plenty of counterattacks, a lot of chances, half-chances and opportunities to score more than one goal in this game.
It was entertaining to watch for neutral fans and nail-biting for both clubs’ supporters. This meeting between CSKA and Spurs showed how balanced Group E is — AS Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen are the other two teams.
For 90 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino and his counterpart Leonid Slutsky, preferred to attack the opposition quickly to try and set the tone from the opening whistle. And with both sides not backing down, it ended up becoming a track meet so to speak.
One side would breach into the final third, lose possession and see the other team press forward with a quick counterattack. It was a process that continued to be repeated multiple times for the entire night.
In the end, Spurs came out victorious but it wasn’t an easy match at all.
Spurs win, but could have scored more than one goal
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Heung-Min Son (7) and Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate victory after during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stadion CSKA Moskva on September 27, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Mauricio Pochettino came away from Middlesbrough’s match happy with a win and three points, but couldn’t hide his disappointment in his side’s failure to produce more than one goal after dominating Boro with a flurry of shots.
Tottenham’s finishing wasn’t clinical as it should have been even after scoring two first half goals. Eventually, their inability to score more goals saw Middlesbrough grow confident in the game to pull one back in the 65th minute.
Boro never found the equalizer they were looking for, but it showed Pochettino that Spurs needed to get better at killing the game off.
Against CSKA Moscow, Spurs found a way to break through the reigning Russian Premier League champion’s defense and scored the game’s opening goal in the 71st minute.
With how the game was playing out, it would only be a matter of time until Moscow drew level. Now, while that didn’t happen Spurs who had out-shot CSKA 22 to nine, should have won by at least two or three goals.
Finishing has remained an issue for Spurs this season minus a couple of games. And because of that, win, lose or draw, Spurs have deserved every single result they have earned throughout this year.
CSKA Moscow’s defense proved to be tougher than expected
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27, 2016: CSKA Moscow’s Pontus Wernbloom (front), Georgy Shchennikov (R) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Toby Alderweireld struggle for the ball in their 2016/17 UEFA Champions League Group Stage football match at the Arena CSKA stadium. CSKA Moscow won the game 3:2. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS (Photo by Mikhail JaparidzeTASS via Getty Images)
Spurs may have easily out-shot Moscow at a 2-to-1 ratio (22 shots to nine), but Leonid Slutsky’s gameplan was a simple strategy that is starting to become very common against Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have found it difficult when teams are defensively sound and play very compact against his side who utilizes space and width to attack defenses.
When Moscow conceded possession, they didn’t lose shape by trying to win the ball back quickly. Instead they made sure Spurs were unable to break through on a counterattack by clogging passing lanes and not over-committing when a Spurs player got into the final third looking to set up that final pass to shoot.
It ended up becoming a very frustrating night for Tottenham, knowing that their pace on counters and intricate link-up play were cancelled out by well-timed tackles, interceptions, blocks and clearances.
Statistically speaking, Pochettino and his players should have enjoyed more success than what the scoreline suggests. And considering the amount of chances that both teams had on a quick break, it’s ironic that a goal would sneak in because of a minor defensive error from Moscow goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev, after he couldn’t corral Son Heung-Min’s shot.
Georges-Kevin N’Koudou’s appearance proved to be the difference maker
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Heung-Min Son (L) and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate victory after during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stadion CSKA Moskva on September 27, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Because Tottenham and CSKA were having a track meet with plenty of back and forth runs to stretch the defense on counterattacks, substitutes would be crucial in this match-up.
With N’Koudou making his third straight appearance coming off of the bench for Spurs, his pace would be a complete game changer from the 67th minute and onwards.
Although Vincent Janssen would be taken out, Pochettino’s gamble to remove his only out-and-out striker proved to be a great move as soon as the Frenchman touched the ball.
Georges-Kevin N’Koudou’s pace on the left flank which was a spot that Son Heung-Min had been working on throughout the first half with Ben Davies, continued for the final 23 minutes.
Obviously, Moscow’s defenders would be gassed by this point and having to chase after someone with fresh legs will be difficult. But this is exactly why a player of N’Koudou’s abilities should be brought on late.
Mauricio Pochettino has improved his depth this past summer and one player who could become an impact sub would be the 21-year-old. In limited work, N’Koudou ran straight at his defenders, taking them on and providing Spurs with more energy to find the game’s opening goal.
Without someone to continue stretching CSKA’s defense who were already worn out, maybe both teams earn a draw and puts them at a bad position heading into matchday three.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 27: Heung-Min Son of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates victory after the UEFA Champions League Group E match between PFC CSKA Moskva and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Stadion CSKA Moskva on September 27, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Six games, five goals in all competitions since returning to Spurs following the Rio Olympics in late August. That’s how in-form the South Korean international is. With a goal tonight, Son has scored in two consecutive games.
His form has been greatly aided by being fit to start the 2016-17 season, doing well for South Korea in Brazil and nailing down a starting spot in Pochettino’s lineup.
After finding himself splitting time in the starting XI or coming off of the bench last year, Son made sure to focus on his club career once the Olympics would finish. And so far that is exactly what he has done.
He has a knack for creating chances on his own at the left flank before finding a teammate streaking towards the penalty box for a chance to shoot. Against CSKA Moscow, he was on the receiving end of an Érik Lamela through ball by remaining onside long enough to get the beautifully weighted pass and finish it off with a goal.