Friday, August 19, 2011

Tottenham Outclass Hearts in Europa League

Defoe scored and looked sharp
Hearts 0 Tottenham Hotspur 5

Tottenham took only two minutes to silence the home supporters who had made Tynecastle an intense and intimidating place for Spurs ahead of the game.  The home team could not respond in kind and allowed Tottenham too much time and space as they started the game at a high level of endeavour and skill.  Rafael Van der Vaart put Spurs ahead after he worked his way through the centre of the home defence with a series of passes and a slice of luck thanks to poor defending.  When faced with only the goalkeeper, he made no mistake.  That was exactly the start that Tottenham needed in their first game of the season.
In spite of his earlier comments and insistence that the Europa League would see young players given a game, Harry Redknapp selected a strong side with only Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore being new to the team.  This experience and skill enabled Spurs to settle quickly into their game and they completely outplayed Hearts with a series of one-two passes and flicks.  A good passing movement led to the second goal as Lennon sent the ball into the path of Jermain Defoe to put Spurs further ahead after ten minutes.

There was no let up for Hearts as they continued to allow Spurs to play at will and rather than it being the 'Battle of Britain' between the 'Auld Enemy' of England and Scotland, it was like a training game for the visitors.  So much so that after half an hour Jake Livermore strode into the penalty area to score the third goal of the night.  It was all too easy for Tottenham whose supporters were making the most of mocking the home team.  This was in total contrast to a year ago when Spurs were three goals down after thirty minutes against Young Boys of Berne in their first experience of Champions League football.  They had learned well from last year's mistakes and made rapid progress.

Early in the second half Hearts responded to their manager's half-time talk and immediately put Spurs on the back foot.  This opening period was Hearts only time of dominance in the game.  Tottenham found it difficult to clear from a series of corners and free-kicks and Heurelho Gomes was looking uncomfortable under the pressure.  However, Tottenham survived and when substitute Tom Huddlestone played the ball forward it enabled Gareth Bale to get past the keeper to score number four.

The final goal came from Aaron Lennon who knocked in a cross from Defoe after Tottenham had broken quickly from defence through Andros Townsend whose lovely pass gave Defoe the space to cross from the left.
Tottenham opened their season with n impressive display but Hearts were very poor and can't be looking forward to the trip to White Hart Lane next week although the scoreline will enable Harry Redknapp to rotate his team with squad members and younger players.

Team: Gomes; Walker, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Livermore, Kranjcar, Bale (Townsend); Van der Vaart (Huddlestone), Defoe (Pavlyuchenko).

Questions Answered

Prior to the game in the Europa League, there were a number of unanswered questions which were concerning Tottenham supporters.  The emphatic victory over a disappointingly poor and uncompetitive Hearts team went some way to providing answers to a number of the questions. 
How seriously will Tottenham take the Europa League?
Harry Redknapp realised that he needed to play a strong team to ensure Hearts didn't get the upper hand in the tie.  Tynecastle is a notoriously intimidating place and he needed experienced players who would re-act to the intensity of the pressure.  His team responded immediately to this challenge and had quietened the home support within the opening minutes by starting the game with purpose and pace.  The early goal meant that the home side never settled and in the end Spurs had a comfortable win and a good workout ahead of their first Premier League of the season at Old Trafford on Monday evening.  The manager showed that in spite of his earlier words of concern directed towards the Europa League format that his team had to put up a good performance to ensure qualification for the group stages.

Will Modric leave Spurs this August?
Luka Modric and Peter Crouch were absent from the game which leaves the thought that they may not be at the club much longer.  They both were reported to have injuries but that always brings suspicion to supporters who are constantly following transfer rumours in the media.

Who will be Number 1?
Gomes started in goal but in a game where he kept a clean sheet and was only required to perform for a short period at the start of the second half, he didn't fill onlookers with confidence that he has put his troubles of last season behind him.  He looked uncertain under the Hearts' pressure from corners and didn't look assured when coming to collect high balls.  The jury is still out as to who will be the first choice keeper and it wouldn't be a total surprise if Brad Friedel made his Tottenhan debut against Manchester United.
Will our strikers score this season?
First indications are that Defoe and Van der Vaart are looking sharp and pleasingly they linked much better last night than at any time last year.   Both took their goals well and were involved constantly in the game.  Defoe turned provider for the final goal when he crossed for Lennon and looked much more confident that last season.  He tends to start the season well but last year having looked bright in early games and scoring the hat-trick for England, he was seriously injured for the first half of the season and never seemed to recover from that setback.  Hopefully he will continue to show good application and score a few early goals to build on that confident start.  Van der Vaart struggled with niggling injuries last year so again if he can avoid these he will continue to be a vital element in the team.  Pavlyuchenko found it difficult to make a telling contribution in the short period that he played after replacing Defoe for the final ten minutes.

Unasked questions answered.
Kyle Walker started at right back and may well be ahead of Corluka for the start of the season.  He looked composed and wasn't intimidated by the hostile surroundings of Tynecastle.  H e attacks with pace and uses that pace when tackling back in defence.

Young players had an opportunity in this game and both showed up well.  Livermore played throughout in a composed, competitive manner and he deserved his well-taken goal.  He has developed since his disappointing performance in last season's Carling Cup defeat to Arsenal when he was substituted at half-time having looked out of his depth.  Townsend replaced Bale in the second half but used the opportunity to show that he deserves more time in the team.   On a couple of occasions he worked himself into shooting positions and he used his great speed to set up the break and a lovely pass which led to the final goal.  An encouraging night for these young players. 

Nico Kranjcar took the opportunity to show that he can play in central midfield.  If Modric were to be transferred, Kranjcar would be a useful additional to the central midfield play.  He worked hard and controlled the game, received praise from Harry Redknapp after the game for his performance.

The result was very pleasing, ensuring progress to the group stages, barring an unlikely miracle for Hearts, and will ease the pressure on Spurs' difficult opening to the season.  The manager should be able to use squad players for the second leg ensuring that the best players are ready for the home game with Manchester City on Sunday week.  The matches in the group stages will also allow some of the youngsters to get valuable European experience, vital if their development is to progress.  

The performance was excellent and all the players looked confident and the movement and passing was crisp and accurate throughout the team.  That five different players scored is a bonus and will boost their confidence for more demanding games in the coming weeks.

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