Dele Alli struck a 65th-minute winner from Kieran Trippier’s low cross as Tottenham edged past Championship side Barnsley 1-0 in the third round of the League Cup at Wembley. Here are five talking points.
A strange atmosphere
It is odd enough watching Premier League matches at Wembley this season but observing this third-round League Cup encounter at the national stadium was particularly surreal.
Wembley Way was far quieter than usual in the hours before kick-off and the press room was so sparsely populated that it almost felt appropriate to speak in whispers.
The empty seats in the stands were hard to ignore too. The attendance was 23,926 – less than the crowd for the pre-season clash with Juventus under the arch, which was 26,251.
Whether it affected Spurs’ performance or not was unclear but Wembley certainly seemed rather big – too big – tonight.
Mauricio Pochettino picks a strong side
Spurs’ manager has admitted that he is more interested in the Premier League and Champions League than the domestic cups and it was well-known that he would rotate his squad tonight – it was just a question of how many changes he would make.
In the end there were six, which seemed sensible. Key players got a rest and other less-used ones got opportunities, but those who did not need a break started again.
Both Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen will get an enforced rest when their team-mates face Apoel Nicosia in the Champions League next Tuesday, given they are suspended, so they stayed in the line-up tonight.
Heung-Min Son and Moussa Sissoko were both withdrawn early during Saturday’s goalless draw against Swansea, so they too were able to go again against Barnsley.
Meanwhile, the players who came into the side all looked deserving and capable. Teenage signing Juan Foyth was given the easiest possible debut against a Championship side, while Fernando Llorente got his first start – and Michel Vorm, Kyle Walker-Peters and Harry Winks are all trusted squad members.
The main surprise was the inclusion of Mousa Dembele, who sat out Saturday’s stalemate against Swansea but started this evening’s clash against Barnsley.
It seemed an odd time to use such an influential player, especially one whose game time seemingly needs to be managed more carefully than others due to his history of injury problems. Eyebrows will be raised if he missing from the starting line-up at West Ham on Saturday.
Kieran Trippier’s selection was also interesting. On the one hand the 27-year-old may have been grateful to get a chance to face his former club on his birthday.
On the other, it suggests new boy Serge Aurier is being saved for Saturday’s London derby and that the Ivorian has already moved ahead in the pecking order when it comes to the biggest games.
3. Foyth shows his confidence on the ball but has areas to work on
The 19-year-old nearly made a dream start to his debut, heading just wide from a corner, but he also made a few little mistakes in the opening exchanges.
He was hesitant in committing to a tackle and then jumped in too late. Soon after he was beaten in the corner, conceding a free kick – and at the start of the second half a long ball dropped over his head, giving Barnsley their best chance of the match.
However, there were moments when Foyth defended well too. He came across to help Vertonghen when his centre-back partner went to ground in the first half, stepping across in front of Ike Ugbo and using his strength to stop the danger. He later positioned himself to block a low cross in the second period.
He clearly has areas to work on. What is not in question is his confidence on the ball. Foyth turned neatly away from Ugbo on the touchline rather than passing all the way back to Vorm in the first half. Then, a few minutes later, he drew a Barnsley player and flicked the ball away to Sissoko at the last moment before heading upfield and looking to make a run behind the visitors’ defence.
There is obvious room for improvement – as expected when a teenager arrives in a new country – but Foyth’s apparent ability on the ball should make him well-suited to Pochettino’s Spurs.
4. Trippier delivers the key cross in the end after abandoning aerial assault
Spurs were not at their best in the first half, with heavy touches halting attacks and slowing momentum.
The Lilywhites also failed to give Llorente the service he thrives on, with their deliveries from wide areas generally lacking quality. Trippier, whose crossing is his main selling point, was as guilty in that respect as anyone.
On one occasion, when he swung the ball in from the right side, it was headed away at chest height in front of the near post. Midway through the second half he lofted the ball beyond the far post and out for a goal kick, dropping to his haunches for a moment afterwards to seemingly collect his thoughts.
It must have been a source of frustration for Llorente. But, then again, when the Spaniard’s big moment arrived – from a Trippier corner in fact – he directed his free header over the bar from six yards. Spurs’ new forward generally struggled to make an impact and did not look fit.
In the end, however, it was Trippier who created the decisive goal in the 65th minute.
Getting round the back, he this time kept his cross low and it was tucked away at close range by Dele Alli, who needed that moment himself after having a couple of quiet outings.
5. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou provides a spark in closing stages
It would not have been a surprise if the French winger had departed in the summer but he is still at the club, and he could become very useful if he can develop some consistency.
Saturday’s stalemate with Swansea again underlined Spurs’ need for a creative player who can open up defences with direct running; someone who can beat a man and disrupt well-organised rearguards.
Sissoko still looks unable to provide that kind of impact, either from the start or off the bench. His touch was heavy again tonight, to the extent that it was unclear whether one particular pass was intended or whether it was a case of mis-control.
But Nkoudou, who has just recovered from a foot injury, appeared as a substitute in the closing stages this evening and enjoyed a lively cameo, forcing a save from Adam Davies and producing a neat piece of skill that drew cheers from the home fans.
There were careless and frustrating moments too – twice he ran the ball over the by-line. But he was positive whenever he got the ball and has the pace and footwork to trouble opponents and five Spurs a different dimension.
If the 22-year-old can shake off the rust and find the consistency that eluded him last season then he could be a real asset.
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