5 talking points from Tottenham's 3-0 victory over Apoel Nicosia

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente, second right, Kyle Walker-Peters, center left, and Serge Aurier celebrated their win against APOEL after the end of the Champions League Group H soccer match between Tottenham and APOEL Nicosia in London, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Fernando Llorente and Geroges-Kevin Nkoudou both scored their first Tottenham goals, while Heung-min Son struck for the fourth time in five starts as Spurs beat Apoel Nicosia 3-0 in their final Champions League Group H fixture at Wembley.

Here are five talking points:

AS IT HAPPENED: Tottenham v APOEL Nicosia

READ MORE: Llorente bags first Tottenham goal as Spurs down APOEL

  1. Serge Aurier shows his crossing ability again

After a slow start to his Tottenham career, the Ivorian has posed a threat in his last three outings against Borussia Dortmund, Leicester and Apoel.

Aurier has pace but his final ball has not always been as good as it could be. Nonetheless, it would be entirely wrong to say he cannot cross.

It was his low delivery that forced Raphael Varane’s own goal at the Bernabeu, and his ball that set up Fernando Llorente’s close-range chance at the King Power Stadium last week.

Tonight, Aurier again showed his ability to get into good positions and whip the ball into dangerous areas.

One low cross to the near post was defended just in front of Llorente, forcing a corner, and the right-back then laid on the opening goal from a similar position, firing it in to the Spaniard, who was this time able to finish.

Kieran Trippier’s crossing remains his best asset, but Aurier is now showing his own quality with more consistency – and he is quicker than his rival and team-mate.

With Danny Rose also being a pacier alternative to Ben Davies, the pressure is on Trippier and Davies to make an offensive impact against Stoke at Wembley at the weekend, assuming they will be brought back into the side.

If they fail to do so, Pochettino’s decision to pick Aurier and Rose for this dead rubber and then take them out for Saturday’s more important clash will be rightly questioned.

2. Llorente gets off the mark – and adds an assist

The Spaniard has sometimes looked in danger of joining the list of Tottenham forwards who have moved to north London and flopped in recent years, following in the footsteps of Roberto Soldado and Vincent Janssen.

He has struggled for game time, looking rusty as a result. And, although Spurs have not always played to his strengths, he has also missed good chances.

Llorente miscontrolled the ball when through one on one in Dortmund and then squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise at Leicester.

This evening, he made only his fourth start for Tottenham – but it proved to be a productive outing for the 32-year-old, who was given the space to use his strengths, both on the ground and in the air.

An early header was saved and he went on to score the opener, controlling Aurier’s cross well with his back to goal and then swivelling and finishing eight yards out.

Llorente then set up the second goal, offering himself for a pass from Heung-Min Son and cushioning the ball back to the South Korean, who whipped the ball into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box to net his fourth goal in five starts.

The summer signing will have to continue playing second fiddle to Harry Kane, but this has served as a useful reminder of what he can offer, and it will undoubtedly give him confidence.

3. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou makes the most of his opportunity

The French winger has been on the outskirts of the fringes this season, only making four substitute appearances before tonight’s outing, which was his first start of the campaign.

With Erik Lamela now back in the squad and increasing the competition for places even further, this was an important opportunity for Nkoudou to impress Pochettino and show he should have a future at the club – perhaps his last opportunity in fact.

It seemed for a long time that it was going to be a case of so near but so far – another game where Nkoudou showed promise and attacked with menace but was unable to provide an end product.

When Llorente’s early header was saved, the youngster looked certain to score at close range but saw his shot blocked on the line. In the second half another goalbound effort took a deflection and narrowly missed the far post.

He got his deserved goal in the end, though, making it 3-0 in the 80th minute by leaving his marker for dead outside the box, running into the area and seeing a deflected shot beat Nauzert Perez in the visitors’ goal.

The 22-year-old has raw pace and the footwork to beat players in tight areas – both qualities Spurs lack at times, especially when they are hosting defensive teams at Wembley.

The question now is whether this goalscoring display against average opposition will enhance Nkoudou’s status in the squad and bring him further opportunities.

Is this the night that kickstarts his Spurs career, or a brief highlight for a player who will continue to struggle to even get a spot on the bench for league games, and will move on in the summer? We will see, but he could not have done much more this evening.

4. Youthful defensive recruits secure a clean sheet

In the past, Pochettino has generally deployed an experienced centre-back alongside his young defenders to help them through the game.

But the priority tonight was to rest as many senior men as possible, so the Argentinian left Jan Vertonghen on the bench and played summer signings Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth together.

The pair are just 21 and 19 years old respectively, and this was only Foyth’s third appearance in a Spurs shirt, following two outings in the League Cup.

Nonetheless, they formed a solid partnership and ensured their side did not concede, while looking confident on the ball.

Apoel were not the toughest opponents but this was nonetheless Spurs’ first clean sheet in six matches and Foyth will benefit from the experience in particular.

Academy striker Kazaiah Sterling also got a brief run-out in the final moments.

5. Spurs await last-16 draw

With the group stage now finished, Tottenham can look ahead to Monday’s draw for the last 16 and consider who they would like to face, and avoid.

By finishing top of Group H they have dodged Barcelona and Paris St-Germain, but they could still be pitted against Bayern Munich or Juventus, along with Basel, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Porto.

Given the difficulty of their group – where they faced Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund – the Lilywhites will feel they are owed a kind draw.

But their performances and results in Europe so far this term will also give them confidence that they can overcome whoever they are pitted against.

Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs and visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BenPearceSpurs/

 

 

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