José Mourinho has felt the Europa League defeat that his Tottenham team suffered away to Antwerp at the end of last month nag away at him. It was the night when he substituted four of his players at half-time. This victory represented a surer footed step and it tasted like redemption for two of those taken off; a timely injection of confidence for them.
It was Dele Alli’s first appearance since Antwerp and Carlos Vinícius’s third. They responded by driving Spurs into an unassailable 2-0 first-half lead; Alli supplying the assists, Vinícius the finishes. They were the latter’s first goals since his loan move from Benfica.
Pretty much everything went right for Spurs, who now know that an away point against Lask in the next tie will secure their qualification, while nothing did so for Ludogorets. They were dreadfully poor and did not muster a shot on goal.
The differing fortunes of the teams were summed up when Harry Winks tried to pick out the run of Gareth Bale in the second-half from a position on the left, over 50 yards from goal. The diagonal was over-hit but the ball sailed over the goalkeeper, Plamen Iliev, and went in off the far post.
Winks could not hide the laughter and did not attempt to claim he had intended it. “If it was me, I say I tried to score and be a candidate for the Puskas award,” Mourinho said with a smile.
Vinícius’ goals were the highlight for him but he could also reflect on his part in the fourth. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, on as a substitute, won the ball and, when Alli crossed, Vinícius’s control inside the area was perfect. He moved it along to Lucas Moura, who picked out the corner.
“Vinicius needs to be more physical in the Premier League but I am happy [with him],” Mourinho said. “Last season, if Harry Kane needed a rest, he couldn’t. Now the squad is much more balanced.”
It was a night of three Spurs debuts, with Mourinho introducing the goalkeeper, Alfie Whiteman, the midfielder, Harvey White, and the striker, Dane Scarlett, in the 82nd minute. At 16 years and 247 days old, Scarlett became the club’s youngest player, eclipsing John Bostock’s record, and there was almost glory for him. He took a heavy touch following Winks’s ball over the top but still got his shot away only for lliev to block at close quarters. White, who trains every day with the first-team, blasted the rebound just past the far post.
Mourinho’s starting XI featured only two players who will expect to start in Sunday’s Premier League derby at Chelsea – Davinson Sánchez and Tanguy Ndombele – and it was the latter that found Alli in between the lines to spark the first goal. Alli tried to slide in Bale, who was in an offside position, but the ball broke off Dragos Grigore for Vinícius, who took an assured first touch and strode through to finish. After the season Alli has had, he was entitled to argue he was due some luck.
Spurs were excellent before the interval, squeezing high and bringing the intensity. Ludogorets could not escape their half. Alli took up nice positions, Ndombele enjoyed himself in central midfield and the full-backs, Matt Doherty and Ben Davies, bombed on.
Alli’s second assist was a beauty, the kind of instinctive move in which he specialises, and it followed a burst from Ndombele. It saw him leave a gaggle of Ludogorets players in his wake and shoot for the bottom corner, drawing a parry out of Iliev. Alli was on hand and the shot for the unguarded near corner was on. Instead, with lovely disguise, he cut back for Vinícius, who lashed into the empty net. “That was 75% Dele’s goal,” Mourinho said.
It was not Bale’s night. He wasted three free-kicks in the early running – the second a retake – and curled another first-half effort high. After the break, his cushioned header was in front of Vinícius while he was denied one-on-one by Iliev. Spurs could point to other chances, with Alli, Winks and Lucas off target. Davies also hit the outside of the near post. It was a procession.