Sheriff Tiraspol vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned
Tottenham Hotspur moved closer to qualifying from Europa League Group K with a 2-0 win away at Moldovan league outfit Sheriff Tiraspol.
Anzhi Makhachkala's 1-0 victory over Tromso means Andre Villas-Boas' side still have work to do in order to progress to the knockout stage. With two of their three remaining fixtures at home, they will expect to seal their place with games to spare.
Villas-Boas made seven changes to the team that beat Aston Villa in the Premier League last weekend.
One of these, Christian Eriksen, floated in the corner from which Jan Vertonghen headed Tottenham into the lead on 12 minutes.
Sheriff put the visitors under plenty of pressure thereafter, and could well have equalized before half time.
After the interval, Spurs regained firm control of the match and sealed the win with a deflected Jermain Defoe effort from long-range. The strike saw the forward equal Martin Chivers' record of 22 goals for the club in Europe.
Read on for a few takeaways from Thursday's game.
Lamela Needs to Keep Persevering
Another of the changes made by Andre Villas-Boas saw Erik Lamela restored to his starting XI.
Initially playing left wing, he switched with Aaron Lennon to the right side midway through the first half, playing there until being replaced by Nacer Chadli shortly after the hour mark.
In his approach play Lamela can sometimes come off as being a tad hesitant—cautious, even.
This was certainly the case against Sheriff on occasions when he had the ball snatched away from him or had a pass intercepted.
While there was an element of him being too ponderous in possession, a couple of those passes were unlucky not to find their target. He had done well in the first place in making some incisive runs into central positions.
Lamela is not so much a forceful player. He is more one who prefers to size up the situation in front of him. The challenge for him now is adapting that to fit with the rhythm of his new Tottenham teammates, learning their habits and preferences and how he can use them.
That will be challenging in Premier League games where the pace is more hectic.
The greater urgency might work in his favour though, with the often more immediate pressure to influence forcing him to take the game to the opposition—as he did setting up Paulinho's winner in injury time versus Cardiff City.
For now, Lamela might have to settle for further cup outings. Whatever the environment, he must continue to persevere and not lose heart as he attempts to find his way in England.
Lennon Looks Ready to Go
It was hard to get a good idea of Aaron Lennon's fitness versus Aston Villa last Sunday. Though he was able to enjoy a couple of runs forward, his remit was largely shoring up the left side in front of Jan Vertonghen—something he successfully did.
Back on the right to begin with against Sheriff, it was hard going for him and his fellow attackers versus a resolute defense that were only really troubled in the first half by the set-play goal they conceded.
Lennon gradually found more opportunities to run at them, and in the second half he caused some real problems. Goalkeeper Vjekoslav Tomic was almost caught out by a timid but well placed shot in the bottom right corner, while later the winger made a superb diversionary run that allowed Christian Eriksen to play in Jermain Defoe.
After a month and a half out injured, the signs are that Lennon is ready to go again.
Getting back in the Spurs team permanently will not be easy for him, as in his absence Gyfli Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend have enjoyed some fine displays on the flanks.
Nonetheless, the 26-year-old remains a tremendous option for Villas-Boas to call upon. Having seen how encouragingly sharp he is, Lennon could start in the league as soon as this weekend.
Full-Back Is Becoming More of a Position of Concern for Totteham
Thursday was not the best of evenings for deputizing full-backs Zeki Fryers and Kyle Naughton.
Fryers was substituted on 32 minutes after going down injured. Disappointing as this was for him, it gave Naughton a reprieve after he struggled in the face of repeated Sheriff inquiries down his right side and was switched over.
Naughton fared better here, but was not tested anywhere near as much.
Despite being unsuited to filling in on his unnatural side against stronger opposition, he has generally looked solid on the right. For a player hoping to contend for Kyle Walker's right-back spot, the ease with which he was isolated and glided past here will not have done his case much good.
In fairness, Naughton's unfamiliarity playing alongside Vlad Chiriches did not help (nor the manner in which Spurs were caught forward in possession). But that the Romanian looked better than him when he was moved to right-back following Fryers' injury does not bode well for Naughton down the line.
For Tottenham, the uncertainty that continues to define the full-back positions behind the first choice pair of Walker and Danny Rose is one of the few real areas of concern in the team right now.
We had some idea of that prior to playing Sheriff, but the issue is undoubtedly becoming clearer by the week.
Chiriches Is About to Give Spurs Real Competition for Places in Defense
Those who saw a good amount of Vlad Chiriches at Steaua Bucharest or representing Romania will not be surprised by how the highly-rated defender has settled in at Tottenham.
Off the back of a couple of solid cup displays, his showing versus Villa last weekend was nonetheless an encouraging entry into Premier League life.
Against Sheriff, Chiriches' often assured performance was hardly revelatory, but it did serve to reinforce the boost to competition he has given to the Spurs defense.
He played the majority of this game at right-back after Fryers went off injured. Though not as comfortable attacking as he is defensively, he gives Spurs another option there (though, as already noted, that just adds to the uncertainty).
His proficiency in possession—highlighted by a delightful moment in which he flicked the ball over the head of an approaching challenge from a Sheriff forward—bares comparison with Jan Vertonghen. The earnestness with which he raced back to deny Henrique Luvannor after he skipped past Hugo Lloris was reminiscent of Michael Dawson at his determined best.
Chiriches, of course, is very much his own player, one marked in appearance by his longer strides and a coolness not dissimilar to former Spur Dimitar Berbatov.
Villas-Boas and his coaching staff certainly have some things to think about in central defense.
Villas-Boas' Rotation Is Giving Him Plenty of Food for Thought
The options Villas-Boas has at his disposal have been much discussed already, so we will not go too much further into them right now.
It is allowing him to rotate his squad and give his players plenty of opportunity to impress, while resting those who have been playing more frequently.
As we head into winter—at least over the Christmas and New Year period—the focus will predominantly shift to the Premier League. It will be interesting to note Villas-Boas' approach and whether it begins to replicate the cup/league/cup routine he has established right now.
Without so many cup games to satisfy football hungry players on the fringe of the first-team, there will be a tough balancing act between keeping them involved and fielding his preferred team. Not to mention the fact that some players will needed to be rested here and there to help try and avoid fatigue further down the line.
Something to keep an eye on in the months ahead then, the root of which is taking hold now.
Sheriff Are a Reminder of the Fascinating Scenes Beyond Europe's Major Leagues
Sheriff Tiraspol gave a decent account of themselves against more famous English opposition despite their loss. Tottenham will not be overly-concerned about facing them in North London, but neither will they take lightly a team who harried and got behind them with alarming frequency in the first half of their first encounter.
For the time being, one of the biggest takeaways this writer will take from the game will be the fascinating background of this secretive club.
Beyond Moldova's appearances in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, unless you are familiar with the Eastern Europe football scene the country's association with the sport is not widely known.
To find out that Sheriff are not strictly a Moldovan club, but in fact belonged to the self-declared country of Transnistria was rather interesting indeed.
With increasing access to so many leagues and games across the continent, the stories of clubs like Sheriff are throwbacks to days when most of us were far less knowledgeable of the European game.
This team's almost reluctant dominance of the Moldovan league since the turn of the century is just one aspect of a back-story that has surprising depth considering they were only formed in 1997.
For a good insight on Sheriff this article by James Montague for the New York Times from August 2012 is well worth a read.