Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sheriff Tiraspol: 5 Things We Learned
The Europa League's second Western-themed night of the season saw Spurs spike Sheriff Tiraspol's hopes of an upset in North London with a 2-1 win.
Erik Lamela scored his first goal as a Tottenham Hotspur player to give his side a second-half lead. The Argentinian then won the penalty, through which Jermain Defoe moved into first place on his own as the club's all-time top scorer in Europe with 23 goals.
Ismail Isa reduced the deficit for the visitors from the Moldovan division, but Spurs managed to hold on to earn the three points that have sealed their qualification from Group K.
Read on for a few things learned from Thursday night's game.
White Hart Lane Has Responded Well to Villas-Boas' Criticism
Andre Villas-Boas' criticism of the atmosphere at White Hart Lane following the 1-0 Premier League win over Hull City was seized upon by many outside observers, notably in the media. The Tottenham boss had a point, albeit one that was more complicated than just fans not wanting to sing.
Less publicised was his pleasure a few days later at the response of the home fans in the Capital One Cup victory over the same opposition.
"Great credit to the fans. They were the difference, inspiring us—always cheering, always supporting," Villas-Boas told BBC Sport after their topsy-turvy tussle with the Tigers. "To see their response after we suffered a setback was very pleasant."
Just over a week later, the Tottenham boss should be pleased at hearing another vocal outing by his team's supporters.
Consigned, though, it mostly was to in-and-around the Park Lane stand—generally, the loudest area of the ground anyway—those who did contribute to the signing and chanting were in good voice for most of the match.
They will witness more urgent nights than this (as demonstrated by the fact that a couple of old anti-Sol Campbell songs were pulled from the repertoire in the game's quieter moments). Still, an atmospheric White Hart Lane is a good place to be, no matter the occasion.
Lamela Is Gradually Finding His Feet
Erik Lamela's showing in the Capital One Cup victory last week was the most encouraging seen by the attacker over more than a ten-minute spell since his arrival in England this past summer.
Lamela worked hard to make an impression, getting up and going at Hull repeatedly. Despite his penalty shootout miss, it was an overall effort that boded well for his progress.
Sheriff were weaker than Hull, though similarly stubborn in their initial defensive resistance. Regardless of the opposition's quality (or lack thereof), the Argentina international was clearly keen to get involved and make an impression.
Not much came off for him in the first half; though, his mazy dribbling unnerved the Transnistrian club on more than one occasion (and he was perhaps unlucky not to win a penalty). Largely, though, the crowded final third and Spurs' general struggle to find a way through made it tough going for all concerned.
Lamela's perseverance was heartening in the midst of this battle. At one point, with half hour played, he raced to close down a Sheriff player looking to emerge from his own corner. Late in the half, he almost found a way through from the left flank only to have his cross deflected onto the post.
When Lamela's goal came on the hour mark, it was just reward for his efforts and the flashes of quality that lit them up.
His attempts at a one-two with Christian Eriksen saw the ball deflected kindly back into the path of his run, allowing him to coolly tuck the ball away in the bottom corner.
Arguably more impressive was the bewitching run between challenges that led to Djibril Paye bringing him down for the penalty that Jermain Defoe would dispatch.
Lamela has taken time to settle in to England, a process that is still ongoing. Yet in his last couple of appearances, he has looked more ready than at any point this season to step up his involvement.
A Premier League start may be two or three weeks away still. Then again, the confidence gained from Thursday might be just what Lamela needed to truly find his feet.
Capoue's Return Hints at Future Midfield Options
Etienne Capoue's name on the team-sheet for the first time since getting injured at the beginning of September was a welcome sight for Tottenham.
The absence was cruel timing for a player looking to bed in, following his summer move from Toulouse.
Against a team largely happy to sit back and defend (save for the occasional counter attack), this was the ideal game for Capoue to get some match fitness.
Beyond that priority, performance-wise there was little worth reading into that was seen by the Frenchman here. An adventurous run-and-shot on the ninth minute was the pick of his contributions on a night when he was otherwise clearly feeling his way back into rhythm with his teammates.
Of most interesting note was his general position sitting deeper off of his midfield partner Mousa Dembele.
This was not especially surprising given Capoue's aptitude for occupying the more defensive role. Nonetheless, having been out for two months, it hinted at what Villas-Boas might have in mind for him within the team heading forward.
The three-man midfield he was part of in his previous appearance versus Arsenal has since largely reverted to a two-man setup, with either Eriksen or Lewis Holtby played further forward.
As noted by the aforementioned foray forward, Capoue has more to his game than sitting back. For the time being, though, it seems that would be his primary function if selected—likely setting up a battle between him and Sandro for first-team minutes.
Lean Times for Tottenham's Strikers Are Not Helping Defoe
On a day when his place in the England squad for this month's friendlies with Chile and Germany was confirmed, Defoe will have been pleased to find the back of the net.
Beyond earning him a little slice of Tottenham history, it was also a tangible reminder to manager Roy Hodgson of the goals Defoe is capable of providing for the national team.
Besides the chance provided Defoe from the penalty spot by his teammate Lamela, shooting opportunities were otherwise limited to snatched attempts from long range and/or tight spaces.
Spurs' search for genuine creativity going forward was again a struggle against Sheriff, at least until Lamela come to the fore.
Even were Roberto Soldado not favoured by Villas-Boas as his first-choice striker right now, Defoe would be having a tough time of it trying to make an impact for his team in these lean times for Spurs strikers.
As it is, Defoe's hopes of impressing enough in these cup outings to earn another starting chance in the league are not being done much good.
Goals will come for Spurs. They have shown—albeit fleetingly—that they have got it in them to score.
Unfortunately for Defoe, as the man currently playing second fiddle, he is only rarely going to be the beneficiary of any improvement.
Right now, he will be hoping his occasional offerings are enough to keep him in Hodgson's plans.
Villas-Boas Will Be Considering His Next Move in the Europa League
With progress to the knockout stage of the Europa League, the next decision facing Villas-Boas in regards to Europe is how much he wants top spot and, with it, the chance to avoid potentially tougher opposition post-Christmas.
Even with Anzhi Makhachkala's win over Tromso earning the Russians the possibility of still finishing first, Tottenham should have more than enough about them to get the win they need over either side.
Nonetheless, with the games piling up in the Premier League heading into the Christmas and New Year's period, Villas-Boas can afford to take things a little easier in Europe for the time being.
Spurs' squad is strong enough that there should be some considerable talent in the team heading out to Tromso on Nov. 28 regardless. Enough that even the deployment of one or two more youngsters would not be unnecessarily weakening their strength.
Either way, Villas-Boas' fondness for the Europa League will ensure that it is a decision he does not take lightly.