Tottenham Hotspur vs. Anzhi Makhachkala: 6 Things We Learned

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Anzhi Makhachkala: 6 Things We Learned

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    Tottenham Hotspur completed their Europa League requirements for 2013 with a comfortable 4-1 win in Group K over Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday.

    Roberto Soldado opened the scoring with a brace within the first 20 minutes.

    The first saw him flick a header past goalkeeper Yevgeny Pomazan after Gylfi Sigurdsson drove a free kick into the six-yard box. Just under 10 minutes later, the Spaniard fired across the Russian into the bottom corner after being picked out by Erik Lamela.

    Anzhi defender Ewerton Jose Almeida Santos reduced the deficit shortly before half-time, outmuscling Kyle Naughton to poke the ball in from a corner kick.

    Any hope of a comeback from the Russians was soon dispelled when Lewis Holtby added to Spurs' lead. The midfielder's terrific piece of combined control and finishing after getting on the end of Andros Townsend's cross made it 3-1.

    Soldado then completed his hat-trick with a penalty after substitute Ryan Fredericks was incorrectly judged to have been fouled by Anzhi captain Jucilei.

    Read on for six things we learned from Thursday's Europa League clash.

Soldado's Hat-Trick Gives Villas-Boas a Familiar Dilemma

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    Roberto Soldado's first Tottenham hat-trick took his season's tally to nine goals. After going without scoring since his winner vs. Hull City in late October, the striker received a much-needed confidence boost.

    He was as energetic and involved in his all-round play as he has been since that last goal.

    Throughout his 78 minutes on the pitch, he did fine work out wide in linking with Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend in particular. He was also involved in moves that almost led to chances for Gylfi Sigurdsson.

    Compared to the Spain international's last appearance vs. Tromso, he was the recipient of a much healthier supply line in attack. In addition to the goals, he tested Yevgeny Pomazan with a glancing header following a superb first-time cross from Ryan Fredericks.

    Anzhi will be among the weaker defences that he faces all season. But after he lost his place in recent weeks, this was just what the doctor ordered.

    It leaves his manager Andre Villas-Boas in a familiar predicament heading into this weekend's Premier League meeting with Liverpool.

    Jermain Defoe has played well up front in Spurs' two matches heading into Thursday. He did not score, though.

    Soldado would likely argue that—had he benefited from the kind of service that Defoe received vs. Sunderland in particularhe would have scored sooner than against Anzhi.

    Pleasingly for Spurs, after looking goal shy for weeks, they have a couple of confidence men in attack to choose from to lead the charge against a strong Liverpool side.

    Whoever is selected, Villas-Boas will need plenty from them to better or at least match the work of the in-form Luis Suarez down the other end.

The Subject Was Rose

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    Danny Rose completed his first 45 minutes for Tottenham since September vs. Anzhi Makhachkala. Despite being substituted at half-time, the left-back had an encouraging, if inconclusive, return.

    Andre Villas-Boas should be pleased with the defender's positivity going forward.

    Rose found Gylfi Sigurdsson with a wonderful searching through-ball 10 minutes into the game. It did not lead anywhere, but it contributed to the full-back finding his feet.

    As the half progressed, Rose had some nice interchanges of play with Andros Townsend on the left.

    Rose's most eye-catching moment, though, came when a lung-busting run saw him get on the end of Mousa Dembele's skillfully fashioned pass out wide. Sadly, he lost his footing as he neared entry into the penalty box, but it was a reminder of his attacking threat.

    Villas-Boas and his fellow Spurs coaches will likely be discussing if they saw enough here to play Rose against Liverpool.

    He was not tested anywhere near as comprehensively at the back as he might be by a Raheem Sterling or Luis Suarez on Sunday.

    Spurs would be better off with Rose at left-back than Kyle Naughton—a decent deputy but with a nonexistent left foot. It might prove to be a game too soon for the much-missed defender.

Fredericks Has Improved Since His Previous Appearances for Tottenham

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    Ryan Fredericks' last appearances for Tottenham came in the club's ultimately unsuccessful 2011-12 Europa League campaign. He was one of several youngsters deployed by then-manager Harry Redknapp, who made the Premier League the firm priority.

    Of those, Tom Carroll, Harry Kane and Andros Townsend have gone on to make an impression in further senior appearances (with legitimate, if not certain, hopes of making it in the long term). Fredericks, on the other hand, fell off the first-team radar.

    After a brief spell on loan with Brentford last season, the 21-year-old has returned to the Spurs fold and got his first chance in more than two years vs. Anzhi.

    Based on his display, he looks like a far more assured prospect than he was back then.

    The half-time substitute for Danny Rose switched with Kyle Naughton to right-back. Despite giving the ball away his first two times in possession, he swiftly settled.

    A clearance at the back post five minutes into the second half got him going. Thereafter he played his part in Spurs turning the tide against the briefly resurgent Russians.

    Fredericks' first run down the right saw him find a route inside the box where he won a corner. A second foray down the flank led nowhere, but on the third occasion, he delivered a peach of a cross to set up Roberto Soldado for a header that was saved.

    His biggest contribution of the night was to come within 10 minutes of that. Another purposeful and incisive charge into the box saw him dance between defenders before losing his balance as Jucilei came in.

    It was harsh on the Anzhi captain but a great moment for Fredericks. Soldado noticeably searched out the full-back to thank him after converting the penalty.

    What this means for Fredericks' Spurs prospects remains to be seen, but this showing did his cause no harm.

Coulthirst and Eriksen Have Added to Attacking Options of an in-Form Attack

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    Tottenham's general improvement in the final third continued against Anzhi after progress in recent games vs. Manchester United, Fulham and Sunderland.

    Liverpool will be provide a tougher test to the greater width and penetration that Spurs have been showing of late. Not to mention the better quality of opportunities created.

    Christian Eriksen's role this weekend, or over the Christmas and New Year's period for that matter, is not certain right now. What is known, however, is that his return adds an extra dimension to the quick, almost direct football that has fared well for Spurs over the last few weeks.

    The Dane's appearance here—on a night his name was sung throughout by a vocal White Hart Lane crowd—was mostly about getting some minutes under his belt following his ankle injury.

    In some brief glimmers of creativity, he served to remind Spurs of his ability in the playmaking role. Eriksen will likely have to earn a starting reprieve again, but just having the option of using him is a big one for a side looking to go from strength to strength.

    Shaquile Coulthirst is unlikely to play a main role vs. Liverpool or in the coming weeks, but he has also added to Andre Villas-Boas' options in attack.

    Shortly after coming on for Roberto Soldado for his debut, he chanced his luck with a persistent, almost cheeky run behind the Anzhi defence from the left.

    Thereafter, the highlight of his remaining contribution was a nice bit of hold-up play. As one of the most-talked about prospects of the club's youth academy, it was good to see him get a sample of first-team action.

Spurs Have It in Them to Improve on Last Year's Quarterfinal Defeat

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    Eight matches played, eight wins. Domestic affairs have been tough so far this season, but in Europe, things could not have gone much smoother for Tottenham.

    Group K (and Dinamo Tbilisi in the playoff round before that) did not prove especially challenging. Nonetheless, Spurs have approached it with sufficient energy to have rendered it a worthwhile exercise.

    Predicting this as the first step on a path to glory in the competition would be presumptuous. However, of the teams that also qualified out of the group stage, Spurs should be afraid of none of them (although they should not take some lightly, either).

    The teams that were dumped into the competition from the Champions League offer more pause, though. The prospect of facing Juventus, Napoli or Shakhtar Donetsk somewhere the line would require a big effort to secure progression.

    Yet this should not be cause for concern. Spurs have aspirations of joining the big time of Europe's premier competition on a more regular basis. These are the kind of teams that they want to be challenging themselves against.

    Europa League competition does not recommence until February. Just what shape Villas-Boas' team will be in by then is impossible to predict.

    Should things go to plan—and that is a big "if" in a division as competitive and sapping as the Premier League—Spurs have the quality to go even further than the quarterfinal stage that they reached last year.

Anzhi and Their Fans Have Pluck, but That Is All

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    Fans, players and coaches of Anzhi Makhachkala might be grateful for the long winter break ahead for the club. With the Russian Premier League's fixtures done until March, the Dagestan club will not be in action until February.

    You would not want to read too much into a performance vs. Tottenham. While Anzhi offered some resistance, the superior side largely swept them away.

    But the prospect of them progressing beyond the Europa League's Round of 32 seems a dim one, to say the least. With them currently sitting bottom with no wins in their own league, it is difficult to decide if more European games will be a welcome or annoying distraction.

    Whatever is in store for Anzhi, it is hard to be positive about their prospects.

    The 20 or so supporters who made the trip to North London were a credit to their club. Only the most churlish of football people would not sympathise with them. Having been told to dare to dream only months ago, the previously cash-rich club are facing some nightmares ahead.