Tottenham Hotspur vs. Dnipro: 6 Things We Learned
Tottenham Hotspur secured passage to the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday night with a 3-1 win over Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
The visitors—managed by former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos—held onto their 1-0 aggregate lead from the first leg during a frustrating first half for their hosts.
When Roman Zozulya put Dnipro two up from a softly allowed header it looked like more European disappointment might be on the cards for Spurs.
Following a disallowed Roberto Soldado goal, a Christian Eriksen free-kick reduced the deficit within 10 minutes before controversy struck.
As both teams waited on the edge of the Dnipro box for another set piece, Zozulya clashed heads with Jan Vertonghen, with the latter falling to the floor. There was definite intent from the Ukrainian, but Vertonghen's hysterical reaction was a disgraceful overreaction.
With Zozulya sent off, Spurs made the most of their one-man advantage, injecting some much-needed quality to their now-greater pressure.
Emmanuel Adebayor got on the end of a Christian Eriksen cross to make it 2-1 on the night. Just four minutes later, Zeki Fryers terrifically picked out the striker who took it on his chest and added his second, sealing a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Tim Sherwood's side face Benfica in the next round and, more pressingly, take on Cardiff City in the Premier League this weekend.
Before we move onto that one, here are a few things learned from Thursday's game.
Wily Ramos' Old Tricks Can Only Take Limited Dnipro Side so Far
The last time a non-Tottenham Juande Ramos team played at White Hart Lane was back in April 2007. Sevilla held Spurs to a 2-2 draw in the second leg of their quarter final meeting, coming out on top 4-3 on aggregate.
Ramos' side were good for their win, having come out of the traps early on to take advantage of a hesitant Spurs start.
There was an uglier side to the performance, though. One marked by time-wasting tactics and theatrics (particularly from Dani Alves) as Sevilla sucked the life out of Spurs' brave comeback.
Now with Dnipro, Ramos employed this strategy again on Thursday night. The difference was, this team is not a patch on the eventual UEFA Cup winners from 2006-07.
They might have lost regardless. But the adventurous, attacking unit that caused Spurs so many problems in Ukraine—and would likely have challenged them in North London—was almost entirely absent.
Instead, innocuous challenges were over-dramatised throughout the 90 minutes. Later on niggling fouls crept in, ultimately costing Dnipro as one led to Christian Eriksen's goal.
Strategies to survive against teams from stronger leagues are understandable. But when they do not work anyway, Ramos might have been better off encouraging his team to actually play football.
Vertonghen Is Better Than His Theatrics
Jan Vertonghen had previous experience in playacting.
Against Chelsea earlier this season, a running battle with Fernando Torres saw the Spaniard swipe at the defender's face. The contact was minimal, but Vertonghen went down like he'd just been hit by a right hook from Joe Louis.
It seems to be a theme with the Belgian that he resorts to such behaviour against forwards making themselves a nuisance against him. His foe on this night, Dnipro's Roman Zozulya, undoubtedly made contract with his head (and by the letter, if not the spirit, of the law, the dismissal was correct, but Vertonghen's reaction was nowhere near in keeping with the force of the butt).
Such a response is that of either a wimp or a cheat. Either way, the centre-back does not come off well.
Some will argue Vertonghen was just playing Spurs' opponents at their own game. It is the unfortunate logic of the modern game. In this writer's mind, two wrongs do not make a right.
Vertonghen is better than this. His deceitfulness may have paid off on this occasion, but further deployments of it may see him caught out one day.
Sandro's Return Is a Timely One for Tottenham
Jan Vertonghen could learn a thing or two from his teammate Sandro about how both a man and a footballer should behave on the pitch.
Back from a calf injury that had kept him out since before Christmas, the brave and boisterous Brazilian was typically quick to inject himself in the thick of things against Dnipro.
Statistically, it was not a standout performance from Sandro. It did not matter. This one was more about presence.
From his good work tracking back in the first half, to his galvanising forays forward after the interval, Sandro was there when Spurs needed him. With big games coming up in March, his return is a timely one in this respect.
The central midfielder being on the field does not guarantee solidity. He was powerless to resist Manchester City back in November—he was outclassed just as much as anyone on that day.
Generally, though, Spurs look tougher with him. It was noticeable in his last appearance—the 5-0 thrashing against Liverpool—how increasingly easily they succumbed to the advancing Reds after his departure through injury.
Tim Sherwood has tweaked his midfield all throughout his reign. How he fits Sandro into it will make for interesting viewing.
Eriksen Must Not Be Afraid to Get Involved
For Christian Eriksen on Thursday, it was, as the old saying goes, a game of two halves.
Save for a penetrative central run that almost saw him wiggle free into the box and a few decent passing combinations, the Denmark international was largely quiet in the first half.
Post-interval, like most of his teammates, he sprang into life after Dnipro went into the lead.
Starting his first game since the home win over Everton in early February, Eriksen was back out at left midfield. On the periphery rather than centrally involved, you can sympathise with the 22-year-old finding it hard to make an impact at times from there.
The attitude he should look to take there—one he and his team did after going behind—is that he has little to lose in trying things.
His goal might have been better dealt with by Dnipro goalkeeper Denys Boyko, but it was Eriksen chancing catching him out at his bottom corner that got Spurs back in this game.
The assist for Emmanuel Adebayor was a less extravagant moment, but it was testament to what he is capable of when he tries to make things happen. He has great vision and lovely technique, whilst later on—showing off his skill too—a sublimely angled back-flick against his own leg almost found Roberto Soldado in on goal.
Tim Sherwood's plans have not involved Eriksen in recent weeks, but that is likely to change after this.
The best response he can offer in ensuring he is selected regularly again is doing his utmost to grab games by the scruff of the neck. It is entirely becoming of his qualities as a player.
Fryers Has Given Sherwood Something to Think About at Left-Back
In for the injured Danny Rose at left-back was Ezekiel Fryers, playing his first game for Tottenham in 2014.
Hesitant in the tackle and in his touch early on, the 21-year-old gradually settled down, putting in a tidy display marked by one great moment.
The latter, first, was his well-measured pass from the halfway line to find Emmanuel Adebayor on the right-hand side of the penalty box. Impeccably floated into his path, the forward then proceeded to control it with his chest and tuck away for Spurs' third.
Adebayor will deservedly take the plaudits, but Fryers' vision in that moment should not be overlooked.
He is still gaining in confidence as a full-back going forward. On his side is a sound temperament, and a willingness (though not yet, a natural inclination) to support and link up with his teammates.
Defensively too, Fryers still has work to do before he is ready to regularly deal with the best wingers in England and abroad. He was alert to the Dnipro threat here, but was caught out a couple of times by Matheus and other attackers.
Tim Sherwood will surely have noticed this encouraging performance from Fryers, though. With Rose not yet able to find consistent good form at left-back, a change down the line is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Defoe Will Be Missed by Tottenham
Regardless of your opinion about Jermain Defoe's use to Tottenham over the past year and whether he should have been sold to Toronto FC or not, one thing is certain.
He will be missed by the vast majority of those associated with the North London club.
A hamstring injury meant he missed out on a potential farewell playing appearance ahead of the completion of his move on Friday. Instead, he took to the White Hart Lane pitch at halftime.
His name had been sung from the stands already on the night, but the chants grew louder at this point with the England striker warmly applauded throughout the interval.
Some of his best goals were shown on the big screen to cheers, with a preceding comment about his former club West Ham United ahead of the third of these (November 2012's beauty from the 3-1 win) drawing a louder roar and a smile from the maligned former Hammer.
A nod to his off-field work in the local area with the E18HTEEN project was coupled with a final thank you from his interviewer, more applause, and then a final wave from the pitch where Defoe enjoyed his best years as a player.
Few footballers get to leave the club(s) of their lives on their own terms. Defoe's and the club's fans ideal scenario would have involved him signing off with a goal or two.
But not many are lucky to get this kind of individual farewell either.
Defoe moves onto Major League Soccer for the next phase of his career. Appropriately perhaps, it was Spurs' current goalscoring hero Emmanuel Adebayor who had the final say on this night.
It is time to move on. But, good and bad, with Defoe at the helm of the Spurs attack it has been an entertaining past decade.