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Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele shine as youthful Tottenham thrash Red Star
Tottenham's 4-0 win over Red Star Belgrade took them a step closer to the Champions League knockout stages
Last Updated: 07/11/19 11:37am
Mauricio Pochettino urged fans to be patient with Tottenham's summer signings in an interview with Sky Sports last week, insisting they would need at least a season to adapt. But was Wednesday night's win over Red Star Belgrade a glimpse of what's to come?
For the first time this season, Pochettino was able to field Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso in the same starting line-up. And while it was the two-goal Heung-Min Son who made the headlines, the new faces in Tottenham's midfield - brought to the club for a combined cost of over £100m - were just as influential in the 4-0 victory.
There was even a cameo from Ryan Sessegnon, the third of Tottenham's summer recruits, who came off the bench to set up the fourth goal, scored by Christian Eriksen, in the closing stages. Red Star are modest opposition, of course. Spurs will face far stronger teams in the weeks and months ahead. But it was still a night of positives for Pochettino.
Lo Celso provides creative spark
Lo Celso's start to life at Tottenham was interrupted by a hip injury sustained on international duty with Argentina, but he marked his first start for the club with a goal on Wednesday night, showing impressive composure to control and convert a loose ball in the Red Star box following a frantic goalmouth scramble 10 minutes before half-time.
It was not the only example of his quality. The 23-year-old, deployed to the right of Dele Alli in support of Harry Kane, was involved in almost every Tottenham attack, linking the play together smartly and providing the kind of creative spark this side has so often lacked in recent months.
Before being replaced by Oliver Skipp four minutes from time, Lo Celso had more touches of the ball than any other player. He rarely wasted his passes, either, completing 71 of the 79 he attempted. Most of them were forward-thinking ones, and his delivery from wide areas - notably one wicked, inswinging cross following a corner in the second half - was impressive too.
Giovani Lo Celso's performance in stats
- 102 touches (1st)
- 79 passes (3rd)
- Three crosses (1st)
- Three shots (3rd)
- Five tackles (1st)
- Eight recoveries (2nd)
Spurs supporters can be just as encouraged by his off-the-ball work. Pochettino's side have lacked their usual intensity lately, but on this evidence Lo Celso will help. He showed energy and endeavour right from the start. By the end, he had made more tackles than any other player. Only Moussa Sissoko had made more ball recoveries.
Two starts in four days may be too much to ask from a player who has only recently returned from injury, but this eye-catching performance might make it difficult for Pochettino to leave him out when Sheffield United visit the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.
Ndombele the driving force
Ndombele was similarly impressive. The Frenchman has featured more prominently than Lo Celso this season, of course, but there is still a sense that he has not quite convinced Pochettino that he should be a guaranteed starter. On this evidence, that's likely to change soon.
He did have some awkward moments in the early exchanges, surrendering possession a little cheaply on a couple of occasions, but it didn't take long for him to take charge of the game and, like Lo Celso, show the kind of quality that convinced Spurs to part with so much money to sign him.
The first glimpses of that quality came in quick succession in the 13th minute when, moments after setting up Kane for an effort which brushed the side-netting, he released Alli with a smart reverse pass which, if not for his team-mate's poor control, might have led to the opening goal.
It was his role in Tottenham's second goal, though, that best summed up what he brings to this Spurs side. The 22-year-old was in his own half when he picked up possession from his midfield partner Sissoko, but a burst of power and speed took him away from two Red Star players and he then had the composure to find Alli, who played it through to Son to score.
There were plenty more moments like it. By the end of the game, Ndombele had completed five successful dribbles, including one Zinedine Zidane-style pirouette away from his marker midway through the second half. Ndombele contested more duels than any other player and also made the most passes in the opposition half. The combination of guile and physicality makes him a fearsome proposition.
Youth the way forward for Spurs?
Tottenham's starting line-ups this season have been the fourth-oldest in the Premier League, a jarring contrast to Pochettino's first three years in charge, when they were consistently the youngest. But the average age of the team fell from over 27 to under 26 in Belgrade.
Lo Celso and Ndombele were not the only youthful starters, with Juan Foyth, Davinson Sanchez and Alli ensuring there was a total of five players in the line-up aged 23 or under. In Sessegnon and Skipp, there were also two teenagers to emerge from the bench.
The result was a side which looked far more like what we have come to expect from Pochettino's Spurs. The youthful hunger was evident in the speed at which they chased down their opponents, and once they had won back possession, they sprang forward quickly and incisively.
The challenge now for Pochettino is to ensure this momentum is carried into their return to Premier League action on Saturday. On this evidence, the new signings could start to make a difference sooner than he expected.
Follow Spurs vs Sheffield United on the Sky Sports live blog on Saturday from 2pm; Kick-off 3pm