Forget Son Heung-min – Dele Alli was Spurs' real star against Qarabag
Alli passes his test (again)
Dele Alli executed what turned out to be the perfect three-point turn, steered clear of the traffic in a busy area and made sure he passed. A player once most famous for a driving test had steered Tottenham on the road to success against Qarabag, thanks to a brilliant assist for Son Heung-min.
Two years ago, when Alli was little known and coming through the ranks at MK Dons, the youngster's road exam was earning him the most attention. He briefly featured on a TV sports show purely because his instructor had curiously posted footage of two full driving lessons with the promising midfielder on YouTube leading up to his test. They're 47 and 54 minutes long, and still available to view. Knock yourself out. Respect (minimal) to anyone who manages to sit through the whole thing.
Alli passed that test, much like he did last night. The instructor's website noted that "Dele is not short of confidence" and that was evident as the 19-year-old firmly made his mark on his first start at White Hart Lane, undaunted by the extra responsibility in what was a partially weakened line-up.
Playing just behind lone striker Son, Alli’s Cruyff-like assist for the South Korean was the standout moment of the game, and he wasn't afraid to run with the ball when he got the chance either. He could have scored himself when he darted through the defence, only for Erik Lamela to take the ball off his toe and hit the post. Another slalom run ended with an angled shot just wide.
Alli’s potential as a future England star is obvious and, having already scored in the Premier League at Leicester, the £5m deal that brought him to Spurs is starting to look very good value indeed. Newcastle could rue missing out on him. "From pre-season he started to show that a 19-year-old can play like an experienced player," Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said after last night's game. "He showed character, personality and good quality. So far he is a player who has shown he can play in the first team."
Son shows promise, but not yet with Kane
There was a smile on Son Heung-min’s face as he made a point of greeting every substitute and staff member after leaving the field. He was weary, but two goals had earned him a standing ovation on his first appearance at White Hart Lane.
His first goal may only have been a close-range toe poke from Andros Townsend’s corner, but it displayed his predatory instinct
Son showed some nice touches early on without looking like a real goal threat in a lone striker’s role, as Qarabag took a surprise lead. With Harry Kane rested to the bench, Spurs were briefly looking a little toothless as the visitors from Azerbaijan sat deep and denied the new man the space to use his pace in behind. Even 25 minutes into his home debut, some were starting to wonder whether the South Korean would be able to live up to his £22m price tag. There will always be inevitable comparisons to Saido Berahino, the man who had been Tottenham’s prime target this summer.
But there is a reason why Son is now Asian’s most expensive player of all time (and FFT's No.1 Asian player) and why there was a sizeable South Korea press contingent at White Hart Lane ready to analyse the former Leverkusen star’s every move. Son knows where the net is, having hit double figures in each of the last two Bundesliga seasons. His first goal may only have been a close-range toe poke from Andros Townsend’s corner, but it displayed his predatory instinct. Two minutes later he was in the right place at the right time again to do the easy bit, converting from six yards after Alli’s superb assist.
Son was replaced by Kane after 68 minutes so we learned nothing new in this game about how the two will link up in the Premier League, when the 23-year-old is likely to continue in a more withdrawn role. But he had endeared himself to the Spurs fans, and that is an encouraging start. Asked for his assessment, Pochettino said: "The answer is easy. He scored twice, I was very pleased with him."