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."

Qarabag boss flat as Erik's persistence pays off

His post-match press conference lasted around a minute, during which time he spoke with a face of thunder and muttered something in Azeri about the defending for Spurs’ third goal being unacceptable

Qarabag’s brilliantly named coach Gurban Gurbanov was not impressed. His post-match press conference lasted around a minute, during which time he spoke with a face of thunder and muttered something in Azeri about the defending for Spurs’ third goal being unacceptable. Whether out of tradition in Azerbaijan or simply wary of exacerbating the coach’s foul mood, the travelling media asked no follow-up questions and off Gurban went. Thanks for coming.

What had annoyed Gurbanov was the lax way in which his side had allowed Erik Lamela to round off the scoring four minutes from time, losing possession poorly in their own half. The Argentine's clever finish from Kane's pass was reward for persistence, on a night when not everything had worked for him. The £25.8m man produced his most notable moment in a Spurs shirt in the Europa League last season when he scored with an audacious rabona against Asteras Tripolis, and needed to impress in the competition again to win his place back in Pochettino's Premier League line-up.

He gave the ball away cheaply on numerous occasions, though, also miscontrolling the ball when he seemed to be through on goal. Ever frustrating, Lamela will need to do more to fulfil his potential in north London, but his late goal did ensure that he emerged from the game with some credit.

Defensive debutants recover from an early Trip

Kieran Trippier's Tottenham debut did not begin well. The right-back looked a little nervous as he stepped out for his first appearance since arriving from Burnley, handed his chance in place of regular starter Kyle Walker, and within seven minutes he'd conceded a penalty. It was the stuff of nightmares, and the way in which he committed to the challenge was a little naive. But Trippier did improve after that and used his biggest asset, his crossing skills, to set up a chance that Toby Alderweireld headed over.

Austrian signing Kevin Wimmer made his debut at centre-back alongside Alderweireld and looked assured and composed in possession. Like Trippier, defensively not everything was perfect, and this makeshift back four will need some work if it is to play together in the Europa League again. Qarabag got rather too many openings for Tottenham's liking and Danny Rose did not have his best night. But Wimmer was arguably the most solid of the back four and appears a viable option for the Premier League when required.

Njie could be a whizz

That bizarre 50-yard backwards pass aside, the Cameroonian debutant did show attacking promise

Substitute Clinton Njie spotted a gap in the defence and played the perfect through ball. Unfortunately it was his own defence and his team-mates had to race back to prevent Qarabag getting back into the game late on. That bizarre 50-yard backwards pass aside, which he quickly apologised to his new colleagues for, the Cameroonian debutant did show attacking promise. Used in a role on the left flank after coming on for the last 22 minutes, he displayed clever feet and quick movement.

Njie's talent is still raw – he only really had one season as a regular contributor to Lyon's first team before joining Spurs for £8.3m. He may take time to break through at White Hart Lane, but the potential is there.

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Chris Flanagan
Senior Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering the World Cup, Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.