Tottenham: Son stars in win as Spurs advance in Europa League

Tottenham Hotspur, Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, Tanguy Ndombele (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur, Erik Lamela, Heung-Min Son, Tanguy Ndombele (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images) /

Heung-Min Son starred as Tottenham Hotspur used a second-half surge to defeat Shkendija 3-1 in Macedonia and seal a spot in the Europa League playoffs next week.

Following an early goal, Tottenham Hotspur never trailed in the third round Europa League qualifier at Shkendija.

However, some poor finishing and then a defensive misstep gave Shkendija a glimmer of hope in the second half.

However, Jose Mourinho used his bench to win the day for Tottenham and help Spurs advance to the Europa League playoff round.

Tottenham find early success

If anyone has played the beautiful game, you have likely been in this position. There is a clearly superior team and they score early, as Tottenham Hotspur did today. Just past four minutes in the match, Heung-Min Son had the ball near the top of the box and was dribbling around. His touches were drawing lots of attention as several of the Spark defenders closed in on him.

Just as three defenders tried to close in, Son picked up his head and saw Erik Lamela wide open in some space on the right side of the box. Son played a soft pass over to Lamela, who took one touch with his left foot and then calmly slotted the ball in the far-left corner with his right foot. The ball was not stung by any measure, but the placement for Lamela’s weaker foot was excellent and shows growth in his game.

At this point, only five minutes into the match, Shkendija were kicking off down a goal. It is at this point the game can go one of two ways. The superior team puts their foot on the throats of the inferior squad and buries them, or the team fails to finish the inferior opponent who hangs around, hoping for a puncher’s chance. For Tottenham and Shkendija today, the result was the latter with Spurs failing to finish the Spark and almost paying for it.

Tottenham failing to finish

Tottenham was good, but not great in the game, but there were certainly chances. Having seen the mockery made of Southampton at the weekend, Shkendija were not trying to possess the ball and play a high line, rather they were going to park the bus and make Spurs unlock them. After the early goal, it looked like the keys to the bus were easily accessible, however, then Spurs’ shooting boots went cold for a while.

Tottenham took some 17 total attempts in the match but failed to hit the target on more than 50 percent of those attempts with only eight shots on frame. Whether it was in open play or off a set-piece, Tottenham had chances, but just were failing to capitalize. Dele Alli – who seemed to kind of be playing the striker role – had a couple chances but failed to capitalize.

Dele twice seemed to be sort of in on goal – no Son breakaway in but he had slightly more than a half chance – but failed on both occasions. Once he controlled the ball, he scuffed his shot which was on frame but saved by Kostadin Zahov.

Zahov was quick off his line and did a nice job cutting down angles during the day, but Dele should have beaten him. On the second occasion, Dele just took too long to shoot and his shot was blocked for a corner-kick. Neither opportunity were tap-ins, but an in-form Alli converts one of the two.

Dele at least did earn Spurs a corner on the one occasion, which was just another opportunity to miss a goal. Whether it was Toby Alderweireld heading wide or Serge Aurier heading over, Son was pinging the corners and finding people’s heads. The problem was the heads were not quite finding the mark and the goals just did not come.

Whether it was Lamela missing just wide or being saved by the keeper, or Harry Kane – who came on late in the second half – heading wide of the mark, overall Tottenham just did not finish well on the night. When teams do not finish well, that leaves them open and for a moment Shkendija had a glimmer of hope.

Moment of magic for Shkendija

Tottenham dominated most of the match, while they were neither crisp in their passing nor clinical in front of the net, they were in total control most of the match. However, when a team fails to score, it does leave that little crack in the door open and after a couple defenders fell asleep, that crack was opened wide and Shkendija had an opportunity to dream.

Shkendija only had three shots in the match and only the one effort on target, but that one effort was the kind of shot most players dream about having. It would not have mattered if it were Hugo Lloris in goal instead of Joe Hart, but Valmir Nafiu hit a screamer. Ljupco Doriev had the ball and was kind of dribbling toward Davinson Sanchez, but not with any real intent.

Sanchez gave Doriev a bit of space and Doriev drove toward the middle of the pitch with it and played a ball sideways to Nafiu. Nafiu was about 25 yards out, splitting Alderweireld and Ben Davies, neither of whom really committed to stepping up. Nafiu picked up his head, saw neither defender close him out, so he put his head back down and drove his laces straight through the ball.

The result was a rocket that Joe Hart would not have saved 10 years ago, let alone today and suddenly with 35 minutes to play in the match, it was a tie game and the pressure went squarely onto Tottenham.

Just as Spurs responded last week in Bulgaria, they again responded this week in Macedonia, but one cannot help to wonder what either match might have been like had the teams had thousands of fans in the stands. But that was not the case and Tottenham responded and got the win.

Mourinho, Son, subs, seal the win

Following the equalizer, Jose Mourinho wasted little time in responding. Harry Winks – who had been quiet following a first-half yellow – was withdrawn for Giovani Lo Celso and Tottenham began to regain its footing. At the same time, Kane was brought on for Alli to lead the line and a few minutes after those two substitutes, Lucas Moura came on for Steven Bergwijn and suddenly the traditional starting attack was in the game.

Tottenham continued to make opportunities, with Aurier setting up both Lamela and Kane only for both to head the ball wide when they should have headed it straight in the net. Finally, in traditional Moura fashion, a little scrum for the ball resulted in a Moura shot.

Instead of finding the corner, Moura found Zahov who blocked the shot, which rebounded out to Son, who buried it in the upper right corner past three defenders and Zahov, who was back on his feet.

With this goal, while the celebrations were relatively subdued, you could see the calm come over the side and the relief over Mourinho. Not quite 10 minutes after Son had put Spurs back in front, he started paying Kane back for all those lovely passes against Southampton.

Son had the ball on the left wing and placed an inch-perfect pass onto Kane’s head between three defenders in the box and Kane buried it back in the left corner. It was a textbook cross and finish, the way you draw it up, and it sealed the game for Spurs.

From here, Tottenham have one more match to reach the Europa League proper and the group stages. Next Thursday, Tottenham host Maccabi Haifa in the playoff round of the Europa League. Maccabi beat Rostov 2-1 in the third round to set up the tie in London next week.