Defoe strong, but Spurs' win at Anzhi a slog

Posted by Dan Fitch

The Europa League is truly a competition that you have to endure rather than enjoy.

There can surely not be a single Tottenham Hotspur fan who took pleasure in watching Thursday's 2-0 victory at Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia. We watch and stay watching only from a sense of duty. If a cinema served up a film with such lowly entertainment value, you’d be out the door before the popcorn cooled.

Last season, a 2-0 win away at Anzhi would have been an achievement, but they’ve subsequently sold all their best players, leaving said achievement on a par with beating a team like Huddersfield in a domestic cup.

At least in the Capital One Cup -- a competition I find equally pointless -- you get a bit of tempo to the game. In Europe, the tempo is of Tottenham's making, and when they can win without having to break sweat, it makes for a deadly dull match.

The condition of the pitch in Dagestan didn't help. Neither did the players, some of whom looked as if they’d rather be doing something else.

I have a vague recollection of having written a piece some weeks ago in which I predicted that the Europa League would be more interesting this season because the competition for places at Spurs ensured that those coming in would give it their all.

What I hadn't accounted for was being drawn against such lacklustre opposition. It’s human nature not to bust a gut when things are made so easy.

Erik Lamela certainly did not take his chance to shine. He had perhaps his poorest game since joining Spurs and gave the ball away a lot. Lamela was also wearing gloves, which is never a good look when you're not trying that hard.

Instead, it was left to the same old faces to get something happening. Lewis Holtby and Jermain Defoe seem to be enjoying the Europa League even if no one else is.

From what I've gleaned from the club’s YouTube channel and Holtby's posts on social media, he is an effervescent chap off the field -- the type you wouldn’t want to get stuck in a lift with when you turned up at work slightly hung over, but a good sort to have around otherwise.

His personality is reflected in his play. Holtby is always trying something, and eventually one of his through-balls found Defoe, who smashed the ball home with relish.

One of the few talking points raised came as a result of that goal. Defoe has scored seven goals in four starts this season. Since Roberto Soldado has not scored in his last three games, should Defoe take Soldado's spot against West Ham on Sunday?

Not for me. Defoe is a flat-track bully who loves punishing poor teams like Anzhi, but he’s never looked like the answer for Tottenham over the course of a Premier League season. It will take time for Soldado to settle in, and he needs matches to do so.

The only talking point raised by the second goal was whether Anzhi goalkeeper Evgeny Pomazan accidentally doused his gloves in cooking oil before taking the pitch. It was a charitable piece of goalkeeping that let Nacer Chadli's tame shot slip through his hands and into the net. Chadli now has two goals, both of which should have been saved.

At that point, I thought Spurs might come out in the second half and score a few more. Even a hardened cynic can find himself getting a little excited at the prospect of a one-sided drubbing in your side’s favour.

Instead, the game petered out, as Anzhi stepped up their game and Tottenham's became further disjointed by the introduction of various substitutes.

As I write, the squad will hopefully be on their way home from Russia, returning tired and probably a little irritated at Holtby’s unrelenting cheerfulness in the early hours Friday morning.

In terms of preparation for Sunday's game with West Ham, it's not ideal. These Europa League jaunts cause fatigue for Spurs players and fans alike.


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