Make no mistake about it, Tottenham’s 3-0 victory over APOEL in their second UEFA Champions League group stage match Tuesday night wasn’t pretty. Pochettino’s men struggled to break down their stubborn Cypriot hosts and were lucky not to concede a few goals themselves. Yet even in the absence of key men, such as Dembele, Dele, Eriksen, and Vertonghen, Spurs eventually found a way to secure three points. The reason for that, of course, was the ruthless finishing of in-form front man Harry Kane. The Englishman notched a perfect hat-trick—left foot first, then right, then a header—to send his side joint-top of Group H with Real Madrid.
The result leaves Spurs with a bit of breathing room in a group that was never going to be easy to navigate. Madrid remain the firm favorites, but with both APOEL and Dortmund failing to pick up a single point thus far Spurs look well-positioned to make a push for the knockout round. They won ugly in Cyprus, but it was the type of game they easily could’ve drawn or lost. Last season, soft results in games such as Tuesday’s were what cost them a spot in the Round of 16.
While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the nature of Spurs’ performance, their ability to keep a clean sheet while missing so many pivotal players was a pleasant surprise. Dembele was a huge loss in midfield, and it was evident as APOEL broke for counter-after-counter. Deputy midfielder Harry Winks did have quite a good game, though, which will be encouraging for supporters who want to see the talented lad reach his true potential this season. On the offensive side of things, Spurs sorely missed Eriksen and Dele given that the hosts were quite content to sit nine men behind the ball. Our back line probably coped the best of any position in Vertonghen’s absence, with Sanchez’s athleticism serving as a great foil to Toby’s calm authority in snuffing out several dangerous chances.
When it comes down to it, however, Kane was again the real difference-maker. Now I’ll admit—his three goals were laughably simple in execution for a player of his quality. That said, it was his ability to find himself in the position to score on a night when so many of our players struggled in attack that was so impressive. His first came off a great run underneath APOEL’s back line that was well-spotted and picked out by Toby. His second, a sharp pull back from the oft-maligned Sissoko at the top of the box. Finally, his third was the combination of a smart late run and a pinpoint Trippier cross. All were dispatched low to the keeper’s right, giving him little chance to attempt a save. It was quintessential Kane efficiency, and it came in a game that his team easily could’ve thrown away had he not been so ruthless.
Six points from six is as good as any Tottenham fan could’ve hoped for at the start of group stage play. When you consider that back-to-back fixtures with Madrid await in Spurs’ next two UCL match days, those already-banked points look even more crucial in determining our Champions League fate this year. While the group is still very likely to come down to the second Dortmund clash, anything could happen from this point forward. If Kane continues his goal-scoring heroics, who’s to say we won’t nick a point (or three) off Real too?