Son stars again as Tottenham get UCL campaign off the ground in Moscow
MOSCOW -- Three quick points from Tottenham's 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow in Champions League Group E action at the Arena CSKA on Tuesday.
1. Spurs' campaign up and running
Tottenham's Champions League campaign got up and running with a 1-0 win at CSKA Moscow thanks to Son Heung-Min's fifth goal in as many matches.
Spurs were still without the injured trio of Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier, while Kyle Walker was either rested or carrying a knock. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen flanked Victor Wanyama in what was more 4-3-3 than manager Mauricio Pochettino's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, and just as against Monaco, Spurs controlled first-half possession.
Getting beyond CSKA's centre-backs, 34-year-old Vasili Berezutski and 37-year-old Sergei Ignashevich, was proving harder than keeping the ball, however, and inside 25 minutes Toby Alderweireld and Eriksen (twice) had resorted to hopeful efforts from range.
This was only the third official game at the brand-new Arena CSKA, but CSKA Moscow have had no problems reaccommodating their singing section. It was a chilly night, but no issue for the locals, and the 30,000-capacity stadium was full save for the Tottenham section -- sparsely populated by 250 fans -- and from the first whistle, the drum roll began, red and blue flags waving, voices relentless.
Their side's best moments were more sporadic, however. Pochettino defended his Spurs side from accusations of inexperience before the match, but there was something naive about the way Alli overran the ball in the centre circle after 16 minutes, allowing Lacina Traore, once of Everton, to run at Alderweireld before Roman Eremenko tested Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris at his near post. It was an even affair, with Spurs looking a little more likely to score.
Spurs began the second half with renewed vigour, and the lively Son almost curled a left-foot shot inside the far post, before CSKA Moscow's Zoran Tosic, once of Man United, fired over after fine work from Traore.
Pochettino's bench boasted a combined one appearance in the Champions League between them, but as the half wore on, the question was whether the manager would be happy with a point. On 65 minutes, he appeared to have made up his mind.
Vincent Janssen, who had toiled ineffectively as a lone striker, was replaced by Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. The Frenchman, who made his debut a week ago against Gillingham, almost made an immediate impact, winning a corner, but the change left Spurs without a striker and a focal point. Erik Lamela went up front.
Within five minutes, however, Spurs made the breakthrough. Lamela found the killer pass, slipping the ball through to Son, who finished low for his fifth goal in as many appearances. Keeper Igor Akinfeev got a hand to it, but the ball trickled over the line.
With the goal in the bag, Pochettino did stick with his game plan. Alli was replaced by Harry Winks with 10 minutes remaining, but if Spurs hoped to see out the final moments without a scare, CSKA had other ideas as Eremenko tested Lloris with a stinger.
Just as at Middlesbrough on Saturday, Spurs looked relatively comfortable in the final moments, despite having youngsters Winks and Nkoudou on the field, and they held on to record their first win in the Champions League since 2011. The three points leave them in a strong position ahead of a doubleheader with Bayer Leverkusen.
2. Son stars again
At times last season, it was tempting to wonder if Son -- who joined Spurs for £22 million from Bayer Leverkusen -- was unsuited to Pochettino's system and the Premier League. Not anymore.
In a few short weeks, Son has gone from misfit to key man. His winner against CSKA was his fifth goal in as many games, following brilliant doubles versus Stoke and Middlesbrough, in between a man-of-the-match display against Sunderland. Son said last week he was "grateful" to Pochettino for persuading the forward to stay at White Hart Lane in the summer after a difficult first season in England, and the feeling is mutual.
No one is doing more for Pochettino to help replace the injured Harry Kane's goals. The manager has tended to rotate his forwards -- Eriksen was benched against Sunderland and Lamela at Middlesbrough -- but, at present, Son is undroppable.
3. Spurs banish Monaco memories
Only 10 teams in the history of the Champions League, including Arsenal last season, have qualified for the knockouts after losing their opening two matches, while only Panathinaikos, in 2010-11, have topped the group after starting with two defeats. No wonder Alderweireld admitted before the match that defeat was unthinkable for Tottenham.
The win banishes the memory of defeat at the hands of Monaco in Spurs' first group game and will give them confidence, particularly since the victory came with just five of Pochettino's strongest XI. The manager, his players and even chairman Daniel Levy have all insisted that Spurs' squad can cope on four fronts this season, and if a narrow win at the Riverside was hardly conclusive proof, this victory was.
CSKA are the weakest team in the group of four, but this was arguably Tottenham's hardest away trip, and Spurs can travel to Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco with belief that they can win. Topping the group, which was Tottenham's aim after a kind draw, now looks a realistic possibility.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.