Tottenham took a firm grip of their Europa League group with a comfortable 2-0 win on the road against Russian’s Anzhi Makhachkala. The visitors dealt with the difficult conditions, both in terms of the cold weather and a less than ideal playing surface, to seal the three points with first-half goals form Jermain Defoe and Nacer Chadli.
Against a side that have had their squad radically disassembled in recent months and lie bottom of the Russian league, Tottenham were never under any danger of not emerging with a second-straight win in the competition once the again impressive Lewis Holtby had set-up Defoe 34 minutes in. Chadli’s finish from 12 yards quickly followed to take a decisive lead that was only briefly threatened in the host’s best spell to start the second half. Andre Villas-Boas had spoken in the buildup of his desire to achieve qualification as quickly as possible and Spurs look well on the road to doing so with a double header against Moldovan minnows FC Sheriff Tiraspol to follow.
In an effort to keep his squad fresh, Villas-Boas had decided not to have Jan Vertonghen and Paulinho make the trip to the small Saturn Stadium in the town of Ramsenskoye, outside of Moscow. An almost perfect night was ruined, though, with the injury-riddled Younes Kaboul forced off in the second half. Ahead of the visit of West Ham on Sunday, it will be hoped that the Frenchman’s early exit was merely precautionary.
Tottenham had struggled to get to grips with the bobbly pitch early on, with recent Romanian signing Vlad Chiriches having a couple of nervy moments. But Anzhi, yet to win in any competition this season, were almost non-existent as an attacking force in the opening period.
With 14 minutes on the clock, Tottenham tested Evgeny Pomazan in the Anzhi goal for the first time. Sandro’s strike from 25 yards, briefly giving the keeper a worry as it deflected and bobbled on the turf before he safely held onto it.
Tottenham were enjoying increasing control of the match, with Anzhi content to sit back and surrender possession with hopeful ball forwards when winning it back. Yet, not helped by the difficult playing surface as well as their own slow tempo, Tottenham were repeatedly stopped in their tracks upon entering the final third. Erik Lamela, still trying to establish himself following his big-money move from Roma, was particularly guilty of surrendering good possession.
There was perhaps no surprise that it was Lewis Holtby who provided the crucial touch of quality to break through the Russian side’s mass-ranks of defenders. The German has been in superb form in recent weeks, particularly in combining with Defoe and it was the same recipe for success here. Holtby’s pass threaded through several opponents to find the England striker just to the right of goal and he made no mistake in lashing a shot into the roof of the net.
With Anzhi forced to be slightly more adventurous, there were now spaces for the visitors to exploit. Five minutes before the interval, Tottenham scored a second goal that was all too easy. Kyle Walker had space down the right to roll a low cross into Chadli, who swept a shot toward the bottom corner that lacked power but helped by the pitch was able to beat the poor attempted stop of Pomazan.
Chadli went close to adding another at the start of the second half, but it was Anzhi that began the period the better. The introduction of Lacina Traore, the one star name remaining after Anzhi’s fire sale, proved a catalyst for the home side to put their opponents under some pressure for the first time in the contest as he provided a presence up front to finally occupy Tottenham’s underworked backline.
A busting run from the Ivorian led to Lloris being put into action for the first time when his pass to fellow substitute Andrei Yeschenko required Tottenham’s number one to turn a threatening low cross away. Pavel Solomatin also worked Lloris with an effort from an audacious angle that was blocked away.
While Traore still supplied the occasional threat and Solomatin forced Lloris to make a diving save late on, Tottenham had seen off the danger spell in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. The remaining minutes were comfortably played out, with Villas-Boas able to reflect on a mature away performance, albeit against extremely modest opposition.