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 By John Crace
Aug 21, 2014

Cautious optimism as Spurs rally in Europa

Erik Lamela's introduction helped inspire Spurs to victory over AEL.

In the end, a 2-1 win in Cyprus against AEL Limassol represented a job done. The second leg next Thursday to take Spurs through the qualifying round of the Europa League ought to be a formality. But the manner of the victory was a radical departure from the predicted script, which was supposed to have Tottenham cruising to an easy win with plenty left in reserve for Sunday's Premier League fixture against QPR. For long periods of the game, the Cypriot side were much the stronger, and Limassol will be ruing a missed opportunity to claim a major upset.

If Mauricio Pochettino yet knows his best starting XI, he is keeping his cards close to his chest, and as expected he made wholesale changes to the XI who started against West Ham on Saturday, with only Hugo Lloris, Kyle Naughton, Nabil Bentaleb and Eric Dier retaining their places. World Cup absentees Jan Vertonghen and Paulinho were eased back in, while Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane got starts ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen, with Ben Davies making his competitive debut.

The main lesson the new manager learned from the match against Limassol is that some of his players are still heavy-legged and rusty. Paulinho in particular looked off the pace, and it was his error that let the Cypriots in for a deserved lead in the 14th minute. Spurs looked shell-shocked and showed few signs of getting back into the match during the first half. The closest they came to an equaliser was when Soldado shot wide after Kane's initial effort had been kept out by Limassol keeper Karim Fegrouch; it was a bad miss.

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Redemption came when Erik Lamela replaced Andros Townsend in the 72nd minute. The Argentine looked frustrated to be substituted against West Ham when he was beginning to impose himself, and this time he wasted no time in making his presence felt. Within two minutes he had crossed for Soldado to control well and shoot home. Six minutes later he set up Kane for the winner and might have added a goal of his own to the Spurs' tally before the end. It's still far too early in the season to make rash predictions, but it is beginning to look as if Lamela might be rediscovering the form he showed for Roma.

Two away wins in two competitive fixtures is all anyone can ask of a team. If Spurs haven't always looked that convincing, they have at least shown a resilience and an ability to carve out victories from matches they might well have lost. But caution should also be Pochettino's watchword. Last season, in the first weekend, Andre Villas Boas' Spurs fought their way to a scrappy away win against Crystal Palace and followed it up with a crushing 5-0 away victory against Dinamo Tbilisi in the Europa League. At the time, it seemed as if the only way was up; we all know what happened next.

How different Pochettino's Spurs are compared to AVB's Spurs will be one of the most fascinating narratives of the season for Tottenham fans. So far the jury is out: The new and the old are level on points. When key players return to match fitness and the transfer window closes in 10 days' time, we shall know more; for the time being, there are grounds for cautious optimism. No more than that, but it could have been so much worse. More will be revealed Sunday.

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