Tottenham in good shape pre APOEL as Pochettino's men find form
It didn't go entirely to script. When Tottenham went 3-0 up against West Ham at the London Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, several thousand home fans started making for the exit. Tottenham looked to be in total control -- much as they had done in the away game at Everton two weeks previously -- and it looked to be game over.
Then came the West Ham fightback. Poor marking at a corner led to the home team's first goal, then Serge Aurier stupidly got himself sent off by picking up two yellow cards inside five minutes and a late header from a sublime cross left Spurs hanging on for the last few minutes. It was all a lot tenser than it ought to have been and the relief among the fans and players was all too visible.
But the bottom line was that Spurs took all three points and came away with far more positives than negatives. Tottenham retain their 100 percent away record this season with three wins out of three and move into fourth place in the Premier League. More than that, though, is that key players are showing signs of their very best form.
Now that August is a distant memory, Harry Kane appears unstoppable. Opposition defences know exactly what to expect from him but appear to be powerless to stop it. His opening header was a thing of beauty and he could easily have had a hat trick. Only the post prevented his second half free kick from going in.
Christian Eriksen is also looking more like his old self. His pass to release Dele Alli in the build up to Spurs' first goal on Saturday was excellent and he took his goal wonderfully well when Aurier's attempted cross rebounded to him inside the penalty area.
Now, though, Spurs must briefly turn their attention away from the Premier League and on to the Champions League with Tuesday's away trip to APOEL Nicosia. The Cypriots have been widely help up to be the qualifying group's whipping boys and Mauricio Pochettino will be expecting nothing less than a victory in Spurs' bid to reach the knockout stages of the competition. Dropping points against would undo all the good work of their 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the opening game.
Yet APOEL will be no pushovers. Spurs can expect them to defend in depth and try to catch the visitors on the break. In that respect, the game is more likely to resemble a home tie than an away one. And, as has been all too evident this season, Spurs have struggled at home.
When playing away, home teams have felt obliged to come out and be positive, giving Spurs more room to exploit the pockets of space that open up at the back. At Wembley, both Swansea and Burnley played two defensive lines of five that Spurs struggled -- and largely failed -- to break down. So as well as needing patience, Tottenham will be expected to find a spark of magic.
On the plus side, Pochettino has few selection dilemmas. The biggest one, who to play at right-back, has been solved by Aurier's dismissal against West Ham. With the Ivorian banned for next Saturday's trip to Huddersfield, it makes sense to play him against APOEL and save Kieran Trippier for the weekend. In any case, it is also arguable that Aurier has played his way into being Pochettino's first choice pick.
Although his red card was stupid and put Spurs under unnecessary pressure for the final 20 minutes, he had done enough to impress during the time he was on the pitch. His pace down the flanks was a constant threat going forward and he made two crucial goal-saving tackles in the first half. By contrast, Trippier is yet to click so far this season; his ability to deliver a pinpoint cross that made him so lethal last year has all but deserted him.
It's also certain Mousa Dembele will come in for the disappointing Moussa Sissoko. It's a mystery to all observers why the Spurs manager has given Sissoko so much game time this season. Although Pochettino has had to limit Dembele's appearances due to a niggling foot injury he has had plenty of options available to him other than the French International. Sissoko appeared to have little idea of what position he was meant to be playing in against West Ham and Son Heung-Min would surely have been a better starting option.
Dembele's return will be more than welcome. Quite simply, Spurs look a better side when he is playing. His strength on the ball, capacity to drift past defenders and quality of his passing never fails to pose problems for opposition defences. If he, Eriksen and Alli -- who appeared uncharacteristically hesitant in front of goal against West Ham -- can click, Spurs ought to have more than enough to get the job done against APOEL.
A second Champions League victory would give Spurs the platform they need. After that comes the small matter of Real Madrid.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.