Fernando Llorente, Georges-Kevin N'Koudou, Juan Foyth give Spurs depth
LONDON -- Ahead of Tottenham's meaningless Champions League game against Apoel Nicosia on Wednesday, with top spot already assured, Mauricio Pochettino called on his squad players to prove they are worthy of a place in his best XI.
The manager will not have been disappointed after backup striker Fernando Llorente and young winger Georges-Kevin N'Koudou scored their first goals for the club in a 3-0 win, while teenage defender Juan Foyth impressed at the back.
With Spurs' squad likely to be stretched over the busy festive period, ESPN FC assessed the trio's performances and their chance of playing a more significant role in the Premier League:
It took Llorente more than three months and 17 appearances to come good, but against Apoel he finally showed why Spurs paid £15 million for a 32-year-old, scoring their first goal and assisting Son Heung-Min's second. Llorente is not the first deadline-day signing to start slowly, as Mauricio Pochettino has acknowledged, but as an experienced World Cup winner, the Spaniard was supposed to be immune to the teething problems that plagued Vincent Janssen, now on loan in Turkey, last season.
But Llorente's struggles have been symptomatic of problems with the club's approach, rather than his own. Any player signed as an afterthought on deadline day will struggle initially and any striker -- be it Janssen, Llorente or even Bayern superstar Robert Lewandowski -- will struggle for rhythm as backup to the relentless Harry Kane. Son has arguably been a better alternative than Janssen or Llorente, which is hardly a surprise when he has been playing regularly on the wing.
Regardless, Llorente was impressive against Apoel, forcing a fine save from goalkeeper Nauzet Perez before his goal and, for a man who once claimed he disliked running, putting in a shift up front. His performance comes at the perfect time as Spurs prepare for six more games before Boxing Day and a run of three fixtures in five days in the New Year. Even Kane cannot play in every one.
Llorente is clearly effective in the air, but his goal and assist were both about good footwork, which may be key going forward. Spurs have been prone to throwing aimless high balls toward him when struggling to break down lesser teams, particularly at home, which only plays to their opponents' strengths.
N'Koudou had a shot cleared off the line, another deflected just wide and a third well-saved before he finally scored, so his scrappy goal -- his first for Tottenham in a year and a half at the club -- was not at all unexpected. But it is still unclear if Wednesday will be the start of something for N'Koudou or a solitary night to remember for a player who is destined to leave the club next summer.
Afterward, Pochettino insisted that the 22-year-old N'Koudou does have a Tottenham future but he was hesitant on his chances of featuring again soon. "He is so young; we need to be careful with the young ones," the Spurs manager said. "And now, we need to push him to improve and improve and improve."
Everything about N'Koudou is raw, unpolished and unpredictable. While he did some good things against Apoel, including a couple of smart one-twos in the first half, his end product is scatty and he is hopelessly one-footed, always eager to shift inside.
But he is quick, he tries things, and Spurs were missing an X-factor in the home draws against Burnley, Swansea and West Brom, and the recent away games at Leicester and Watford. N'Koudou is nowhere near ready to challenge for a starting spot, but it could hardly hurt to have him among the substitutes to bring on when Spurs are struggling.
The 19-year-old Argentine might be needed in the next three league games if Pochettino wants to use a back three, but Foyth's Champions League bow offered little conclusive evidence as to his readiness for the Premier League. Certainly, he was composed on the ball, more so than his centre-back partner Davinson Sanchez, and a late burst into the opposition penalty area offered a glimpse of his pace and adventurous side, which has earned him comparisons with teammate Jan Vertonghen.
He was also strong in the air and received a stern physical test against Apoel's powerful centre-forward Mickael Pote, who surprisingly found Sanchez easier prey and soon directed his attentions toward the Colombian rather than Foyth.
Pochettino could choose to use Dier and Vertonghen in a back two while Sanchez is suspended and Toby Alderweireld remains out, but Foyth has the look of a promising player, even if he has not been fully tested yet.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.