Tottenham Hotspur eased to victory against Ludogorets with a four-goal thumping in North London.
The routine win saw Spurs jump to nine points in Group J with two games remaining. A win against LASK in the next fixture will now secure qualification.
Carlos Vinicius grabbed a first-half brace, but Harry Winks grabbed the headlines with a bizarre third goal. His 56-yard-strike rocketed into the top corner, but he has since admitted it was meant to be a pass for Gareth Bale.
Lucas Moura grabbed a goal to make it an easy night for Jose Mourinho’s side in the Europa League. All the attention now turns to Sunday, where Spurs travel across London to face rivals, Chelsea.
Story of the game
The starting XI raised a lot of intrigue and also laid down just how strong Jose Mourinho’s new-look squad is.
With Chelsea on Sunday lurking in the shadows, Tanguy Ndombele was the only survivor from the Man City win on Sunday. But it still was a very strong outfit - Dele Alli, Japhet Tanganga, Gareth Bale, and Matt Doherty all started.
As expected, the Bulgarian side set up in a 4-5-1 system in an attempt to pack bodies into the low block.
Bale’s deflected free-kick, which hit the roof of the net, was the closest Spurs came in opening exchanges.
The first goal of the night came in the 15th minute. Ndombele’s brilliant forward pass found Dele within the lines, who then saw his through ball take a wild deflection which fell fortunately to Vinicius.
The Brazilian, one on one with the goalkeeper, grabbed his first Spurs goal as he tucked the ball into the back of the net. It was a great moment for the striker, and a deeply satisfying one for Tottenham fans who have been crying out for a worthy Harry Kane replacement.
This goal silenced any whispers of a banana slip and set the tempo for a routine win.
Joe Hart was pretty much a spectator for the first half an hour and the whole match as it turned out. Spurs were always probing with the ball in the Ludogorets half. It was like a training game, but at 1-0, breathing space is always a necessity.
Ben Davies came close in the 32nd minute. Dele, just outside the box, floated over a ball to the marauding left-back. He took a touch on his chest, before thumping the next onto the post.
The deserved second goal was started by Ndombele again. The midfielder received the ball on the half-way line and then galloped direct into the heart Ludogorets low-block with the usual skill and dazzle.
The Frenchman eventually found himself on the edge of the box and he took a powerful low-shot which was palmed away.
But it only fell into the path of Dele who cleverly squared it to Vinicius. The 25-year-old netted his second goal of the night.
2-0 and cruising, the three points were all but in North London.
The referees’ whistle brought an end to an extremely one-sided half. In fact, at that point, Ludogorets’ XG was 0.00.
The 57th minute saw the first chance of the half.
Winks found Doherty running in-behind, and the right-back headed back across to Bale, but the keeper rushed and closed the angle down to save the attempt from the Welshman.
The happenings in the 63rd minute were quite astonishing. Winks, 56 yards from goal on the left-hand side, received the ball from a throw-in.
Out of absolutely nowhere, the midfielder hit the ball long and it eventually found itself rocketing into the top-left hand corner.
Upon second viewing, it appeared he may have been trying to find the on-rushing Bale.
But who cares? It was an unbelievable goal, whether he meant it or not. It was Winks’ first goal in over two years, and he will probably never score a stranger one.
Jack Clarke and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg entered the field, and the score was quickly made 4-0.
Hojbjerg, with an immediate impact, pinched the ball high up the pitch meaning the ball fell to Dele on the right-hand side.
The 24-year-old floated the ball into the box, and it was brought down well by Vinicius with his back to goal.
He then teed up Lucas Moura, who in acres of space, whipped a first-time shot into the corner.
A triple substitution with ten minutes to go saw 16-year-old Dane Scarlett, 19-year-old Harvey White, and even goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman come onto the pitch.
Within the first few minutes, all three were involved. Whiteman claimed a corner well, and from that break White and Scarlett had great opportunities to score.
Winks, who was exceptional all night, dinked a delightful ball in behind to Scarlett.
He took a touch, but the goalkeeper rushed out to squander his effort. From the save, the ball fell to White on the edge of the box with loads of space. His powerful low shot just whistled past the post.
Both youngsters looked in disbelief and fully aware of how close they both came to a memorable debut goal within the same sequence of play.
The full-time whistle, which could’ve easily come in the 11th minute, brought the end to a very successful evening.
Total domination, total control. A great night for Vinicius, but one which will be remembered for Winks’ bizarre long-range strike.
Group J now sees Tottenham and Royal Antwerp both on nine points, with LASK lurking behind with six.
Two more fixtures left in the group and a win away to LASK next game will secure qualification.
Nice to see you again, Dele Alli
The Dele puzzle has been one of the most interesting sub-plots of the season, and a rare negative in a so-far positive start to the campaign for Tottenham.
The 24-year-old has only amassed 66 minutes in the Premier League, only featuring sometimes in the Europa League.
He is struggling to embed himself into Mourinho’s new-look system and rumours of him leaving in January are heating up.
The Englishmen started tonight and for the first time this season played well.
He grabbed himself two assists, setting Vinicius up twice. The first one required a huge slice of luck, as his intended through ball cannoned off a Ludogorets defender and into the path of Vinicius. But his second was great.
The ball fell so kindly to him after a save. Just when everyone thought he was going to thump the ball home, he feinted his body and squared it to Vinicius who tapped home.
Unselfish and clever. Dele at his best.
His attitude seemed better. He was running after loose balls, putting aggression into fouls, and looked generally more positive.
This plot is far from over. But for Dele, it was a night masked in positives and not in negatives for once.
The Roberto Soldado and Vincent Janssen curse is well documented around the dark realms of N17.
Vinicius, Spurs’ new back-up striker, has to fight off this dark curse and prove he’s a worthy replacement. He’s impressed in the first Europa League games with his link-up play but didn’t quite get the first goal.
When he slotted the ball into the back of the net in the 16th minute. You could feel the relief radiating from his being, and it was also apparent within the squad. They all embraced him with hugs and handshakes.
His night went from good to great 15 minutes later. Dele opted to set the Brazilian up instead of score himself and he squared the ball across the box to Vinicius who tapped home.
Even taking the brace out of it, he was clever in build-up play. The 25-year-old brings other forwards into play, and this was on full blast in the 73rd minute. Vinicius took the ball in well from a cross, then calmly teed up Lucas who curled home.
It was a great evening for the striker, who now deserves a chance to make an impact off the bench in the Premier League.
There was a genuine surprise when Ndombele was in the starting XI, as he is now in the Premier League first-team consistently.
He was seen in a double pivot with Winks, and it was a great opportunity for him to showcase his ability to dictate build-up play from deep.
The French midfielder did exactly this. His excellent forward penetrative pass split apart the Ludogorets’ and found Dele within the lines. Vinicius eventually scored after Dele’s deflected through-ball.
The next goal showed Ndombele’s different way of splitting through defences. His incredible dribbling was how he then carved open Ludogorets’ tired low-block.
He received the ball on the left-hand side, pretty much on the half-way line.
The midfielder then began his usual flair and dazzle, feinting and manipulating the ball up the pitch. The defenders were watching him in awe, trying to do anything to stop the wizard in his tracks.
The 23-year-old then found himself on the edge of the box. Instead of laying the ball off to Bale, he let off a powerful low-strike that needed to be palmed away.
It fell to Dele, then Vinicius, and then the back of the net.
That is why they spent £50 million to prize him away from Lyon. When Spurs seem to be in pointless possession, in no danger of scoring – he turns on his style and creates something. This was shown with his assist against Man City on the weekend.
Whether it be a forward pass or dribbling, the midfielder is an excellent talent. He is now starting to impose his natural gifts consistently.
Youngsters come on
As one academy graduate scored from 56 yards, four young players came on in the last 15 minutes.
Clarke, Whiteman, Scarlett, and White. It was a great moment for all of them, but Scarlett and White had great opportunities to carve their debut among the legends.
Despite not doing quite this, it was a great timely reminder about the talent that is bubbling up in the academy ranks.
Oliver Skipp and Troy Parrott, who already have some minutes on their belt, are out on loan in the Championship.
Mourinho, who is associated with ignoring his youth set-ups, is using the Europa League as a template for talented youngsters to play among the stars.
When so much good is happening on the pitch, it was a great reminder that the future also looks bright with youngsters looking to become the next Kane or Winks.