Tottenham Hotspur: Fernando Llorente sent Spurs through to the Champions League semi-final so should the striker be given more credit?
Fernando Llorente was the difference maker for Tottenham in their memorable Champions League match with Manchester City on Wednesday night.
His goal, bundled in from a corner and confirmed by VAR 17 minutes from time, would prove vital in sending Spurs through to a semi-final clash with Ajax.
It was his eighth goal of the season and while Llorente has not always been given credit by Spurs fans, he has contributed goals and assists when asked to deputise for Harry Kane.
Of course, Spurs are more potent when the World Cup Golden Boot winner is playing but, they have had to do without him twice this season and Llorente is the man they have turned to.
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When Kane went down clutching his ankle against Manchester United back in December, there were groans and plenty of them.
This was not just because Spurs would be without their prolific striker for a prolonged period, but because his back-up had only found the net once in 16 Premier League appearances the season before and was often considered only to be an impact player, the proverbial plan B when a change of approach was needed, not the goal machine required.
During the England captain’s time on the sidelines however, Llorente set about proving his worth.
He contributed three goals and assisted the same amount, all coming in different competitions.
His goal at Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup semi-final took the match to a penalty shoot-out, which Spurs lost. He then laid on for Heung-Min Son to score an equaliser against Watford, before netting the winner himself.
Again, Llorente turned provider after coming on for the South Korean to bag the decisive goal against Newcastle and did the same against Leicester for Christian Eriksen to finish from range.
There were only six minutes plus stoppage-time remaining when the towering Spaniard entered the field when Borussia Dortmund came to Wembley, but he still managed to get his name on the score sheet with the final goal of a 3-0 last-16 victory.
Against City, Llorente’s input was vital once more, whether it was his hip, hand or arm, the particular limb that done the damage was of little relevance to Spurs supporters.
All that mattered was they scored, again, and in the end, that goal, however fortuitous it was, turned out to be the one that sent them through.
Turn the clock back to the start of their latest European adventure and Spurs were third in Group B after three matches.
They had drawn with PSV Eindhoven and were beaten by Barcelona and Inter Milan, the fact they eventually made it out is a minor miracle, let alone reach the last-four for the first time in their history.
So when Kane’s troublesome ankle agonisingly folded beneath him in the first-leg, Spurs fans could be forgiven for having deja vu, only this time their grumbles were not so loud.
Finding a world-class backup was never going to be a possibility, especially in the case of Spurs where a natural goalscorer like Kane is not exactly going to arrive only to then be parked on the substitutes bench, his equal would have to be exceptional, but understandably hard to find.
Llorente is a suitable replacement, when he is trusted to do what he is best at not what Kane excels at.
Spurs had been here before, believing that Vincent Janssen was the man for the job, he shared similarities with Kane, was more mobile than Llorente, but it never worked out the way Mauricio Pochettino had hoped.
While Llorente has become less prolific in recent seasons, that is not to say he has been a slouch when it came to finding the target.
His near 10-year spell with Athletic Bilbao included 118 goals, while he remains at fans favourite for his solitary season at Swansea, after 15 goals helped them to avoid relegation in 2016/17.
What you see is what you get with Llorente, he is never going to be the most graceful of players, the ham-fisted football cliche ‘a good touch for a big man’ usually applies to anyone exceeding 6ft 2in and the Spurs forward is sure to have heard that on numerous occasions.
The role of the ‘target man’ has become criminally underrated in modern football and when someone can play it as well as Llorente, the least he deserves is a paltry amount of recognition.
Llorente has hardly masqueraded as a goal machine during his spell in north London, he is a man aware of his limitations, his only focus has been helping out Spurs when the SOS call has been sent his way.
Both times he has proved himself to be an able deputy and Spurs fans have finally grown to accept that having him lead their line is not the worst scenario in the world.
Source: SportsLatest TS