Tottenham 1-0 AC Milan: Nkoudou scores decisive goal as youngsters prevail
A much-changed Spurs XI withstood an AC Milan barrage to earn two wins and a narrow defeat from the International Champions Cup.
A youthful and vastly inexperienced Tottenham side managed to put the sword to a near full strength AC Milan side in their final pre-season friendly of the International Cup campaign, ending positively.
Six academy players were given starts against the Italians – Kyle Walker-Peters, Luke Amos, TJ Eyoma, Oliver Skipp, George Marsh and Anthony Georgiou – but their lack of senior match practice went unnoticed as they impressed against a Milan team featuring Suso, Hakan Calhanoglu and Alessio Romagnoli.
Milan began brightly and should have taken the lead in the 13th minute – Patrick Cutrone failing to connect with Suso’s inviting cross – and Suso, who consistently had the better of makeshift left back Georgiou, proved influential once again 12 minutes later. He finished a slick counter with a perfectly weighted cross, though Cutrone’s ensuing header was brilliantly saved by the feet of Michel Vorm.
It became a hat-trick of chances missed for Cutrone – tamely connecting with Calhanoglu’s delivery from deep – as it became clear that Gennaro Gattuso’s side were struggling to find a breakthrough.
Tottenham, however, raised their game in the second half and their intensity told, with Georges-Kevin Nkoudou opening the scoring in the 46th minute. Intercepting a poor pass from Davide Calabria, the Frenchman darted into the box and unleashed a thunderous left-footed strike that proved too strong for Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Paulo Gazzaniga – on for Vorm in the second half – made a double save to deny Milan an equaliser, but momentum was ultimately halted by a flurry of substitutions as the Italians went quiet.
Given only a handful of sporadic appearances by Mauricio Pochettino before being shipped out on loan to Burnley in January 2018, there’s scope to suggest that the Frenchman wasn’t given a fair chance – and was, thus, prematurely written off – though he’s never looked like making the grade in North London in the limited opportunities he’s had to play.
The Nkoudou that played last night, and across the entire ICC campaign for that matter, was a different player. A better player. It was Nkoudou 2.0.
The 23-year-old was sharp and incisive on the left flank – particularly in the second half – and stole the show more than Lucas Moura, who had been receiving the most attention in pre-season.
Nkoudou had his wits about him to pounce on Calabria’s misplaced pass and demonstrated the type of finish many expected of him after signing from Marseille – a powerful effort from just inside the box for his second goal in as many games.
Goals will give him confidence, and with Spurs’ squad looking jaded and depleted, Nkoudou’s rebirth could be the change it needs.
“They showed they have the potential”
Pochettino was forced into wholesale changes for Spurs’ ICC campaign, but instead of calling upon the experienced heads to guide them through the tournament, he put his faith in the younger members of the squad and was duly rewarded.
Luke Amos, for instance, more than held his own against three European heavyweights in Roma, Barcelona and now Milan, and was influential in his passing and pressing last night. Oliver Skipp, too, looked eager to get on the ball in the minutes he was given.
Georgiou settled into the game at left back despite initially struggling against Suso, as did Walker-Peters on the right, with TJ Eyoma and George Marsh also looking comfortable in a midfield three with Skipp and Amos.
Pochettino said about his youngsters as he prepares for a trip to Newcastle on the opening day of the season, a game in which some of these names may feature.“They showed they have the potential to one day be consistent in the first team,”
“You think I’m going to be scared to play him?” Pochettino said when questioned specifically on Amos. And given the dearth of fit central midfielders at the club, there could well be an opportunity for the 21-year-old come August 12th. Based on his performances in the ICC, it’s one he’s ready for.
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