Rochdale: His goal, of course, is what will dominate the memory of Lucas Moura’s first start for Tottenham but the moment that perhaps summed up why this was such a promising debut had come a few minutes earlier. The ball had run away from the Brazilian as he drifted in from the left and the Rochdale midfielder Callum Camps was clearly going to get to it first. Moura could have eased off and allowed him to clear — on a chilly day any block was going to sting — but instead he kept running, stretched out a leg and made a juddering challenge. The thud reverberated around the ground but Moura, after a tentative step, jogged away.
Everybody knew he was quick, and few doubted his technical ability, but this showed a very encouraging appetite.
There was perhaps a little rustiness but particularly after being switched to the left at half-time as part of a rejig from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, Moura seemed unfazed. He scurries menacingly and has a low centre of gravity that evokes the memory of darting wingers since time immemorial, a tight turn, sudden acceleration that in an instant can put daylight between himself and a pursuing full-back.
It is not, perhaps, entirely reasonable to expect too much too soon. Mauricio Pochettino had effectively admitted on Friday that Moura is not quite at full fitness yet. Cast into redundancy by PSG’s summer spree, he had played only 76 minutes this season before making his January move to north London. A certain rustiness is only to be expected.
There was perhaps a sense that his touch was a little off, that there must be a process of recalibration. One promising early meander in off the right through a central area was let down by a heavy pass to Son Heung-Min and when, on the half-hour, he seized on a Fernand Llorente cutback with his back to goal, he turned with impressive speed but then never quite seemed balanced as he sliced a shot over the angle. There were other promising signs: a deft first-time lay-off to Moussa Sissoko, a burst of pace to get into a crossing position, a sharp exchange with Son Heung-Min.
Twelve minutes later, Moura was withdrawn, more minutes in his legs and his job done. That Spurs could not then finish the game off will have been a frustration for Pochettino but Moura’s performance is a huge positive. Their squad now has a certain depth, and Moura offers a pace and directness that had perhaps previously been lacking.