The proceeds of two quite rightly lauded tactical switches, a flattish back five and two up top (presumably to lessen the chance of main man Kane becoming isolated) and a couple of top notch reflex saves from Hugo were the basis of this impressive performance and result at the home of the reigning Champions League Champions.
The noise from the away fans was clear on the TV from the start but even so we began nervously especially down the left where Alderweireld took a little time to get used to the unusual (for him) role he’d been given. As a result, Ronaldo quickly headed against a post (I think Lloris would have saved if it’d been going in) and Benzema (who was shite all night) dragged his follow up wide.
As Madrid hogged possession and set up camp around our area, on BT Sport noted defensive guru Steve McManaman urged the Spurs defence to push up ignoring the fact that 1) we were playing the best team in the world thus how far we push up probably wasn’t up to us and 2) leaving space behind our defence for Modric, Isco and Kroos to utilise? Not a great idea.
After the early scare things settled in to a pattern. The home side’s big strength is their movement and passing in midfield, we largely coped with this and their main threat came from the unlikely source of Hakimi at right back. He found himself in space on a number of occasions but fortunately rarely got the better of the excellent Vertonghen.
We tried to break regularly but Eriksen in particular was having trouble making the ball stick and nothing came of anything (though Kane’s head did meet a corner full on and force a smart save from Navas and Llorente had a very very good shout for a penalty ignored) until…a nice show of strength from Winks to shake off Kroos gave Sissoko the chance to put an exquisite ball inside Marcelo at left back which Aurier was able to sprint on to. His cross was missed by Kane’s attempted flick but Varane helpfully deflected it past his own keeper. Woo-hoo!
That was after 28 minutes. The home team huffed and puffed and were being easily rebuffed until shortly before half time when a quick bit of interplay in our area saw Kroos go down under Aurier’s rash challenge and Ronaldo sent Hugo the wrong way from the spot.
The second half went pretty much to plan, the defence was disciplined and assured whilst the midfield and attack attempted to break meaningfully when it could. The latter rarely happened as in general we weren’t good enough to retain possession for long. Thankfully, mainly due to an outstanding save from Lloris from a Benzema header, no harm was done by our ineffectiveness going forward and by the last quarter of an hour the momentum of the game had slowed to a ‘let’s both be happy with a point’ level.
Just before this though a bit of Route One and a nicely weighted pass from Llorente had left Harry with a golden, oh so golden, chance to restore our lead but it wasn’t to be. His sidefoot strike was too close to Navas who finger tipped wide. Minutes later Eriksen was also put clear by Llorente but he failed to turn around his ‘meh’ evening and shot too late and too straight.
The final whistle was met with celebrations amongst the Spurs players as well as in the crowd and quite right too.
Pochettino’s gamble – and it was a gamble – in playing Llorente instead of Son was well rewarded and his decision to plonk the excellent Dier in between Sanchez and Toby reaped rewards in that it brought the best performance of the season from the Colombian only a few days after Josh King had shown up his frailties at Wembley. Dier, Sanchez and Vertonghen all barely put a foot wrong all night. Aurier proved that he is a work in progress but was generally excellent whilst Sissoko was a revelation. Winks has been predicted by many to be a key player before the end of the season and his response to the trust that Poch placed in him lends weight to that theory. Both Kane and Llorente put in the proverbial shift.
It was a tremendous performance. Both sides can point to chances saved/missed which makes a draw a fair result but perhaps bizarrely, one of the biggest plus points to me was the fact that we achieved the 1-1 without playing anywhere near our fluent best. Eriksen had an off day and perhaps as a result, we found keeping possession too much of a task on many occasions. Madrid closed down Lloris’s outlets which meant that he had to clear long often meaning that the ball would inevitably come back to us quicker than we’d like. It was the sort of football we’re not used to seeing but as against Dortmund, it’s one we seem effective at.
Add in the return of Danny Rose and Dortmund’s inability to win in Cyprus and well, an evening to remember.
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