We are through to the next round of the UEFA Champions league (Q-F’s). The day started good but ended with mixed blessings. Pochettino was given a two-match ban for his confrontation with referee Mike Dean.
All because he confronted him a bit aggressively. Luckily it was only a ‘bit’ rather than full-on otherwise things might have ended up a lot differently, but let us not quiver over something that can’t be changed and probably won’t make any difference in the great scheme of things. Jesus, no, not him, who can rise from the dead or even turn water into a billion-pound industry (yes, water into wine), but the Jesus who assists Pochettino (I know what you are thinking, not much difference… they both saved earlier on in their careers). Yes, Jesus will take charge from the dugout for the Southampton and Liverpool games. No doubt Pochettino will be messaging Jesus in what he wants done or doesn’t want doing in his name. Jesus will be on our prayers, as always.
After our three-match results, that didn’t go to our liking (and set us back) we finally arrived in Germany (Dortmund to be precise), full of beans. We were 3-0 up from the first leg and were pretty confident. But saying that, that doesn’t guarantee you the result you want. On the same night, Ajax beat Real Madrid to surprisingly go through to the next round. So, we shouldn’t take anything for granted. If last season’s UEFA Champions winner can get knocked out, then anything can happen… then there was United, who were expected to be knocked out of the competition in the second leg because they were 3-0 down to Paris St Germain, only for them to bounce back and draw on aggregate 3-3, going through on the away goal. Nothing is certain in football.
The way we played (well, not me, as you probably guessed) showed we were going for it. Most of the possession and shots in the first half was made by Dortmund, which put us on the back foot. But we parked our tanks across our goal-mouth and good goalkeeping my Lloris kept them out. The second half was totally different. Even though they still had most of the possession, they seemed to have lost a bit of heat (probably they saw the writing was on the wall, from the first leg) and we took advantage of their demeanour. Three minutes into the second half, up popped Kane and scored, putting it beyond Dortmund’s capability. The fans sensed more blood, but in the end, we were just happy to get the 4-0 aggregate score to put us through to the quarter-finals.
Pochettino’s brilliant battlers have kept just one clean sheet in the Premier League in 2019, but we looked solid in Germany, after deploying the same three-man defence that helped us to a commanding first-leg lead.
Jan Vertonghen’s 10th-minute tackle on Marco Reus typified our early resolve. Timing his challenge to perfection, he nipped the ball away from the Dortmund attacker who had broken clear inside the area.
When Dortmund did break through, Hugo Lloris made brilliant saves from Reus, Julian Weigl, Mario Gotze and Jadon Sancho, while Weigl was denied a second time by a superb Ben Davies block. Dortmund bombarded Lloris’ goal with five shots on target in the latter stages of the opening half, but we carried a threat on the break with the pace and movement of Son Heung-min and Kane. Son clipped an effort just wide of the left post before Kane’s clinical finish inflicted a first home defeat on Dortmund under manager Lucien Favre.
We have qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for just the second time in the club’s history, last doing so back in 2010-11. But bad news for Dortmund, who have now been eliminated at the last-16 stage of the Champions League on two of the last three occasions they have reached this stage.
We have also beaten Dortmund in each of our four Champions League meetings, meaning the German side have become the fourth side in the competition’s history to lose each of their opening four such matches against a single English side (also Olympiakos v Manchester United, SK Sturm Graz v Manchester United and Sparta Prague v Arsenal).
Twelve of our 13 goals in the Champions League this season have come in the second half (92%).
Harry Kane’s opener for us made him our highest goalscorer in European competition in the club’s history (24). Kane is also just the second Englishman to score at least five goals in multiple Champions League campaigns after Steven Gerrard, who did so in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
You can imagine the celebrations after the whistle went. TV stations wanted interviews with everybody. Then back into the dressing room for a nice well-earned shower. Job done, now we move on.
We must now concentrate on Saturday, where we face Southampton, who wobbled Manchester United the previous Saturday but still ended up losing. All teams are threats, no matter where they are in the league. It is either about challenging for a top-four spot, a high position or fighting relegation. There isn’t, nor ever will be, rest for one of the World’s most watched and competitive leagues.
With a new stadium on the horizon the pressure is on; get it wrong, and we could be looking down the wrong end of the barrel. Get it right, and the heavens could open up for us with an angel fanfare escorting us to even greater riches.
I’ve enjoyed the last couple of days, previous to that our heads were down because of certain disappointing matches. But after the Southampton game, we get a three-week rest, then a trip to Liverpool before – hopefully – embedding down in our new home.
It has been a pleasure, but then we do support one of the world’s greatest teams; which has a great history, a confident present and a bright and challenging future.
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