Survival of the Fittest

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

This team is different, innit than the others that came before them? But we knew that already. For 83 minutes Mauricio Pochettino left his best XI on the pitch, stunned by two early shock goals, and dominant for most of the rest of the time, until job nearly done, he finally inserted Son, Moura and Wanyama to run the Torino clock out.

Implausibly…Improbably…Incredibly… Spurs spotted one of the best sides in Europe two early goals, and then rallied to score more against them than the combined efforts of Juve’s last 16 opponents. Because they could. And they are fit enough, skilled enough, and brave enough to do it.

Let’s start with the negatives. On the opener, give Higuain credit. He was marginally offsides—Dele or Davies could have marked him, but it was an amazing volley on a training ground play made good, and tip your hat. On the second, well Ben Davies, I still don’t know what you were thinking. Just a horribly stupid play and we paid for it. On the nearly third, Sanchez was beat (nothing new in that) and Aurier did something rash (and nothing new in that). Lloris did “Karius” Higuain on the spot kick, so even it wasn’t at the bar, he would have stopped it. One had to wonder just what Alderweireld was thinking back in London and whether he was smiling or grimacing.

Spurs for the rest of the half were impetuous, despite the score. Kane should have won a penalty as he was both stepped on and pushed, but I guess Spurs’ diving reputation preceded them. But then Dele put through a gorgeous ball, and once Gigi committed there would be only one outcome. One felt throughout the second half the equalizer was coming, and I actually felt Eriksen had endured a poor stretch—too slow on the ball and poor first touches—yet when Dele was fouled just outside the box—there was the chance. Low and Buffon mangled it but we’ll take it.

Lloris was left to make one more crucial stop, and Vertonghen with a wondrous clearance, and we were safe and now just a decent Wembley result away from advancing. Lucas Moura at the end showed some pizazz and I can’t wait to see his energy and pace for a full 90 minutes.

As for the individual performances, only Vertonghen in the back shone, though after the various calamities his partners rallied in the second half. The midfield was intense and controlling per usual Only for a brief stretch early in the second half did the Old Lady look to take the game away from Spurs—otherwise Dier and Dembele (again. Again. When will the analytical experts realize how valuable the Belgian is? I bet Roberto Martinez is watching. Can you imagine him behind the likes of DeBruyne and Hazard in Russia?) Lamela in a surprise start showed some guile and huge effort. Kane was his usual frenetic self—it was always going to be hard to break that defence down and it is a testament to the talent of those front three that they scored twice.

The fact that Poch did not make a substitution until the 83rd minute speaks volumes. He believes in his players and in their fitness. They rewarded that confidence in spades tonight. We’re different now. I for one am hoping to not only dispatch Juve at Wembley, but then get drawn against Liverpool in the quarterfinals. Football deserves that match. So in 7 Champions League games this campaign Spurs have played 5 against 6 of the last 10 finalists in the biggest club competition in the world—three away from home. And we have lost precisely…… well, not once. Not much more needs to be said.

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.

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