Remember not too long ago when I wrote about Spurs stepping up to the plate in their 1-1 draw with Real at the Bernabeu? Sure you do, being a religious follower of my column and all.
Remember how opposing fans were mocking the Spurs faithful for celebrating an away draw against last year’s Champions League winners? Sure you do, because it was all over Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.
Fast forward to Wednesday’s UCL fixtures. Did you happen to tune in and see Spurs smash Madrid 3-1 at Wembley, sealing their progress to the knockout stages with 2 games to spare? You should have, because next to City-Napoli it was the best match of the day.
Anyway, what’s my point in all this? Oh yeah. Doubters be damned, naysayers have a seat. Spurs are ready to do some damage in the Champions League this year, and I’m all aboard the hype train after our latest European glory night.
Poch gets his tactics right…again
I really need to stop ever questioning Pochettino’s line-ups, because every time I do his team performs incredibly well and proves me foolish for worrying about it. Or wait…does that mean I should keep questioning his line-ups to keep the lucky streak going? I’m so confused in this timeline where Spurs took the European champions to school while playing Sissoko for 70-odd minutes.
Poch tinkered when we went to Madrid, opting for Llorente up top as a partner to Kane in a surprise move. It worked pretty well, and if not for the heroics of Keylor Navas we could very well have won that game. In the return fixture Wednesday, he took the opportunity to change his line-up again, going with Trippier instead of Aurier in the right wing-back role. The Tottenham fan community online was visibly worried by this decision. Trippier marking Marcelo? Surely it wouldn’t work.
What they hadn’t factored in, though—and what Poch clearly had—was that Trippier’s delivery going forward is nothing short of extraordinary. He wasn’t included to be a defensive wall; he was put in there to give Kane and Co. proper service. That tactical choice paid off early and often, with Trippier firing in several damn near perfect crosses before Dele finally managed to finish one 27 minutes into the match. To be honest, Trippier could’ve ended the game with 3-4 assists had our attacking players been more ruthless in front of goal. His inclusion was a tactical masterstroke and gave us a huge advantage in the attacking third. Bravo once again, Poch.
A half-fit Kane is still better than 90% of strikers on planet Earth
When you watch Spurs as much as I do, you notice the little things about players. You learn to read Dele’s body language and tell whether he’s more interested in being a prick or playing out of his mind in a given match. You figure out when Dier is about to attempt a murder-tackle by looking in the whites of his eyes. These kinds of things are easy to miss for the untrained eye, but always there if you know what to look for.
When it came to Harry Kane yesterday, anybody with experience watching this team could tell he wasn’t feeling 100% right. He pulled off some shots early in the game that he’d normally have absolutely walloped towards goal, opting instead for dainty chips or passes. His movement was evidently conservative, and his normal zest for pressing only manifested itself in a few moments (most notably when he faked out Nacho to win a throw-in right before Dele’s opener). Point is, he was very clearly trying to prevent further injury after his slight muscle tweak against Liverpool.
Yet for all his precautions, the young Englishman still found a way to dominate Real’s back line. He held the ball up well, his distribution was excellent, and he even provided the killer pass for Eriksen to score our third goal. If Kane is capable of this while not feeling 100% fit, imagine what he’d have done if he was healthy. It’s a frightening prospect that any team playing against Spurs needs to account for, and a huge boon to the deadly striker’s manager and teammates.
At 21 years old, Harry Winks played better than Luka Modric
Spurs fans are running out of plaudits for this kid already. I’m quite positive he still lives with his parents, and yet he put in a performance so mature yesterday you could have confused him for either of Madrid’s actual world class midfielders, Kroos or Modric. I don’t really know how to describe what makes Winks so good, but I think it’s just that he does the simple things really well and with remarkable consistency.
While playing against much more experienced midfielders, Winks kept possession with great success and put his energy into the “Poch press” until Dembele replaced him on 66 minutes. He never did anything flashy or Dele-esque, but he took care of the ball when he needed to and helped slow Madrid’s momentum with calm, assured distribution. Factor in that we paid a whopping £/€/$0 in transfer fees for this academy product and it makes it all the sweeter that he’s getting appearances against the likes of Madrid AND actually looking like he belongs in that company. Credit again goes to Poch for recognizing the lad’s potential and putting a supreme amount of trust in him. Must do wonders for the boy’s confidence.
Europe be warned…this is without a doubt the best Spurs team of my lifetime
I started watching Spurs during the Keane-Berba years. I was there for the shocking efficiency of the Crouch-VdV partnership. I saw Gareth Bale rise from potentially hazardous left back to best left winger in England. Then I watched him leave, with players like Lamela and Eriksen coming in to replace him.
Through all those years and whatever successes we might have had, this current Spurs team is pound-for-pound the best collection of players and a manager that I’ve ever had the privilege of supporting. We’ve always had talented attackers at Spurs, but rarely have we had the defensive fortitude to compliment that offensive power. The combination of youth, experience, physicality, and flair that Poch has put together over the last few seasons is becoming a real force before my very eyes; the kind of team that’s capable of going deep into European competition.
Half of our starting XI against Madrid were 25 years old or younger, and yet they played as though they had decades of experience on the international stage. Guys like Dele, Kane, and Eriksen are going to be around for awhile and only improve as they get more big games under their belt. A core of these types of players would be a recipe for success in any team, and is especially promising under a perfectionist manager like Poch. Everyone knows the game plan, everyone plays for the team. Those are the types of squads that lift trophies come the end of a season. And though this Spurs golden generation is still waiting on their first major trophy, Wednesday’s result will have gone a long way toward convincing them (and the footballing world at large) that it can’t be very far off.