They called it a group of death. They scoffed at us, they gave us no chance of qualification. Some of our own (fans) even missed the whole point of lining up against mammoth opponents; to be tested, to embrace the hype. More importantly, to just bloody well enjoy the journey. After all, what’s the point of European competition if you’re not going toe to toe with the very best?
Again, deepest apologies that I’m having to awkwardly type this out on a smartphone and not smashing my fists with exuberant joy on a more traditional keyboard.
On first viewing I was overly harsh with how I perceived the game. Madrid might not be in full pelt form but let’s not ignore they’re practically unbeatable on their home patch in the CL. Add to it the undeniable reality that they’re back to back winners of the competition and have a complete team of top tier quality oozing world class skill and sweat. I think most of us wrote this game off as one we would probably lose. Most of us were just up for immersing ourselves into whatever spectacle played out.
On first view I thought we lacked that first touch, that composed control. On second view I factored just how relentless Madrid were. Luka Modric terrorising Christian Eriksen, an illustration of the task and difference in quality at hand. The Dane grew into the game more in the second half, grafted but didn’t dictate. Honestly, considering the venue, I can’t fault him.
This wasn’t Swansea away and perhaps in the home tie he’ll be able to influence with a lot more freedom. Luka, in case you’re certifiably blind, is one of the best midfielders on the planet. Perhaps even one of the all time greats. Context you should not dismiss.
Even with the unavoidable discomfot we still coped. We contained. We defended absolutely brilliantly as a unit and had moments - match winning ones - on a couple of occasions. Harry Kane with a header saved and a shot that wasn’t thunderous enough to beat the keeper. Llorente a shrewd choice to start alongside him. As Pochettino states post-match, Fernando ‘fixed’ their centre-backs to allow Kane more space, whilst both forwards interchanged up top.
The home team also had their moments. Hugo Lloris with incredibly instinctive hands and one utterly gloriously impossible point blank save that my brain still seems incapable of processing, even in slow motion.
We might have sat deep, we might have sacrificed possession but we never appeared to be rattled. We never broke down or lost focus. In fact, on the counter, we often exposed them and perhaps if our football was a little sharper...well, ifs and buts and maybes. The 1-1 is still a magnificent result (especially with Dortmund failing to win against the Cypriots.
Toby was a colossus. Twenty-one year old Sanchez with the presence of experience beyond his years. Jan played with an edge. Eric Dier is back to his imperious stature, so reliably solid with his commitment.
Regardless of the penalty Serge gave away (due to an err in his initial positioning and then desperation to make up the lost yards) he stuck in a tremendous shift on the right. Alongside the rejuvenated Moussa Sissoko, a player finally slotting into a place of comfort and identifiable style. If he weighted some of his passing...oh boy oh boy oh boy. We might end up with a £30M player. He was a juggernaut running at ‘em with the ball. Also loved the vocal backing he got. Proper support that.
I love how against the collectives better judgement (that pre-season concern that we looked weak) we now resemble a team with depth. Rose has returned, his name sang by the spectacular away support. Dembele, Wanyama and Lamela not far off from inclusion. Ben Davies also sidelined. Sure, we are missing a galvaniser, that something extra in addition to all the brilliance we possess, to push us closer to the giants of football we dare to to compete against. We still could have won without ‘that’, risks and all.
Dele. When he rediscovers his own edge will be imperative to our ambitions. In the mean time, we can bask in pride at how little Harry Winks stood tall in the middle of a congested centre of Goliath talent. The maturity of this kid. His grace is effortless. It makes me punch the air infront of me with uncontrollable passion, dishing out black eyes to the ether.
The belief, the trust that Poch instils in the players, Winks included, is something very special, an antithesis to how many modern managers seek to build.
Sure, you can lose yourself with Xg stats, be thankful (lucky) at the chances missed by the home side. All irrelevant in the end. They only scored one from a spot kick. Ironically we only got ours from an OG. A fair result, a competitive battle.
It’s a cracking point, no matter the translation of analysis. Spirited. Fearless. Brave. The preparation was on point. Remember those oh so common days of capitulation? Like it all happened to a different football club. If...if Spurs were at full strength, who knows how it could have ended. The wonderful thing is we might find out next time round.
Mauricio Pochettino might be flirting with a long term contract and if our chairman is serious about building something with longevity in mind then he should be claiming the signatures, from his manager and the core players.
Poch is without a doubt the most important factor in this continued evolution, against all odds. He is perfect for us and we’re perfect for him, this brotherhood of Lilywhite. A mix of reinvented traditions and a new world culture. He has stayed true to his promise to make us all proud of our club.
However, it requires ample protection and fiscal encouragement. There’s too much there to leave it all with the fate of the Gods.
Onwards we march. There’s simply no other direction available for us.