Spurs didn’t just stun Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out clash. They stunned me too. Knocked me off my feet. A performance that oozed professional pomp with an in-game learning curve that saw us switch tempo and tactics to dominate the second half after a super tight first forty-five.
They had players missing, we had players missing. Jadon Sancho looked like igniting a spark when they pushed into the final third. In pockets, we struggled to keep up with their pace, with the full back positions being pressured with a little too much discomfort.
Then came the break and the subtle yet decisive changes. Serge and Jan pushed further up. As a collective we pressed with more intensity, invading the space in front of the Dortmund players with no apology. Why Dortmund failed to react to it, I’m not sure. They were passive compared to their more sprightly first half. Tottenham swaggered with more urgency and asserted themselves out wide - an area they struggled to contain before the switch.
Son’s 47th minute opener was the best possible start to the second half. Spurs with tenacity in retaining the ball and Jan with an utterly delicious ball spun to perfection for Son to volley in brilliantly. We kept plugging away and left it late to put the tie (possibly, don’t want to jinx it) beyond the German’s side grasp to turn it around.
83th minute and Serge delivered a top drawer cross (almost a duplication of the opening goal), finding Jan on the volley to score a goal he thoroughly deserved. Centre-back, left-back, wing-back, left-winger. Tag him how you like but just call him ‘Supe’.
86th minute and a final wallop was dished out. Spurs still pushing forward, Eriksen sending in a corner for Llorente to head home for a glorious 3-0 victory.
When we got drawn against Dortmund I remember how the reaction was one tinged with a little bit of fear. They’re not the same side of last season. They are improved. They’re leading the Bundesliga for starters. With Spurs, the narrative focused solely on the injuries of Harry Kane and Dele Alli being the potential sticking point for us to shift forward a gear. What many didn’t expect was the plot twist that saw us flip our league form (in terms of how we are winning games) from hard graft to silky style.
Ignoring the massive disappointment of the Chelsea semi-final (hindsight suggests we wasted an opportunity there based on their inconsistent form - but we all know they always turn up for us) and the non-event defeat away to Palace in the FA Cup, we have won all our league games with Dele and Kane out. Be it with late late winners. In the Champions League, the plot twist saw us turn up and turn them over with supreme belief and application. Seems like our players like to show up for the biggest club competition in the world. We can definitely do it on a Wednesday night at Wembley.
Sissoko. The poster boy for reinvention. He’s still physically awkward, marauding through the centre, yet he has displayed traits that have rewarded the team time and time again.
Llorente. Assists. Goals. He’s much maligned and criticised for missing ‘easy’ chances. But he’s a veteran, sits on the bench most of the time, so is it really that surprising that he doesn’t quite fit in with comparative ease? Long term, we need to sign a young under-study that can potentially take over from Harry. That’s some ask. If we need a stronger short term resolution than perhaps we should sign a proven goal-scorer from a mid-table side that ‘could do a job for us’. The problem with this is most don’t want to sit on the bench. Hence why signing a superstar / marquee striker remains impossible until we can offer them ridiculous wages.
Son. Infectious. Remember that time he was listed as a striker on our official website and one or two soft headed numptys cried outrage? If he continues with this form, he’s in with a shout for Player of the Year. Absolutely key to our success. If Lucas can find a way to settle into a similar rhythm, then the options we have up top are nothing short of wonderful.
Vertonghen. Tremendous. Bossed his flank and deserved his UEFA Award for his powerful performance.
Kudos to the gaffer too. ‘Doesn’t make changes’, we often bemoan. The changes he made broke Dortmund but the persistence our players displayed forced the game from a 1-0 to a 3-0 and has set us up for a quarter-final (as long as something utterly bizarre doesn’t happen in the second leg).
It’s improbable for us to win the Champions League. But the gift in football is the hope, whether it’s delusion or fantasy, the fact we can consider it playfully in the first place is testament to the manager and his players.
We march on.