The Beast is slain

Post 30

14th September 2017

Spurs 3 Borussia Dortmund 1

‘Guest Article’ by my younger son (Will):


We did it. Under the lights at Wembley and in front of 67,343 fans (coincidentally almost exactly the capacity of the new stadium featuring safe-standing), we dismantled one of Europe’s top heavyweights (and a supposed shoe-in to qualify over us for the knock-out rounds).

Granted, Dortmund were missing several key players like Reus and Schmelzer, and admittedly we were lucky when Aubameyang’s second equaliser was ruled out. But regardless of these fortunate occurrences, we won, and so many times before, the goal that was offside would have been given against us.

But the truth is, last night we made our own luck. We took the game to Dortmund in an unconventional manner (for Spurs anyway): we conceded possession, broke quickly, and took (most) of our chances. How often do we score in the first five minutes? How often do we concede an equaliser only to comeback stronger? Not often. And to do it in a competition which we struggled with so much last year shows a maturity that comes with a year’s experience.

It will take several more wins to fully banish the ‘Wembley curse’ (at least in the press’s eyes), but last night I watched a team that can make any stadium a fortress.

Stray observations:

  • Dortmund’s fans are truly incredible: they did not stop supporting their team even at 3-1, and (shamefully) they drowned our supporters out for much of the game.
  • Our bench is incomparable to last season: it was mostly unnecessary, but I felt that the seven (even with Alli, Lamela, Rose and Wanyama all missing) could provide far more of an impact than our bench last season (no offence to Janssen intended).
  • Finally, Alli’s absence wasn’t missed, a sign that he really needs to regain last season’s form.



My own thoughts from watching on a laptop at a social event:

Spurs used a very ‘un-Spurs-like’ tactical plan to beat Dortmund 3-1 and disappoint all the pundits playing up the boring “Wembley factor” and “Group of Death” narratives.

Pochettino has to date tended to be rigidly flexible in his tactics; that is we employ an increasingly flexible formation (4-2-3-1 / 3-4-2-1) but it’s always based on a high press, possession based game. Whereas in this match we conceded possession, sat back and played on the counter. As a result we enjoyed only 32% possession and conceded 8 corners (v. only 2 for us). This was our lowest possession percentage since we lost 3-0 to Dortmund in the Europa League 2 Seasons ago.

The XG (‘expected goals’) ratio was 1.6 v 0.9, against the actual result of 3-1. Basically, Spurs 3 goals were beyond expectations and Dortmund’s goal was a low-percentage bullet. On the other hand Sonny and Kane both put second half chances over the bar and Aubemayang was denied a legitimate goal for offside (and Lloris saved another chance well with his feet).

Overall, despite having only one third possession, Spurs fashioned 13 chances (v. 10) of which 4 were on target (v. 2). Spurs’ win might have appeared lucky to some, and the match was close, but it was achieved thanks to a tactical plan, some great individual performances, and a touch of good fortune.

It was as if Kane had read what I wrote yesterday (Post 29), he was an incredibly hard-working target man, creator, dribbler and scorer. Both his goals were things of beauty, the result of endless hours as a boy teaching himself to aim for the corner of the net. Almost all strikers focus on hitting ‘the target’. That means they instinctively shoot at the centre of the goal. To ‘work the keeper’. To avoid the embarrassment of missing the goal. It takes big balls and years of mental training to change what is a natural sporting instinct. What separates Harry from hundreds of decent strikers is a mix of attributes. But above all it’s his mental strength to aim for the corner of the net under extreme pressure. And to hit that spot so often. With either foot.

But the rest of the team weren’t far behind. They executed the plan in the first half and tweaked it in the second. Son scored a solo beauty and had a fine match. Toby had his best game of the season; a masterclass of anticipation, awareness and controlled aggression. Jan was magnificent too (shame about the late, harsh card). Between them Sanchez looked less at ease than he had against Everton. On the other hand, Aubemayang and Pusilic are trickier opponents than Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney.

Aurier grew into the game and displayed the tools required to replace Walker. His goal celebrations are enthusiastically ‘Walkeresque’ too. Davies had yet another highly accomplished game, both in defence and supporting the attack. The Dierbele midfield held steady in the first half and stepped it up in the second.

And Eriksen was awesome, yet again. An endlessly busy bee around the pitch, covering, defending, snapping at heels. People focus on his assists and creativity. But what separates Eriksen from the likes of Ozil is his work-ethic. And his ability to turn defence into attack in an instant. He is the conductor of Pochettino’s orchestra.

This Spurs performance must be seen in context. Dortmund were good. Very good. An exceptional unit that will be even more frightening in Germany, and with some key players back from injury. In some ways they outplayed us. But they can’t have it both ways. They chose their tactics just as we chose ours. They played their aces and had them trumped. They thought we wouldn’t have the pace to punish them on the break. We did.

It is too early to herald the result as some measure of progress (versus Dortmund two years ago). Let’s qualify from this Group and be in PL title contention at Christmas before we get too excited. But the way we dismantled Everton, followed by this victory over a European heavyweight using innovative tactics (for us), was a very positive sign.

As Will says above, it will take several more wins to fully banish the ‘Wembley curse’ but last night we played like a team that can make any stadium a fortress.

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