Real Madrid 1 Spurs 1
Last night was a European ‘Glory Night’. Not quite on a par with the 1960s-80s, but the nearest thing at least since Milan in 2011. Our makeshift team did us proud. Our fans sang their hearts out. The cockerel crowed. Loud.
And you know the thing? It didn’t even surprise me. I expected to get a point. There was relief at the final whistle but a tinge of disappointment too. Like a decent boxer we were taking blows but also landing a few of our own. A draw felt like a fair result.
The XG Sum was 2.1 to 0.8, meaning that statistically we were ‘lucky’. Benzema or Ronaldo would be expected to have taken one of their chances and, on another night, Varane deflects the ball out of play (not into his own net). On the other hand, Kane’s second half effort was decently struck and Eriksen had a chance too. But we only had 34% possession and 11 shots (v 21), with 4 on target (v 8). Low numbers for this Spurs team.
But stats are only part of the story. This performance was about way more than numbers, more than discipline even, more than organisation. It was about a young and inexperienced team showing guts, and individual ability, and not backing down. A patched up team shorn of first, and even second, choice options, refusing to use that as an excuse at the home of the most famous club in the world. Our players looked Ronaldo, Modric, Ramos and Co. in the eyes and didn’t blink.
It was about redemption too. The much maligned Sissoko showing that not only can he play at this level but that he belongs at our Club. About precociousness, with young Harry Winks holding his own against seasoned world class midfielders. About nous, the veteran Llorente using his experience to make up for old legs.
And it was about leadership. Lloris played like a man possessed, producing several brilliant saves, a keeper somehow leading from the front. But there was leadership throughout the team; Jan & Toby, marshalling the defence, Kane pressing and sniffing, forcing an own goal and almost winning the match.
I don’t normally indulge in this kind of thing but, for my own record, here are my ratings out of 10 for our starting XI:
Lloris: 9 (outstanding saves, kicked well, just 1 point docked – for not saving Ronaldo’s penalty!)
Aurier: 7 (somebody tweeted Serge is ‘a red card waiting to happen’; well, not quite, but he needs more time under Poch’s tutelage. However, he has the pace and power to replace Walker and already an emerging affinity with Sissoko)
Sanchez: 8 (superb. And getting better with each game. Spurs have yet to lose a match Davinson has started)
Alderweireld: 8 (customary Toby performance. His standards are so high)
Dier: 8 (the ultimate utility man, team player, heck of a shift)
Vertonghen: 9 (just behind Lloris for MoM, playing out of position, he snarled, tackled, concentrated and never backed down)
Sissoko: 8 (worked, ran, produced an excellent pass leading up to our goal, did everything that could be asked of him against top class opponents)
Winks: 8 (91%+ passing accuracy, 3 interceptions, quietly bustled his way round the midfield, totally unflappable. Another of our Own)
Eriksen: 7 (man-marked because – despite the Kane hype – Christian was identified by Zidane as Spurs creative orchestrator. He struggled to influence the flow as he usually does, and as a result it wasn’t one of his better games. Like Alderweireld, his standards are so high nowadays. Still, he worked like a dog and never hid. Might have scored a winner but for a good Navas save)
Llorente: 8 (big man, big performance. Provided an ‘out’ so that we weren’t constantly giving the ball straight back to Madrid. Masterful call by Pochettino. Should have had a penalty. Might have had an assist. Held the ball up and provided space for Kane)
Kane: 8 (with Lloris, Alderweireld and Eriksen, the spine of our team; had Harry and Benzema swapped sides, Madrid would have won)
Pochettino: 9 (brave and imaginative formation and tactics, this was a ‘coming of age’ moment for our manager too; he proved he can cut it not just in the Premier League marathon, but in Champions League chess matches as well. His decision to reintroduce Rose away, in the heat of a tense battle, to avoid any Spurs fans booing him, was just another example of Poch’s clever thinking. Our manager is, indeed, the Real Deal).
For the record, we were without both our senior Left Backs (Rose & Davies), so were forced to slot Dier into the backline and play Jan at left back; we were without Wanyama at DM and Dembele at AM, without Dele who was suspended, and also Lamela unavailable as an attacking option. Son and Rose were on the bench and both came on late. Aurier was selected over Trippier. But arguably 5 of our fully fit ‘first choice XI’ (Rose or Davies, Wanyama or Dier, Dembele, Dele and Lamela) were missing from our starting line-up last night.
This result leaves us top of Group H, with a 2-1-0 record, and 7 points, level with Real Madrid but ahead on away goals scored. With 3 matches to play we have a lead of 6 points on Dortmund. So, 4 more points would make it mathematically certain we’ll qualify at least second in the Group. Even 3 more points should be enough unless Dortmund (i) beat us by 3-1 or more and (ii) also win in Madrid on Match Day 6. We’re on Cloud Nine.
Cloud nine, I’m feeling heavenly
This vibe we fell upon
You touching every part of me
This shit feels so strong
This could be the real deal (oh yeah)
Jessie J, Singer-Songwriter and Spurs fan