Hugo Lloris and Tottenham braced for Real test at Bernabeu
Bernabeu trip will show how far Pochettino’s team have advanced
Tottenham Hotspur players during a training spin at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur, Tuesday, 7.45pm (Eir Sport 2/BT Sport 2)
For Hugo Lloris, it is an occasion to savour and an opportunity to embrace. And, if he is perfectly honest, it is one that he did not see happening for him at Tottenham. A glamour Champions League tie at Real Madrid? It felt like a pipe-dream.
So much so that Lloris, who joined Tottenham from Lyon in 2012 in the hope of continuing his development in the Champions League, had started to consider his future. It was the final months of the 2014-15 season – Mauricio Pochettino’s first in managerial charge at the club – and the goalkeeper felt further away than ever from Europe’s elite competition.
He had been mentioned as a target for Manchester United, among other elite clubs, with Real seemingly primed to take David De Gea from Old Trafford. In the end, only a misfiring fax machine stood in the way of that deal. But Lloris stayed put and, as he reflects on Tottenham’s subsequent progress, is thankful that he did.
On the eve of the Group H tie against Real at the Bernabeu, Lloris got over the sense of excitement, as much as anything else.
“We have nothing to lose and all to win,” he said. It was not always the case for him at Tottenham and a quotation from Toni Jimenez, the goalkeeping coach, resonated loudly.
“It wasn’t just Hugo, there were lots of people who were sleeping here,” Jimenez told Monday’s edition of AS. “They’ve woken up.”
Pochettino has referred to Tottenham as a “sleeping giant” and he has roused them. Now, he wants to make a statement at one of the grandest venues in world football. His young team have come a long way but Real will provide the barometer of just how far.
“There is always something to prove,” Lloris said. “The target is to be competitive, enjoy our football, make a great team performance and to show the face of Tottenham. We want to play with our concepts, keep possession, be aggressive and try to be dominant – even if that will be tough against Real at the Bernabeu. It’s a big opportunity for us to face one of the biggest clubs in the world and, also, to face the best players.”
The cast-list is a pulse-quickener, even if there will be no Gareth Bale for Real; the forward, who joined from Tottenham in 2013, is out with a calf injury. Zinedine Zidane, the Real manager, said he could not “take it for granted” that Bale would be fit for the return tie at Wembley on November 1st.
Like all French players of his generation, Lloris is in awe of Zidane, who he described as a”legend,” and an “inspiration.”
He also talked about Cristiano Ronaldo, Real’s on-field symbol.
“He is an inspiration for the new generation; a machine of success,” Lloris said. “He is a great leader and a great personality, too.”
Tottenham boast their own names and none is bigger, at present, than Harry Kane, who has replaced Dele Alli as the Tottenham player to be most strongly linked with a move to Real. Unusually, Zidane did little to pour cold water on the issue. On the contrary. He admitted he had not foreseen Kane’s rise to prominence but he now considered him to be “the complete player”.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future,” Zidane said, when asked whether Kane might one day play for Real.
“He is a key player for Tottenham, he is very good at everything. What he does is always towards the goal, he attacks space at speed. He is a complete player. He didn’t seem to be but, in the end, he is.”
Pochettino was peppered with Kane-related questions at his press conference and the thought occurred that we have been here before with Real and marque Tottenham players. Remember the Luka Modric saga? He moved from White Hart Lane to the Bernabeu in 2012 and he made the point that he could not turn Real down.
But he noted how Tottenham had since made significant strides, referencing their investment in a new training ground and stadium. Could Tottenham become a destination club rather than a stepping stone, as Lloris has suggested?
“I had grown as much as possible after four seasons at Tottenham and I needed new challenges,” Modric said. “Real were the ideal club for me. When I knew they were interested, I couldn’t think about anything else. Signing for this club helped me move up to the next level.”
Tottenham were beaten 4-0 on their last visit to the Bernabeu in the 2011 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg – a tie that was disfigured by Peter Crouch early’s red card – but Lloris has a happier memory. He was part of the Lyon team that drew 1-1 at the Bernabeu in the second-leg of the Champions League last 16 in 2010 for a 2-1 aggregate victory. His Lyon team would later lose at the Bernabeu in 2011 and 2012.
Tottenham take encouragement from their 100 per cent away record so far this season while Real have not been at their fluent best. As is always the case, the criticism has quickly followed, although Real are past masters of raising themselves when they hear the Champions League music. Pochettino has included Danny Rose in his squad for the first time this season while Mousa Dembele is also in line to feature.
“We made it through in 2010 [with Lyon],” Lloris said. “We have to be solid and believe in ourselves. It is a collective sport and it is possible to make great achievements.”