Spurs show no signs of making it easy in Europe

Pochettino’s side left with a point after giving up a two-goal lead

Mathieu Valbuena of Olympiakos celebrates with team-mates after scoring  his side’s second goal from the penalty spot during the  Champions League Group B match against Tottenham Hotspur at Karaiskakis Stadium  in Piraeus, Greece. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Mathieu Valbuena of Olympiakos celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side’s second goal from the penalty spot during the Champions League Group B match against Tottenham Hotspur at Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Greece. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

Olympiakos 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2

Tottenham have picked up where they left off last season, where high Champions League drama came as standard and they appeared to have an addiction to doing things the hard way.

After half an hour in the Athenian port of Piraeus, they had twice enjoyed what visiting teams here crave – the brief sound of silence. First Harry Kane, from the penalty spot, and then Lucas Moura with a firecracker from distance cut through the bedlam whipped up by the Olympiakos die-hards to put Spurs in charge.

It was a lead that flattered Mauricio Pochettino’s team and one they could not preserve in the face of a spirited Olympiakos performance and a wall of noise from the stands. Spurs have entered some hostile environments over the past five years or so under Pochettino but, in terms of decibel levels, nothing quite like this. From start to finish, there was a frenzy inside this single-tiered bowl, where the sound swirls without release.

Daniel Podence, the most eye-catching player on display, damaged Spurs with an excellent finish just before half-time and Pochettino’s team would cave in to concede the equaliser early in the second half. As passions swirled in the Spurs defensive third, Jan Vertonghen went through the back of Mathieu Valbuena – a clumsy and needless foul. It felt as though the prickly heat of the moment had got the better of him. Valbuena picked himself up to beat his friend Hugo Lloris from the spot.

The idea from a Spurs point of view was that they would make a bold statement on the opening night of this Champions League group and avoid the edgy game of catch-up that defined their progress to the last 16 last season. It is sometimes overlooked that Spurs only qualified after Inter Milan failed to beat PSV Eindhoven in the final round of group ties.

This was not the worst result, given that Olympiakos are an authentic European power on their own turf, but Spurs will be painfully aware that Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade are still to come. Their supporters are buckling up for another wild ride.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Champions League Group B match against Olympiakos. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Champions League Group B match against Olympiakos. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Pochettino had been waiting for this game, considering it as the first opportunity to draw a line under the pain of last season’s defeat in the final to Liverpool and to take the first steps he started with a bold 4-2-3-1 system, with the No 10, Christian Eriksen, pressed close to Kane. Pochettino wanted to fight fire with fire, to carry the game to Olympiakos.

It did not go to plan at the outset and there was the sight of the manager going crackers in his technical area as the hosts led a break in the 18th minute. Olympiakos had too much room and Pochettino knew it. They came within inches of taking what would have been a deserved lead.

Kostas Tsimikas skipped around Harry Winks too easily to cross and Podence chested down for Miguel Ángel Guerrero. The striker’s low shot beat Lloris only to come back off the far post and, on the rebound, Guilherme, shot down and over the crossbar.

Olympiakos called the tune for the opening quarter, with Podence getting into good areas off the right wing and it was difficult to recall Spurs entering the defensive third of their opponents. Yet, in what felt like the blink of an eye, everything changed.

Kane bundled past Yassine Meriah as he attacked the right-hand side of the area, getting the break of the ball and, in real time, it was difficult to see what had caused him to go to ground. The referee, Gianluca Rocchi, had spotted it and his decision to point to the spot was vindicated by the replays. Meriah had panicked and stretched back a leg, serving to trip Kane. The striker missed his previous penalty for England against Kosovo but he coolly scooped this one up the middle and into the roof of the net.

Olympiakos were reeling and they caught the second part of the sucker combination punch moments later. Ben Davies, on his first start of the season, stepped up to win the ball high in the Olympiakos half and when he fed Lucas, the Brazilian fizzed an unstoppable drive past José Sá from the edge of the area.

How Spurs needed to reach half-time at 2-0. They could not do so. Giorgos Masouras had fluffed a volley when well placed on 34 minutes but Olympiakos were rewarded for their front-foot football when Podence swapped passes with Valbuena, surged into the area and shot low into the far corner. The pace and the precision of the exchange was too much for the Spurs defence.

Spurs needed to show composure but, at the first sign of pressure around their area in the second half, they cracked. They could not clear their lines and it was Vertonghen who got too close to the back of Valbuena, treading on his foot to send him over.

The game descended into an end-to-end power struggle, emotion trampling across the stands, and Spurs did have the chances to win it. Dele Alli, who had a goal ruled out for offside in the 49th minute, caught a break to burst through only for Jose Sá to tip his shot around the far post while the substitute Erik Lamela also worked the goalkeeper. Spurs deserved no more than their point. – Guardian

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