Tottenham in dreamland as they rout dismal Real Madrid
Dele Alli set the home side on their way to a historic win
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Real Madrid 1
To put this result in perspective, it had been five years since Real Madrid were beaten in a Champions League group game. They have won this competition three times out of the last four seasons and, though it didn’t particularly feel that way here, don’t discount the possibility of that famous old pot returning to Madrid again next May. Not yet, anyway.
However, this was the night when the most successful club side in Europe discovered why Mauricio Pochettino and his players have attracted so much acclaim over the last few years. It was the night Spurs fully came of age in the Champions League, Dele Alli could be seen nutmegging Sergio Ramos and, by the end, Cristiano Ronaldo was dragging his fingers down his cheeks in frustration. For Spurs, it went better than they could possibly have dared to hope and, without exaggeration, it was the sort of occasion that should embolden them to think they can actually win this competition. Yes, let’s not get too carried away, but what other conclusion is there when they have just taken apart the 12-time winners?
It certainly ranks as the most triumphant occasion yet of the Pochettino era and the damage, for Madrid, could conceivably have been even worse if Alli had not headed wide from a glorious opportunity to score his hat-trick. No matter. Alli had already struck in each half before Christian Eriksen’s breakaway goal put Spurs in dreamland, leading 3-0 against the reigning champions. Ronaldo’s goal, 10 minutes from the end, ensured a nervous finale but it would have needed an extraordinary feat of escapology to save Zinedine Zidane’s team at that stage. It never came and Spurs should not fear anyone now.
Tottenham had already supplied the hard evidence in the Bernabeu two weeks ago that they were comfortable testing themselves against elite opposition. Now they had the backing of a packed Wembley for what was, perhaps surprisingly, Madrid’s first-ever visit to this stadium, old or new. The noise was as good as any time since the team from White Hart Lane took up temporary residence. In fact, it was difficult to think of another occasion, certainly not an England international, when the volume has been turned up so high.
Madrid often had more of the ball and Ronaldo, being Ronaldo, was a difficult and elusive opponent, shimmering with menace every time he set off towards goal. Yet Spurs gave everything to show they belonged at this level. They were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and when Pochettino’s men did have the chance to go forward they moved the ball so purposefully it did not come as surprise when they found a way past the Madrid defence.
Spurs had, after all, put together a near-identical move earlier in the first half only for Alli to hang back when Kieran Trippier, fully justifying his selection ahead of Serge Aurier, drilled a first-time centre across the six-yard area. Trippier’s determination to occupy attacking positions, rather than concentrating solely on Ronaldo’s whereabouts, was a prominent feature of the night and the next time he aimed a low ball into the box Alli showed much better anticipation to make sure he reached the ball ahead of his marker, Nacho, and apply the decisive touch just in front of Kiko Casilla, Madrid’s goalkeeper.
The downside for Spurs during the opening half was the hamstring injury that forced off Toby Alderweireld a couple of minutes before the goal. Moussa Sissoko was brought on to play in midfield, with Eric Dier dropping back into defence, but the team’s shape remained exactly the same. It was another fine performance from Harry Winks, just as it had been in the Bernabeu, and Harry Kane did not seem to have any lingering issues with his fitness even if he might have expected to take the chance that fell his way just before the interval.
Kane’s muscular presence and willingness to take the ball and drive forward made him a threat all evening. Casemiro is regarded as one of the best holding midfielders in the business but, more than once, Kane just eased past the Brazilian.
The game was still fraught with danger, as it tends to be when Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Isco are playing on the other side and Marcelo is joining in attacks as an auxiliary left-winger. Hugo Lloris was one of the outstanding performers in that 1-1 draw a fortnight ago and, once again, he rose to the occasion during the spells of Madrid pressure.
Equally, Spurs had the little moments of luck that are sometimes needed on the big nights. Ten minutes into the second half, Lloris got his glove to one of Marcelo’s crosses but could not clear properly and it was Dier to whom the ball fell a couple of yards out, rather than one of the Madrid players in close proximity. Spurs sprung forward and Madrid were vulnerable from the moment Eriksen’s dummy left Alli bearing down on goal. Alli took the ball on, used Eriksen’s run as a decoy, and left Casemiro on the floor before his shot took a handy deflection off Ramos to fly in from 20 yards.
The third goal was the outstanding one, starting in the Spurs half before Alli and Kane had combined to set Eriksen running through the middle, with the time to pick his spot Ronaldo’s goal was a much scruffier occasion, turning the ball in after a goalmouth scramble, but Spurs held on and they will remember this victory for many years. – Guardian service