Last week started off with a mixture of feelings amongst Spurs fans. With two monumental games coming up against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League and Liverpool at Wembley in the Premier League, it would provide a real marker as to how we are progressing as we pass the first third of the season.
Tuesday saw Spurs head to Madrid for one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history. Pochettino has slowly but surely moulded and built a squad which can now compete at the very highest level of club football and the 1-1 full time result against Zidane’s back to back European champions proved that. Putting in a performance like we did at the Bernabeu requires every single player in the starting eleven to put in a real shift, but there were some performances which really stood out from the rest. Harry Winks – the diminutive central midfielder who’s perhaps the least experienced player in the current Spurs side – was the metronome in the middle of a midfield which also featured World Cup winner Toni Kroos and the best Croatian player of his generation, Luka Modric. Alongside Winks, the much-maligned Moussa Sissoko was relentless, running with power and pace, disrupting the organised Madrid side who are usually so composed. However, all of the hard work would’ve counted for nothing had Madrid scored more goals than us. Hugo Lloris played a huge part in the result last Tuesday, putting in a performance which further went to strengthen fans’ claim that he’s one of the best goalkeepers anywhere in Europe. Alderwiereld was his usual self, pushing and pulling a back 4 which included the excellent Sanchez next to him who matched Ronaldo all game for strength and pace, whilst Vertonghen on the left hand side of the back 4 ensured very little got past him in the 90 minutes.
With Dortmund drawing against minnows APOEL in the other group game, the point gained at the Bernabeu proved to be even more valuable than first thought, with qualification for the knockout stages now very likely. It’s already been a better European campaign than last season’s by a considerable distance, with last season’s struggles in the Champions League and Europa League looking to have been a lesson the club have learnt and built on. That night against Gent at Wembley in February seems a long time ago now.
Fast forward to Sunday and Spurs faced Liverpool – very much a Jekyll and Hyde team based on previous results and performances in the League this season – at Wembley in the Sunday 4pm kickoff this week, which was shown live on Sky Sports.
With the devastating attacking force Liverpool posess in Coutinho, Firmino and Salah, Pochettino had to ensure that concentration levels did not slip for the entirety of the game, otherwise it was going to be a long, painful evening for his side. 15 minutes in and it was Liverpool – in particular Dejan Lovren – who lost their concentration early on, finding themselves go 2-0 down to a Spurs side who were teaching them a lesson going forward. Heung Min Son, who was deployed as a sort-of second striker in behind Harry Kane, exploited the defensive gaps in Liverpool’s back 4 and was causing Jurgen Klopp all sorts of headaches under the arch as the sun went down. Kane was his lethal self, adding another two goals to his ever-growing Premier League goalscoring tally, whilst Dele and Son contributed with goals to ensure Spurs coasted to a victory that was much, much more comfortable than it should’ve been.
Throw in to the mix the fact that Spurs have achieved these results in the last week without the hugely influential figures of Wanyama, Rose, Davies, Dembele and Lamela, it has further cemented Mauricio Pochettino’s reputation as one of the most talented coaches in World Football currently. With a squad and playing budget far inferior to many sides Spurs have faced (and beaten) over the last couple of years, the boss has resorted to actually having to coach the players he has at his disposal, rather than rely on bringing players in to replace those who are not up to the task. The development of Harry Winks, who has seen himself play for the England senior team and run a compeititve game at the Bernabeu, is just one of many success stories that Pochettino can be justly proud of.
Spurs are next in action against London rivals West Ham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening, with the game also being shown live on Sky Sports.