5 talking points from Tottenham’s 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Tottenham ended their run of defeats at Wembley Stadium by beating CSKA Moscow 3-1, finishing third in Group E of the Champions League and thereby qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League. Here are five talking points.
1. An anti-climax – but there will be another chapter
When it comes to club football, trips to Wembley are usually synonymous with the biggest games and the most exciting occasions. Trips to the national stadium have to be earned and the hours before kick-off should be full of nervous anticipation.
Tottenham’s first two Champions League group games fitted the bill in that respect, but tonight’s meeting with CSKA Moscow felt very different, and much less exciting.
There should have been something riding on this game, it should have been an occasion to savour, but instead the walk up Wembley Way only underlined the sense of an anti-climax after a hugely disappointing return to Europe’s top table.
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The arena seemed too big, too grand, for an encounter where two wounded teams were attempting to avoid the wooden spoon and secure qualification for the Europa League – a prize which some Tottenham fans do not even want.
At the same time, the walk towards the world-famous arch reinforced the feeling that Spurs have unfinished business in Europe, and tonight’s victory means there will be at least one more chapter to the story this season.
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Despite the understandable reservations about the effect that Europa League exertions can have on a side’s league campaign, the prospect of a knock-out continental tie under the world-famous arch is an enticing one – even if the showdown will not be in the Champions League, as everyone would originally have hoped.
2. Mauricio Pochettino opts for a strong line-up
Tottenham’s manager stated in the build-up to the game that he wanted to win it, but few expected him to take it quite so seriously.
There was only one change from the side that had faced Swansea in the Premier League on Saturday, with Harry Winks replacing Mousa Dembele in midfield.
Indeed, Pochettino’s line-up was stronger than the one he had selected for the previous Champions League game in Monaco.
On that occasion he had left both Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Walker on the bench, and the ensuing 2-1 defeat ended Spurs’ chance of progressing from their group.
Now, with their fate already sealed, Pochettino was suddenly fielding his best available rearguard and the majority of his other favoured stars, despite the imminence of Sunday’s trip to Manchester United.
It was a confusing approach - but perhaps the Argentinean was learning from his mistakes, having been punished for trusting inferior fringe players. Perhaps he was unwilling to risk losing all three Champions League games at Wembley
Or maybe, just maybe, the plan has been to win the Europa League all along. After all, if you go out of the Champions League in the last 16 or quarter-finals, you get nothing. Win the Europa League, on the other hand, and you get a ticket back into the Champions League, without having to finish in the top four in the highly competitive Premier League. It might just be genius.
3. Spurs finally look at home at Wembley
Tottenham had lost their previous six competitive meetings at the national stadium but they ended that hoodoo tonight.
Like Swansea on Saturday, CSKA were very limited and offered scant resistance, but the Lilywhites nonetheless looked more like their usual selves, especially when it came to the full-backs, who finally made use of the width of the Wembley pitch.
Walker enjoyed acres of space on the right side and effectively played as a winger, attacking the box time and again. Meanwhile Rose set up Spurs’ second goal after running in behind the defence and delivering a super first-time cross for Harry Kane, who scored his seventh goal in six games since returning from injury.
Spurs now have some positive memories to take away from Wembley, and that will surely help when they next return to Brent in the new year – and next season too.
4. Eric Dier’s costly complacency
Tottenham’s defenders had a relatively quiet evening but Spurs still had to come from behind to win after conceding the opener, completely against the run of play.
There seemed little danger as CSKA launched a routine long ball forward, but when Jan Vertonghen lost the header, Alan Yelizbarovich Dzagoev was suddenly in behind Dier, through on goal, and he slotted past Hugo Lloris.
Vertonghen will undoubtedly be flattered that his fellow centre-back had so much faith in his aerial prowess that he didn’t bother to track his man. But, having had precious little else to do in the match, Dier’s complacency was unforgiveable.
He has made too many errors in Toby Alderweireld’s absence and there is little doubt that the Belgian – who came off the bench in the second half to a standing ovation - will start at Old Trafford at the weekend.
5. Eriksen is back on form
The Dane has consistently played in patches for a while now – good spells are followed by maddeningly poor periods when he struggles to justify his place in the team.
During October and most of November he offered little, and Spurs suffered as a result, but he is now peaking again.
Eriksen had scored three times in his previous two games and he produced a sparkling display against CSKA, oozing creativity and playing a key role in Spurs’ first-half goals with passes or crosses from the right side.
He also worked hard, pressing diligently and issuing instructions to his team-mates when the hosts were out of possession.
His return to form is welcome as Tottenham go into the Christmas period. The only frustration is that it has taken so long for him to show what he can do in the Champions League, and that this show of class and application came when Spurs were already out of the competition.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs