Coming of age performance from Spurs or season?
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Many labelled Wednesday’s win as a pivotal moment for Tottenham and they are right, but surely this whole campaign shows a new side to this team
When Jan Vertonghen smashed home on the volley from a brilliant Serge Aurier cross it was almost assured, but Fernando Llorente’s header just three minutes later, with 86 on the clock at Wembley Stadium, made it 100 per cent confirmed for Spurs.
Not their passage to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but the fact they had won a knock-out game at home in this format of the competition for the first time.
Tottenham Hotspur have won the European Cup Winners’ Cup before and the UEFA Cup twice, but their history in the 1992-rebranded tournament is not comparable to those truly ‘glory, glory days’.
Since adding a group stage to the competition and being title the Champions League, Spurs have only taken part on four occasions.
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Three of them have occurred in the last three seasons, but until this week the N17 club had yet to triumph in the knock-out phase.
Under Harry Redknapp, they held AC Milan to a goalless draw at White Hart Lane in 2011 before Real Madrid beat them 1-0 at home in the quarter-finals.
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It took Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival for Tottenham to play in the Champions League again and last season they suffered a 2-1 loss to Juventus at Wembley in the round of 16 second leg.
During the game against the Italians, Spurs showed signs of naïvety and yet on this occasion, the shoe was on the other foot.
Borussia Dortmund shaded the first 45 in Brent, but Tottenham defended well, and a superb save by Hugo Lloris ensured it was goalless at the break.
After weathering the storm, plus some tactical tweaks by Pochettino, Spurs came out a different animal and they fully deserved their 3-0 win.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their victory was the phase between Heung-min Son’s 47th minute opener and Vertonghen’s goal with seven minutes left.
Dortmund, despite trailing 1-0, hardly threatened and the only stop Lloris had to make was a routine one from Mahmoud Dahoud.
The Black and Yellows were unable to put together creative moves because they were unable to get hold of the ball.
Spurs kept possession excellently and slowly it tired out the visitors and then, like they have done with regularity recently, they scented blood late on.
It was a real coming of age performance in the Champions League from this team, but in truth it goes further than that.
Previously Tottenham have played well and yet somehow lost in big games with Juventus at home last season springing to mind, Chelsea in the 2017 FA Cup semi-final another prime example and the 2015 League Cup final against the Blues a similar story.
This year, however, it feels like that has changed and even Spurs’ most recent major disappointment pointed towards a big improvement.
While Tottenham lost out on penalties to Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals last month, the fact they forced spot-kicks without Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son was a sign of maturity, especially in front of a vociferous Stamford Bridge crowd.
Now this victory, in another big game, shows Pochettino’s team really are learning from past experiences.
Already this season they have won away to Manchester United and Arsenal and while those clubs are not the forces they once were, those results remain impressive.
In 2019, Tottenham have backed themselves in big home games against Chelsea and Dortmund and got the job done and confidence is growing all the time.
Kane and Alli should be back for the second leg in Germany and previous many noted it may help Spurs get through, but should we now wonder if it will help the team challenge for this title?
Since the start of the 2017/18 season, Tottenham have beaten Real Madrid, drawn at Barcelona and dismantled Dortmund on more than one occasion in Europe.
One of Liverpool and Bayern Munich will exit at this stage of the competition and so will either Atletico Madrid or Juventus.
There is still work to be done at the Westfalenstadion, but Spurs should progress into the quarter-finals and then this team can dare to dream.
After achieving mission impossible in the group stage, now this Tottenham squad and Pochettino are eyeing more glorious European nights this season and who knows where it will end.