More magic from Mauricio and he continues to follow in Bill Nic’s footsteps
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The Spurs manager has always dreamed of this Tottenham Hotspur team fighting for ‘big trophies’ and thanks to him they are
Silverware still eludes Mauricio Pochettino, but nights like Wednesday at the Etihad are why the Tottenham Hotspur manager is so highly rated across the globe.
The Argentinian’s detractors will say it is only be a place in the Champions League semi-finals, but this is essentially uncharted territory for Spurs and yet his desire to dream big is slowly coming to fruition.
Not since the days of Bill Nicholson have the Lilywhites dared to dream they could win the European Cup.
It may have changed a lot since 1962, but Pochettino has allowed Tottenham’s fans to wonder if this team could actually do it.
Different generations would have watched the quarter-final second leg at Manchester City and for most, it would have been the first time they have seen Spurs qualify for the last four of the European Cup, now titled Champions League.
Make no bones about it, this is a remarkable achievement by Pochettino and one he can dine on for a significant period of time.
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Tottenham were meant to be out of the tournament after a 2-2 draw away to PSV on October 24 and yet they have come back from the dead so many times already.
In the home meeting with the Eredivisie club they were almost gone, the Inter Milan game at Wembley Stadium was another close shave and they were out for the most of the final group game away to Barcelona.
Somehow they keep coming back and after thrashing Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16, everyone said City would surely be too strong.
Again Spurs and more specifically Pochettino found a way and regardless of Video Assistant Referee (VAR), they deserved this result.
While the second leg was chaos from the first minute to the last and neither team had any real control, Tottenham won this quarter-final in the first leg.
Back in their new 62,062-seater stadium, Pochettino’s team produced a displayed which had the perfect blend of discipline and boldness.
Spurs remained patient, restricted City to few opportunities after Sergio Aguero’s spot-kick and took their big chance through Heung-min Son.
Pep Guardiola was confident after the first leg, but the big mistake he made was to think he could beat Tottenham by more than a single goal.
Only five times this season have Pochettino’s team lost by two goals and one of them was a makeshift XI away to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup.
This side don’t lose many and even when they do, it is not a monumental collapse like we have seen in the past from some Spurs team.
Pochettino’s bravery helped Tottenham through, but the players also showed they have learned from last season.
Many observed they were better than Juventus over two legs in the round of 16 stage, but the Old Lady made it through in 2018.
Dark arts were mentioned by the Spurs manager afterwards and we saw that in full flow at the Etihad.
Moussa Sissoko was eventually substituted in the 41st minute, but went down on two separate occasions before that.
The Frenchman, who has been colossal this season, suffered an injury with 10 minutes of the first half left.
He initially tried to carry on, but went down again in the 37th minute and yet tried to play on before eventually he dropped to the field for a third time.
Referee Cuneyt Cakir had wised up to Sissoko and Tottenham’s tactics by this point and booked the midfielder as he was substituted, but those three different breaks in play disrupted City’s flow and killed more time.
It was a perfect example of Spurs learning from past experiences and the bravery of Pochettino was displayed in this moment too when Fernando Llorente was called upon.
The Argentinian could have brought on Davinson Sanchez to shore things up from a defensive point of view or tried the Danny Rose in midfield experiment again.
But he went with Llorente and boy did it pay off in the 73rd minute in particular with the World Cup winner scoring the goal which eventually put the Londoners through on away goals.
Of course this only made the difference in the end after VAR had intervened to deny Raheem Sterling and City a glorious finish to keep their quadruple dream alive.
Christian Eriksen saw a pass hit Bernando Silva, deflect into Aguero’s path and he set up Sterling for his hat-trick in the 93rd minute.
The scenes at the Etihad were largely of insane jubilation and understandable so, but for Tottenham it was heartbreak.
And yet here is why VAR is so important and perhaps this will be the moment VAR is widely accepted in England.
Aguero was offside when the ball hit Silva and after VAR was summoned, City’s joy turned to despair while Spurs could hardly believe their luck.
Yet this wasn’t luck, this was the right decision being made to ensure the result was not settled by a glaring error.
A criticism of VAR is it will kill the emotion of the game, but last night showed it won’t and Tottenham fans were lucky enough to not only celebrate Son’s opener and Llorente’s goal once, but on two occasions after VAR ensured they were given.
While Guardiola’s dart down the touchline will haunt him for a while, VAR was not even in his mind at this point so it doesn’t look to be killing the emotion of the game.
In fact it ensured Pochettino enjoyed almost certainly the best night of his managerial career, masterminding a knock-out victory against the odds over City.
He was without Harry Kane for a lot of the 180 minutes, without Harry Winks for 90 minutes, without Moussa Sissoko for over 45 minutes and that is not even factoring in Serge Aurier, Eric Dier and Erik Lamela were unavailable. This is why he’s magic.
Pochettino was the first Tottenham manager since Nicholson to secure three top-three finishes in a row and now he can start dreaming of doing something even the great man didn’t achieve – leading Spurs to European Cup glory.