Tottenham earned a 1-1 draw against reigning European champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in Group H of the Champions League.
A Raphael Varane own goal gave Spurs a first-half lead before Cristiano Ronaldo levelled with a penalty.
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Mauricio Pochettino selects both Harry Kane and Fernando Llorente
Having been without seven players for the previous Champions League outing against Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus, Mauricio Pochettino again found himself without a handful of key men at the Bernabeu.
In addition to long-term absentees Erik Lamela and Victor Wanyama, he was unable to call upon Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou or Ben Davies, while Danny Rose was not fit enough to start.
Unable to name either of his top two left-backs in his starting line-up, Pochettino asked Jan Vertonghen to fill in again, like against Bournemouth on Saturday – but this time he included the Belgian in a back five rather than a back four.
With Eric Dier dropping into central defence, the midfield pretty much picked itself – Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen – but the surprise came at the top of the pitch, where Llorente was preferred to Heung-Min Son, the Spaniard making only his second start for the club.
Was it the right move? It is hard to say. There was a moment midway through the first half when Llorente intercepted a pass with acres of space in front of him – but, lacking the pace to take advantage, he passed backwards. Son would have been running at Real’s box.
On the other hand, Llorente was twice involved in the creation of Spurs’ best chance of the second half, first winning a header and then playing a first-time pass to free Kane in front of goal.
Son may have provided more pace on the break but Pochettino will probably feel his decision was justified, and he only summoned the South Korean from the bench in the 89th minute when Sissoko was injured.
By that time, Spurs’ manager had already sprung another surprise by bringing on Rose for his first appearance since January, asking him to play on the left side of midfield for the final 10 minutes.
It suggests there is truly no lingering ill-feeling after Rose’s controversial newspaper interview in August. But what must Son have been thinking?
Tottenham wisely sit back to defend the early assaults
Pochettino was clear in the build-up to the match that he had no intention of sitting back in Madrid, and the selection of Llorente confirmed his desire to be positive.
Initially, though, Spurs were forced to defend, and it was encouraging to see them accepting that fact and adopting a reserved approach with five defenders across the box rather than rushing out naively and leaving themselves open to an early setback in an attempt to make a statement.
They had to survive a few scares – Cristiano Ronaldo headed against the post in just the fifth minute while Karim Benzema missed the rebound – but eventually Tottenham were able to start coming forward and show more of their creative qualities.
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While Eriksen was unusually quiet, Winks was particularly influential and once again showed great confidence on the big stage, playing a key role in the build-up to the opening goal.
This was a good example of how to manage the first half of away games such as these. It is great to be positive but an element of pragmatism is also needed, especially in the earliest exchanges. Spurs got it spot on.
Serge Aurier cancels out his assist with another rash decision
The Ivorian had previously been sent off against West Ham and then substituted in the 57th minute against Apoel in Cyprus. This was his first start for three matches, and he had an eventful first half, showing his quality but also a major weakness.
It was Aurier who set up Spurs’ opener, getting forward down the right side and whipping in a dangerous low cross which forced an own goal from Raphael Varane.
Amusingly, Sissoko said in the build-up to this game that he had spoken to Varane – his fellow France international – and joked “if you can give me a penalty it would be good!”. Varane ended up going one better.
However, Aurier was then at fault when Real equalised shortly before half time, sliding in on Toni Kroos and conceding a penalty despite Spurs having plenty of other players in the box.
Aurier had needlessly gone to ground on a few occasions against West Ham, notably when he got his second yellow card, and this was another rash and costly decision.
There was a similar story around the hour-mark. One moment Aurier played a neat one-two with Sissoko, beat the next man and put in another good low cross. Moments later, after trapping Kroos by Real’s by-line, he stupidly bundled his opponent over and gifted him a free kick.
In the end Aurier ended up in credit and his relationship with Sissoko continues to look promising. He just needs to stay on his feet when hunting the ball.
The second half was a tale of two keepers
In an open game, there could have been a number of goals after the interval – but Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas produced heroics to keep their opponents out.
Benzema seemed certain to score as he met a cross at close range, but Lloris stuck out a foot to deny him. Soon after, when Ronaldo got in behind Spurs’ defence and unleashed a fierce strike, Tottenham’s captain stuck out a hand to divert the ball over the bar.
At the other end, Kane finally got his big opportunity and sent his shot towards the bottom right corner, only to see Real’s custodian somehow tip the ball around the post. Later, when Eriksen aimed an effort towards the near top corner, Navas again repelled it.
While most of the pre-match build-up focused on Ronaldo, Kane and the attacking talent on show, Lloris and Navas underlined why they belong in such company.
Indeed, at the risk of banging on about Pep Guardiola’s “Harry Kane team” comment ad infinitum, here was another game where Kane failed to score and Spurs secured a valuable result anyway. His ‘supporting cast’ are quite handy themselves.
Spurs continue to enhance their reputation in Europe
What a difference a year makes. Spurs were eliminated in the group stage last campaign, disappointingly finishing below both Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen – but, 12 months on, they have picked up seven points from three games in a tougher group.
Tottenham’s previous victories over Borussia Dortmund and Apoel Nicosia meant they could probably have afforded to lose in Madrid this evening, but they held the reigning European champions to a draw.
Meanwhile, Dortmund were only able to pick up a 1-1 draw against Apoel in Cyprus – a bonus for Spurs, who remain six points clear of both clubs having just got their toughest fixture out of the way.
Usually, 10 points secure a place in the knockout stages, and on that basis Tottenham only need another three – with a home game against Apoel to come.
Rather than suffering a chastening defeat against Ronaldo and co, Spurs have actually increased their margin for error in Group H tonight. If the rest of Europe wasn’t paying attention before, they surely are now.
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