Hugo Lloris wanted to “show the face of Tottenham” here at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he did exactly that, inspiring an evening of personality, bravery and individual brilliance as Spurs earned a heroic 1-1 draw.
It was a night full of stars but captain Lloris was the best, holding Real Madrid at bay and making a save from a Karim Benzema header that will be seen millions of times before it can ever be understood. He denied Cristiano Ronaldo twice more in the second half and the only time Ronaldo or Real beat him all night was from the penalty spot.
But this was about more than just one-man resistance. Spurs played with real character, digging in when they needed to, anchored by Toby Alderweireld, but nor were they afraid to play. Harry Winks played the game of his life in central midfield, never once looking overwhelmed by a stage that could have done that to him. Fernando Llorente, drafted in to play alongside Kane up front, did tireless, selfless work and laid on a chance for Kane to win the game at the end, which he surprisingly missed.
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Kane did force Spurs’ goal, which went in off Raphael Varane, but this win was about far more than him. It was about a young team doing just what Pochettino wanted, and showing how far they had come.
The fear beforehand was that Spurs might get overwhelmed when confronted with what Pochettino described as “the reality of football”. This is the best team in the world, with the best players, and better teams than Tottenham have failed to stop them. When Achraf Hakimi escaped behind emergency left wing-back Jan Vertonghen, setting up a Ronaldo header against the post, it was hard not to fear the worst.
But what was so impressive was how, after surviving the early onset, Spurs got into the game. Yes they had to do plenty of defending but with the ball they caused problems. Pochettino surprised everyone pairing Harry Kane with Fernando Llorente and it worked. Kane’s header from a corner forced a save, and when he skinned Sergio Ramos and crossed for Llorente, Casemiro’s clumsy tackle could have led to a penalty.
Sure enough Spurs’ pressure earned them the lead. Harry Winks looked remarkably assured all night and his clever touch and pass sent Serge Aurier away down the right. Aurier whipped a first-timer to the near post towards Kane. He could not turn it in but by a stroke of luck, Raphael Varane did.
A white onslaught followed. Isco forced a save from Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema headed just wide and Spurs needed half-time. They were four minutes away when Modric and Benzema combined to release Kroos in the box. Aurier stretched and tripped him, and the Szymon Marciniak gave the penalty. Ronaldo sent Lloris the wrong way and the two teams went in level.
The waves of white continued after the restart and it took a save of the century from Lloris to stop Madrid from going 2-1 up. Achraf teed up Casemiro on the right and he clipped a cross into the middle of the box to meet Karim Benzema’s thumping header. Lloris threw himself to dive full to his right, away from the ball, but with his preternatural reflexes he stuck out a trailing leg to push the ball away. It was a save worth as much as a goal.
Still Real piled forward as the game opened up. Winks, otherwise immaculate, lost the ball to Isco, who sent Ronaldo dashing forward. One on one with Alderweireld, he beat him and lashed a shot that Lloris tipped over. But Ronaldo was now alive and in the game. For his next trick he nutmegged Davinson Sanchez, forcing Lloris to go down to deny him again.
The more Real bet on a winner, the more chance Spurs had of one of their own. Kane should have got it, when with 20 minutes left Eriksen found Llorente who played him through first time. Kane has 15 goals in his last 11 games, many harder than this one, but his finished was predictable and Keylor Navas tipped it wide. But they kept going and three minutes later they were in again. Llorente flicked a long ball on, Eriksen raced through, but from a difficult angle he could only find the side-netting.
That was the end of Llorente who was soon taken off for Danny Rose, whose last game for Spurs, before a knee injury, was on 31 January. But after only one week of full training he was back, and playing in midfield too. Pochettino is certainly not afraid to try things, not even on the biggest night of his life. It was one that he and his team passed with one point, but with flying colours.