Ten minutes into last night’s Champions League tie against Italian giants Juventus, you’d forgive Spurs fans for fearing the worst. Two goals down and all at sea, Tottenham resembled a punch-drunk boxer on the ropes, gasping for air and for the referee’s bell.
Social media was rife with retorts and over-zealous opposition fans sticking the boot into English football’s perennial ‘bottle-jobs’. Piers Morgan was chief among them, sharing two laughing emojis Tottenham’s way.
It was the worst possible start for Spurs. Juventus have not lost a Champions League game at home since Bayern Munich beat them in 2014, and they’re recent form has been peerless; unbeaten since November, they hadn’t conceded a goal all year up until last night. Go back even further and they’ve kept 15 clean sheets in the past 16 games. In short, they’ve been one of the most in-form sides in Europe recently, so to be 2-0 down to them away from home after 8 minutes represents disaster.
Tottenham didn’t fold, however, nor did they change tack and adopt a damage-limitation approach when they were two down. Instead, they stuck to their guns, composed themselves and went about their usual game. It may have taken 15 minutes, but Tottenham finally arrived in the game when Harry Kane went down in the box to limited appeals. Kane may have gone down too easy, but the build up to the incident was promising and showed that Juventus were vulnerable at the back.
Minutes later, that man Harry Kane popped up again, although this time he missed a gilt-edged chance. A brilliant cross from Christian Eriksen put the ball on a plate for Kane, who just had to direct it passed Gianluigi Buffon. Instead, he headed the ball straight at the Italian legend, who saved well and kept Spurs at bay.
The breakthrough came not long after. A Dele Ali through ball put Harry Kane one-on-one with Buffon, and this time the striker didn’t fluff his chance. He forced Buffon into committing himself before rounding him expertly and passing into an empty net. It was a goal that had been coming since Juventus’ eight minute penalty and the least Spurs deserved. A genius Christian Eriksen free-kick midway through the second-half levelled the tie.
It’s important not to get too carried away with the result; Juventus were missing a certain superstar in the form of Paulo Dybala, along with their midfield lynchpin, Blaise Matuidi. They’ll be a more offensive outfit at Wembley, given that they’ll need to score at least one, probably two or three, to stand a chance of progressing into the quarter-finals.
Looking at the other Premier League sides still left in the competition, you can’t help but wonder how they would’ve respectively dealt with the scenario of being two goals down within ten minutes away in Turin.
Manchester United’s away approach in big games is very questionable under Jose Mourinho, and it seems unlikely they’d have rallied as well as Spurs did last night. If anything, they’d have floundered for longer in the first half and perhaps have found themselves a third goal down before they awoke from their slumber.
Chelsea, likewise, do not have the mentality to recover from such a deficit, whilst Liverpool would’ve displayed a similar attacking response to how Tottenham rallied last night, but they would’ve surrendered all defensive solidity and left themselves open to counter attacks. City probably wouldn’t have found themselves two-down so early on, but they’re perhaps the only English side who wouldn’t have been daunted by such a scenario last night.
The point is, last night Tottenham displayed a determination and resilience that they have seldom shown before this season. Perhaps it is too unfair to suggest Tottenham arrived on the big stage last night; if anything, they were already there.
Their display in the group stage eradicated any fears that they were the ‘same old Spurs’. Topping a group containing Borussia Dortmund and holders Real Madrid, beating the former home and away and defeating the latter at home, showed they can stand shoulder-to-soulder against any side in Europe.
Their past four matches, too, have shown Spurs have the mettle to compete with the best. Since the start of this month, they’ve salvaged a last-gasp draw at Anfield, comprehensively defeated Man United at home, silenced their troubled neighbours Arsenal in a North London derby, and held Juventus to a draw in Italy. No matter what side you are, you’d be delighted with those four results.
Spurs need to finish the job at Wembley in three weeks’ time, but they’ve given themselves the best opportunity to do so. In the league, the pressure is still onto to even finish in the top 4 – consistency is probably the last hurdle they have to overcome to at last be considered a ‘big side’. From ‘lads, it’s Tottenham’ to one of the continent’s most promising sides, the progress they’ve made under manager Mauricio Pochettino has been spectacular. Long may it continue.