Each time I begin to believe that I’ve seen it all from Mauricio Pochettino, he performs one last trick that The Magic Circle should send their Chief Investigators out to … er, investigate.
When we played top-of-the-Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of our tie, they had the excuse that key players were missing (as if we didn’t). Well with the majority of their key men back, we beat them again. We didn’t just beat them again, though. We first frustrated them like I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a Spurs team frustrate anyone, before hitting them on the counter. And we arguably should have had a penalty too. And we had Moussa Sissoko in midfield!!!
And we din’t just have Moussa Sissoko in midfield — we had Moussa Sissoko, having undergone one of the greatest transformations I’ve ever witnessed — instrumental in our midfield, and getting the vital assist. A magician, I tell you.
Pochettino made a slight tweak for this match, switching from a back three to a genuine back five. Ahead of them, we started with the 3-2 shape, but this was quickly switched to a 4-1 shape. Marco Reus was finding pockets of space behind Sissoko and was looking like he was building up to a goal. Time after time I’ve seen Pochettino do nothing, believing that his tactical set-up will ultimately come through (more often than not to positive effect). This time he made a bold decision and he made it early and it worked a treat. Son moved to play narrow on the left, Eriksen played narrow on the right, and Sissoko joined Winks in the middle of midfield. Reus stopped finding those pockets.
Spurs saw out a flurry of early attacks, with crucial interventions from various players, but particularly Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris, and gained a foothold in the match, ultimately restricting Dortmund to what pundits might refer to as ‘half-chances’ and what analysts may refer to as ‘low-xG chances’.
I’ll stop talking tactics as this match went beyond that and into the intangibles that Pochettino has made tangible. I have rarely witnessed, in my time watching Spurs, such drive, determination and sheer will to win in a Spurs side as was present in this match. It reminded me of Juventus’ performance at Wembley last season.
There were bodies flying at the ball, last ditch slide tackles, 10 outfield players supremely focussed on getting back into their position any time they vacated it, and a goalkeeper with the most stunning reflexes.
Pochettino’s Spurs are generally known for their attacking swagger, their incessant press (though less so in recent times), and for goalscoring pin-ups like Harry Kane, Dele and Son Heung-min. This was the defence’s time to shine (though Kane still stole some of the headlines, as ever *heart eyes emoji*).
Despite a terrible run of recent form, preceded by a terrible run of luck with injuries, Spurs progress into the Quarter-finals of the Champions League, are still clinging onto third place in the table, and are making noises about moving ‘home’ in the not too distant future.
Our glasses are half full again, and Pochettino’s handkerchiefs are back up his sleeve… until next time.