When the Champions League group stage was drawn, Tottenham Hotspur supporters couldn’t believe their bad luck at having to face back-to-back defending champions Real Madrid. But after Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Los Merengues, Spurs are on top of Group H.
The match was very back-and-forth to start, but Spurs settled in and started to take control around the 11 minute mark when Harry Kane had a shot on goal saved. Tottenham’s plans took a hit in the 24th minute when Toby Alderweireld had to be substituted due to a hamstring injury, but his team took over the match without him just three minutes later.
Dele Alli scored the opener for Spurs, finishing off an impressive team move. Harry Winks set it up with a switch to the right flank that was perfectly placed for Kieran Trippier to hit a first-time cross. The ball skidded across the six-yard box, and Dele slid to poke it into the back of the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both got efforts on target before the break but couldn’t beat Hugo Lloris. With his team struggling to create or prevent good chances, Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane switched away from the 4-4-2 diamond he started with into a 3-5-2 formation. It didn’t help.
Dele scored his second goal of the match in the 56th minute, finishing off a counter attack that he did most of the work on himself. After picking up the ball from Eric Dier 40 yards from goal, he dribbled past Casemiro on two occasions, then hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area that deflected off Sergio Ramos and floated past Madrid goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
Tottenham’s forwards combined for another goal less than 10 minutes after that with Christian Eriksen getting on the scoreboard. Dele started the attack with a direct ball to Kane, who held it up and passed perfectly into the path of a wide-open Eriksen, and he shot past Casilla from 12 yards.
Ronaldo got on the board in the 80th minute, finishing from close range after Spurs failed to clear a cross by Marcelo. But Los Merengues couldn’t add to their tally and left Wembley Stadium with no points.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Vertonghen, Sanchez, Alderweireld (Sissoko 24’), Davies, Trippier, Dier, Winks (Dembele 66’), Eriksen, Dele, Kane (Llorente 79’)
Goals: Dele (27’, 56’), Eriksen (65’)
Real Madrid: Casilla; Marcelo, Ramos, Nacho, Hakimi, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric (Hernandez 81’), Isco (Mayoral 74’), Ronaldo, Benzema (Asensio 74’)
Goals: Ronaldo (80’)
Three things we learned
1. So... Tottenham is just good now?
This is Mauricio Pochettino’s fourth season as Spurs manager, and his team has improved in each of them. This game was Tottenham’s fourth in Champions League this season. There’s enough of a sample to suggest that Pochettino’s Spurs, with this core group of players, is good enough to outplay any team in the world when at the top of their game. These results don’t feel like flukes anymore.
2. Zidane hasn’t figured out how to use his personnel
Madridistas are rightfully concerned about their team failing to beat Tottenham in both their matches and about Real Madrid sitting eight points behind Barcelona in La Liga. But Madrid still has arguably the best squad of players in the world. They’ve kept all of the stars from their back-to-back Champions League victories.
Despite that, Ronaldo has slowed down a bit, Gareth Bale is getting injured more often, and Asensio emerged as a superstar talent quickly than most people anticipated. Zidane hasn’t figured out how to get the most out of this squad yet. That’s fine — he should be given some time to experiment.
3. Harry Kane was effective without scoring, and didn’t get hurt
Up until lineups were released, Pochettino didn’t reveal whether or not Kane would be fit to play in this match. Not only did he play, but he made a huge contribution and got off the pitch without re-aggravating his hamstring injury. Those are big long-term wins for Spurs that go beyond just this game.