Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 win over BVB Dortmund in the penultimate group stage match in the Champions League was big in a couple of ways. Not only was it a great win on the road at one of Europe’s most intimidating stadiums, but it also clinched Group H (the “Group of Death”) for Spurs and ensured they’ll be a seeded club for the next round, which may slightly increase their chances of making the quarterfinals.
It was an impressive way to turn around Spurs’ fortunes after a very disappointing loss to Arsenal in the North London Derby. Winning the Group of Death is impressive enough. Doing it with a game to spare is astounding, and means that Spurs can give some reserve and youth teamers a Champions League experience against APOEL.
Here are three things we learned from Tottenham’s win over Dortmund in Germany.
1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Rose has been in the news lately for mostly the wrong reasons. But after being left at the training ground for Saturday’s North London Derby, Rose made the most of his chances on Tuesday night in a very solid performance on the left flank.
After missing nine months due to injury, this was clearly Rose’s best match since his return. He looked a little cautious and conservative in the first half at the Signal Iduna, but seemed to revert to form in the second, pushing forward with aplomb and setting up Christian Eriksen for two chances, including a fizzing cross to the inside of Eriksen’s boot. He also was solid defensively, helping cope with the threat of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and especially Andriy Yarmolenko on his side of the pitch.
It’d be unfair to say that Rose has eclipsed or even equaled Ben Davies as the first-choice left back for Tottenham Hotspur. One good game of football and an England call doesn’t mean he’s going to be slotted right back into the side for every match. But after getting snubbed on Derby day, Rose put in the kind of performance that’s bound to make Pochettino think long and hard about his team selection going forward.
2. Dele Alli dropped deeper, and he played better. Thinky-face.
With Eric Dier deputizing in central defense, Victor Wanyama still injured, and Mousa Dembele having played in the North London Derby, Spurs didn’t have anyone who could be rightly considered a holding midfielder to play against Dortmund. That, plus Poch’s desire to want to fit Son Heung-Min in the side, meant that Spurs rolled out a three-man midfield of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli ahead of Harry Winks.
Interestingly enough, while Dele has had his struggles playing as a second striker in the Premier League, against Dortmund in a deeper position he looked more comfortable, and played with a sense of freedom that has been somewhat unusual for him this season. He was much more engaged in the press, and seemed to relish setting up Kane and Son, capped by his exquisite move to get beyond Marc Bartra and tee up Sonny’s game-winning strike.
While Dele’s role has moved higher up the pitch since coming to Spurs, we know he’s a good central midfielder as that was his position at MK Dons. I’m not saying Spurs should move him back into the pivot permanently, but he looked a lot less frustrated a player last night than he has in his recent league games. I would like to see if perhaps pushing him deeper in Premier League might open up new opportunities for Dele to expand his game. If nothing else, it’s one way that Spurs can get both him and Son Heung-Min in the same side more often.
3. This Tottenham team can beat anyone.
If Spurs’ Champions League campaign has shown anything, it’s that they belong to play among the best of Europe. Taking four points in 180 minutes against Real Madrid and six against Dortmund is quite simply impressive. Even with Dortmund in a down year, for Spurs to not only advance but win the Group of Death is a strong sign that they can play with — and even beat — any team still in the competition.
The draw for the first knock-out stage can be capricious, of course, but teams that win their Champions League groups statistically tend to go further in the competition (if only for just being better than the others). That’s borne out by Spurs, according to one metric, now having a near 60% chance of making the quarterfinals.
Will they win the Champions League? Probably not. But they have set themselves up to make a deep run into the competition. One thing’s for sure: whichever big teams end up finishing second in their groups, whether that’s Bayern, Juventus, Roma, or even Barcelona, are NOT going to want to draw Tottenham Hotspur in the next round.
BONUS: Isn’t Winksy great?
I don’t have anything really profound to say about Harry Winks except that he has played really really well in a holding midfield position in the Champions League against top-drawer competition, and I just want to hug him almost every time I see him play. Isn’t he just the best?