Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League was an excellent match to watch if you were a Spurs fan, or if you were a neutral. The two clubs scored three goals in the opening 15 minutes and played at a frenetic, breakneck pace. We got to see the emergence of Harry Kane on football’s biggest stage, and Spurs got a statement win in a competition and a stadium that was not especially kind to them last year.
What can we take away from this match as Spurs reorient to this weekend’s Premier League match against Swansea City? Instead of doing individual player ratings, let’s take a look at a few lessons that we learned about Tottenham after last night’s match at Wembley Stadium.
Pochettino unexpectedly switched up his tactics, and it worked
Against Dortmund, most of us expected a gegenpress-apalooza, with both teams pushing high and trying to force the other team into making a mistake. Instead, Pochettino did almost the complete opposite: he instructed his side to sit back, concede possession, and try and hit back on the counterattack. This is highly irregular for a Mauricio Pochettino side, and it had most of us scratching our heads wondering why the heck we weren’t harrying Dortmund’s midfield.
But it worked! Spurs were able to strike back quickly when they got the ball, trusting that the pace of Son Heung-Min and strength of Harry Kane would lead them to goals. They also trusted their defensive line to be able to deal with the threat of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Christian Pulisic. Dortmund wasn’t expecting those tactics, and Spurs were able to surprise them enough times to get the victory.
In a game played at a ridiculous tempo for much of the match, Pochettino’s adjusted tactics not only made the difference, but also showed that Poch might be beginning to lose some of that dogmatic tactical thinking from earlier in his career in favor of flexibility and surprise.
Ben Davies is turning into a legitimately good wingback.
I won’t belabor the point, as Jake Meador has already made an excellent case for Ben Davies earlier today. But it’s worth reiterating: although Davies is a different fullback from Danny Rose, Wednesday night’s excellent performance against Dortmund (along with last Saturday’s Everton match) have shown that he can certainly be an effective fullback for Tottenham Hotspur. With Rose not back until October at the earliest, that is invaluable.
The back three looks like the way forward.
When Spurs signed Davinson Sanchez this summer, I expected a period of growing pains and adaptation before Pochettino switched to a back three that included the Colombian defender. Ironically, the injury to Victor Wanyama may have accelerated the timetable: with Eric Dier now needed in central midfield, Poch could have either reverted to the 4-2-3-1 with which he started the season, or thrown Sanchez into the fire.
He opted for the latter, and it’s worked out very well. Sanchez has proven himself to be extremely capable with the ball at his feet and very composed in the center of a back three formation, which is not an especially easy role. He had a few minor hiccups against a very good Dortmund side, but none that were egregious enough for me to think that he’s not quite ready for the job.
No doubt it helps that he has Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld on either side of him to help him along, but the 21-year old Sanchez is already impressing in Spurs’ back line. He faced a stiff test against a high-powered Dortmund attack, and he passed.
Can we stop talking about the Wembley Curse now?
It was silly and dumb before last night’s match. Now it’s fully debunked. Let’s never mention it again.