What a match! Tottenham Hotspur gave its home fans something to cheer about at Wembley Stadium Tuesday night, conceding in the first minute before Harry Kane willed them back with a second half brace en route to a 2-1 Champions League win over PSV. The win keeps Spurs alive in the competition with two games to play — home to Inter Milan and at Barcelona.
This was the definition of a must-win match, and Spurs finally got their first win in the competition after four frustrating matches. Here are three things we learned about Spurs in Tuesday night’s match under the lights.
Spurs set up to attack and it worked (eventually).
It was probably out of necessity more than anything else, but facing a Champions League elimination match and a serious injury situation in midfield, Mauricio Pochettino put together a lineup that was offensively-minded in the extreme. A midfield trio of Harry Winks, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen played behind Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, and Son Heung-Min.
It was a lineup that on paper looked designed to score goals and score them quickly. And it worked, but with some caveats. Spurs conceding a stupid set piece goal in the first minute meant PSV could instantly sit deeper to try and withstand the waves and waves of attacks that Spurs threw at them in the first half. That, combined with a heroic performance from Jeroen Zoet, kept Spurs off the scoresheet until late in the second half.
But even without actually, y’know, scoring, Spurs were impressive going forward, and few looked more dangerous than Lucas Moura. The diminutive Brazilian forced several saves from Zoet, and was 8-for-8 in take-ons in this match. It was enough that when he was subbed off for Erik Lamela, the crowd actually booed.
Now take a look at perhaps the unsung hero of Tuesday’s match — central midfielder Harry Winks. Winsky was marvelous on Tuesday, with seven chances created (including one big chance), an 89% pass completion percentage, and 13 ball recoveries. Winks’ contributions in Spurs’ midfield has been up and down a bit this season, but when surrounded by Eriksen and Dele, it allowed him more time on the ball and greatly emphasized the things he does well.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning Harry Kane, who scored two goals on eight shots and could’ve had a few more if not for Zoet standing on his head, and Dele, who was three-for-four in take-ons himself, and completed 25 of 29 passes in the attacking third of the pitch, including four passes inside PSV’s penalty box.
FiveThirtyEight’s xG model gave Spurs a 3.4 to 1.0 advantage. I don’t know if such an ultra-progressive lineup would work most of the time in the Premier League. But holy Hannah, I’d sure like to find out!
Gazzaniga looks like the real deal.
Mauricio Pochettino trolled the media ahead of the match, publicly stating that he wasn’t sure who would start in goal for Spurs. Hugo Lloris was suspended after picking up a red card in Eindhoven, and Poch said he was still deciding which of Michel Vorm, Paulo Gazzaniga, and Alfie Whiteman (!) would get the nod. The inclusion of Whiteman, an academy graduate who has yet to make his first team debut for Spurs, certainly turned some heads.
In actuality, I’m not sure the decision was all that difficult. Gazzaniga has been Spurs’ cup keeper this season and has performed well in nearly every appearance between the sticks. Tuesday night was his Champions League debut and he rewarded Pochettino’s faith in him by making several key stops down the stretch to keep PSV from scoring an important second goal. He even Cruyff turned a defender! (Note to Gazinga: don’t do that very often) It’s not a stretch to say that he saved Spurs from another underwhelming (and unfair?) result.
With Michel Vorm out of contract this summer and likely to leave the club, the stage is set for Gazzaniga to step up as Lloris’ primary deputy, and he’s earned it. He could easily start for any number of mid-table Premier League clubs, and while he has no chance of dislodging club captain Lloris even in the midst of an underwhelming season, Gazzaniga seems to have earned the trust of his gaffer, his teammates, and the Spurs fanbase.
Spurs kept their slim Champions League hopes alive.
Saying this was a must-win for Tottenham to advance in the Champions League wasn’t hyperbole, this time. After drawing PSV in Eindhoven, Spurs’ path was clear: win as many games as they can and hope Inter drops points along the way. That’s exactly what happened.
Spurs’ win over PSV was diminished somewhat by Inter snatching a late goal and drawing 1-1 with Barcelona. That leaves Spurs with four points, three behind Inter with 7, with the Italians coming to Wembley Stadium on November 28
There are lots of permutations that come into play after that with various tiebreakers, goal differentials, etc. but the main point is this: if Spurs can beat Inter, in their final match against Barcelona they would need to at least match or preferably better the result that Inter has at PSV in the final match of the season. It’s not easy to go to the Nou Camp and get a result, but by that point it’s likely that Barca will have wrapped up the group anyway and could rest their starters.
It’s not a great chance, but it’s not a Lloyd Christmas chance either — FiveThirtyEight gives Spurs a 21% chance of advancing, and those are odds that are made to be beaten. And even if they fall short, Spurs are in the driver’s seat to finish third and parachute into a winnable Europa League knock-out stage. That’s how important Harry Kane’s late deflected goal was on Tuesday night.