Tottenham Hotspur were just a few minutes away from an ugly victory to open their Champions League campaign, but a pair of goals from Inter Milan in the dying minutes of the match has Spurs going home empty handed — and room for improvement.
Mauricio Pochettino elected to start in the familiar 4-2-3-1 for the team’s Champions League opener, pairing Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen at center back. Serge Aurier and Ben Davies flanked them on the right and left sides, respectively, while ahead of them played Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier. Making up the attacking quartet were Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, with Lamela and Son picking up their first starts of the season.
It was the home side that started off strongly, recording three shots in the opening ten minutes, though none of them were particularly dangerous. Inter were pressing well to start the match, though, meaning a lot of the same kept coming throughout the first half. They rather easily bypassed Spurs’ midfield and had a lot of luck on the left flank. Eventually, Michel Vorm was forced into making a save, though it was after Aurier mishit a clearance that Sanchez had difficulty dealing with.
Spurs managed a few opportunities of their own, though few and far between in the first half. A few meaningful opportunities came via free kick, though Eriksen could not create shots on target off the two he took in the first half. Despite having some success running at Inter’s right back Milan Skriniar, Spurs were lucky to make it out of their own half for a majority of the first half. Things got better for the visitors as the half went on, though, as Inter had difficulty keeping up their press, but the first 45 minutes ended without a goal.
The second half was, as a result, a more even affair. The match opened up, and within the space of ten minutes, it had its first goal, courtesy of Eriksen. The midfielder took a shot from distance, only for Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to stop it. However, Eriksen pounced on the rebound on the edge of the penalty area, and after a deflection off of Joao Miranda, the ball was in the back of the net in the 53rd minute.
Almost immediately, though, Inter were looking for a goal of their own. Ivan Perisic took a shot from close range in the 57th minute, saved impressively by Vorm. Spurs and Inter traded shots and possession, with the visitors able to get the attack more involved. That said, plenty of attacks ended earlier than they should have, and while Inter’s press was not as effective in the second half, Spurs’ earlier problem areas continued to keep Inter alive.
Son eventually made way for Lucas Moura in the 66th minute, and following Lamela’s substitution for Harry Winks in tehe 73rd, Pochettino changed the formation. Moving from a 4-2-3-1, the team began playing in a 4-3-3, with Winks joining Dier and Dembele in the center of the park and Eriksen and Moura working with Kane. Once again, the Brazilian proved to be lively, but momentum was building in Inter’s favor as the match approached its end.
The fragile one goal lead Spurs held for half an hour was canceled out with four minutes plus stoppage time on the clock, as Inter were rewarded for their efforts. Kwadwo Asamoah made a run down the left side of the pitch and sent in a cross. Captain Mauro Icardi was waiting at the edge of the penalty area, and volleyed it into the back of the net on his first shot on target of the match. For Spurs, there was no one to blame for that particular strike, but the lead was gone, and it did not come back.
Inter managed their comeback with a goal two minutes into stoppage time, as Spurs once again conceded a headed goal. Stefan de Vrij got his head on the ball for a corner, with it falling to Matias Vecino near the goal, and he easily finished from there. With less than two minutes on the clock, the hosts were able to close out a victory in their first Champions League match since 2012. Spurs, meanwhile, have collected a third successive defeat for the first time since March 2014.
Thoughts on the Match
- The midfield is possibly Spurs’ biggest issue at the moment. Dier has been in terrible form this season, while Dembele looked fatigued against Inter. With Winks only just returning from injury and Victor Wanyama still out, it might be a difficult stretch of matches to come for Spurs.
- Though he was not exactly poor against Inter, Kane still looks like he is missing something. He managed a few smart runs, but ended the night without a single shot.
- Aurier was the lone bright spot of the match, perhaps having one of his best performances in a Tottenham shirt. Doing well to sniff out attacks and as an outlet further up the pitch, he is making a case for himself as the first choice starter at right back.
Next up is a league encounter with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.