They did it, but it could hardly be called easy. Tottenham Hotspur went into the Westfalenstadion on Tuesday night with a 3-0 lead over Dortmund in the Champions League, but with the understanding that things could change in a hurry. It was pretty scary for the whole of the first half with Dortmund keeping Spurs on their heels and pushing for a quick goal that could cause Tottenham to crumble.
But it never came. Spurs held on by their fingernails in the first half thanks to some outstanding defending, and Harry Kane scored early in the second half to give Spurs an unassailable 4-0 aggregate lead and a critical away goal. Tottenham advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in nearly a decade, winning 1-0.
It’s a weird game to analyze because the tie was basically over four minutes into the second half, but there are a few things we can take away from this match in Germany.
1. Hugo Lloris is good at football.
Dortmund were far and away the better side in the first half and deserved at least one goal if not more. They were bailed out in a big way by Hugo Lloris, who had a number of key saves, none better than two in quick succession towards the end of the half — a reaction stop from a Julian Weigl header, and a diving parry moments later to slap away a shot from Mario Götze. Lloris also was in a good position to deny a close range blast from Jadon Sancho. Hugo was magnificent in Germany, and without him Spurs would’ve been in deep, deep trouble.
2. Harry Kane is also good at football.
Tottenham didn’t have many opportunities to score in this match. They only capitalized on one, and it was enough. Five minutes into the second half, Harry Kane scored a beauty with his first real look at Dortmund’s goal, effectively putting the nail in the Bundesliga co-leaders’ coffin. After that, the wind went right out of Dortmund’s sails, and while they had a couple of looks at goal afterwards, the series was basically over.
This is what Harry Kane can bring to a team. Sometimes all he needs is one decent look.
3. Tottenham’s robust defense was the difference.
In some ways this match was similar to the last time Spurs came to Signal Iduna in the group stages of last year’s Champions League. In both matches, Spurs were pinned back early by Dortmund pressure, in both matches Harry Kane scored within minutes of the second half restarting, and in both matches, Spurs eventually came out the victors thanks to solid defense and the offense capitalizing on a few good chances.
Dortmund looked very much like the dominant side in Tuesday’s match, pressing Spurs high from the opening kick of the first half and maintaining the bulk of the possession. But excluding Lloris’ heroics for a second, Spurs’ overall defense was exceptional. Jan Vertonghen in particular had a fantastic match, making a couple of critical last-gasp challenges that prevented Dortmund shot opportunities, and both Ben Davies and Serge Aurier were content to stay deep and defend; Davies also had a critical block in the first half.
xG map for Dortmund - Tottenham. It was far from pretty but a bus-parking Spurs side did what they needed to get through. pic.twitter.com/BaBatm5orP— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) March 5, 2019
After the frantic opening 15 minutes, Mauricio Pochettino instructed Son Heung-Min to drop out of the support striker role and move to the wing, forming a 5-4-1 formation. That allowed Spurs to stay organized and disciplined on defense, and they responded by defending for their lives. Spurs were well up to the challenge of keeping Dortmund’s attacking band of Sancho, Marco Reus, Götze, and Paco Alcacer in check.
The match flipped after Kane’s goal and Dortmund took their foot off the gas after that, but Spurs also never really pushed for a second either, knowing the one goal was enough. It was one of Tottenham’s best defensive performances of the season.
Spurs now await the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals, which will take place on March 15.