It is still incredible to believe that Tottenham Hostpur even made it to the round of 16 in this season’s Champions League. A dramatic draw at the Nou Camp against Barcelona resulted in Spur’s progression and they faced Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in the first leg. An open, expansive style of football was on the menu at Wembley Stadium.
In Roy of the Rovers stuff, it was an unlikely hero in Jan Vertonghen that proved the difference.
Wing-Back Jan Vertonghen Surprises Dortmund
Five points is the lead that Dortmund have at the top of the Bundesliga. Five points is the gap behind the leaders in the Premier League Tottenham find themselves. Two teams came up against each other who are full of talent and youth. Dortmund and Spurs are being run sensibly in a world of crazy wages and transfer fees.
The similarities were there for all to see at Wembley Stadium. Defensive football? Not a chance. From the first whistle, this was a high-octane, open and expansive football match. Mauricio Pochettino played with four centre-backs – one of them being Jan Vertonghen on the left wing. Spurs set up to use the width of the pitch and the Bundesliga leaders employed similar tactics, with young English forward Jadon Sancho showing off his blistering pace. Hugo Lloris was kept busy and his hands kept warm by Axel Witsel, Sancho and Mario Gotze, a star player that Sancho knows about from playing FIFA:
“It is crazy playing with Gotze, my friends are always asking me about it! He is such a big player.
“I know these players from playing FIFA so it is mad playing with them. And hearing the Champions League music when you walk out.”
In FIFA 19 though, you wouldn’t normally see Jan Vertonghen at left wing-back. More of that to come.
Attack, Attack, Attack.
Defence is the best form of attack but, at Wembley, both teams decided attack was the best form of attack. Lucas Moura nearly set the game alight with a sensational volley as early as the sixth minute. He took the ball down on his knee and with Roman Burki motionless in goal, the ball just passed his left-hand post.
Serge Aurier struggled against Christian Pulisic and, when beaten, committed what might be deemed a ‘professional’ foul. It was certainly a tactical foul as there was acres of space behind the Tottenham backline.
Moussa Sissoko brought down Sancho for a free kick that came to nothing and Eriksen fired over for Spurs. You simply could not take your eyes of this match.
Old Habits, Same Mistakes?
A feature of Spurs’ Champions League campaign this season has been mistakes; basic errors. One of the things that Pochettino will have stressed to his team is not to make needless errors. When Juan Foyth tried to bring the ball out on the edge of his own box, the manager must have feared the worst.
Then, Harry Winks tried to control the ball, again on the edge of his own box. Fortunately for Tottenham, neither incident led to goals, but how many times do they need to be told to play things simple when danger is around? In the Champions League, it will only be good fortune that means you are not punished.
The Main Jan
With the abundance of talent on the pitch, and that was without both teams’ top goal scorers Marco Reus and Harry Kane featuring due to injuries, the star player was not the most obvious. When the teams were released, social media nearly went into meltdown seeing Jan Vertonghen playing left wing back, but it proved to be a masterstroke.
Vertonghen stuck to his task and his cross for Heung Min-Son to volley home was a thing of artistic beauty. One touch and the Dortmund defence could only watch as Son fired the North London club into a 1-0 lead. The Belgian went on one run where he looked like he was embodying Ricky Villa, only to fire wildly over. His ‘new’ position was exciting the Spurs faithful.
Fortune Favours the Brave
Vertonghen got his goal too. A delightful cross from Serge Aurier was met by the 31-year-old who volleyed home like a seasoned striker. Fernando Llorente then sealed the match with a header on a glorious night for the North London club. Pochettino has sometimes been criticised for not having a ‘Plan B’ but he proved the doubters wrong once more by pushing Vertonghen forward. “Sometimes you have to take risks” said the Argentinian manager at the end of last season. Well, he took risks at Wembley and it paid off in fine style.
Borussia Dortmund return to action in the league when they take on bottom club Nurnberg away, who should be a lesser proposition than Tottenham proved to be. The teams will have to wait until the fifth of March to meet again. Until then, Spurs face Burnley away and Chelsea at Wembley in the Premier League.
This win will be a boost to Spurs’ confidence as they look to chase down Liverpool and Manchester City in the title race. Sometimes big games reveal a player’s hidden talent. Pochettino unearthed a wing-back in Jan Vertonghen. What a find that could be. His crossing alone could fire the North Londoners to the glory they so desire.