Tottenham Can Beat Real Madrid?
Tottenham host Spanish, European and world champions Real Madrid on Wednesday in a match that could determine which of the two clubs finishes top of Champions League Group H.
Spurs are level with the Spanish giants on seven points with an identical record following the 1-1 draw in Spain. And a win at Wembley would be another significant statement for Mauricio Pochettino’s developing team.
Real have not lost in the Champions League group stage since October 2012 — 30 matches in total — but here are three ways Spurs can record a memorable victory …
Make a fast start
Tottenham flew out of the blocks against Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool, racing into a 2-0 lead in both of the landmark Wembley wins.
“We started very fast and that was the game-plan,” said Harry Kane after the 4-1 rout of Liverpool. On Wednesday, another quick start could make all the difference against a Real side still reeling from Sunday’s shock 2-1 defeat at Girona in La Liga.
Real have never played at Wembley but the Champions League is their stage and they will feel just as at home at Spurs, if not more so. Back-to-back defeats is crisis territory for Real and falling behind early would stir unfamiliar feelings of doubt, especially with a potentially record-breaking British crowd roaring on Tottenham.
For Spurs, by contrast, this feels like a free-hit after the credible draw in Spain and an early lead could release the shackles after a disappointing week of their own domestically.
“Always be brave. I like to be brave,” writes Pochettino in his new book. Spurs were brave at the Bernabeu, refusing to be overawed by the occasion or dominated by the holders. But their approach at Manchester United in last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat felt a whole lot more respectful and in some respects cowed, even though they matched the hosts for the most part.
Pochettino insists he will never set up his team to defend deep and counterattack and says they were “forced” to so that against Dortmund, Liverpool and Real. It is likely to happen again on Wednesday but regardless of how they play and regardless of Kane’s fitness, getting forward in numbers and taking risks is the best way to hurt Real.
Zinedine Zidane’s side played a surprisingly high defensive line in the home match and they can be exposed, as Toby Alderweireld pointed out.
“Of course they have a lot of quality up front but we can hurt them as well,” said the Belgian, a winner against Real during his days at Atletico Madrid. On Sunday, gutsy Girona showed how vulnerable Real can be, scoring two and twice hitting the woodwork, and Spurs can learn from that if they play without fear.
Cut off the supply lines
Real’s problem in La Liga has not been making chances but taking them. They had 14 shots at Girona, scoring once, while Karim Benzema has scored twice from over 20 shots this season and Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored once in six league games. In the Champions League, they have had fewer problems in front of goal, scoring three against both APOEL Nicosia and Dortmund, while Spurs had Hugo Lloris to thank for keeping it at one at the Bernabeu.
Disrupting Real’s supply lines — namely Luka Modric, Tony Kroos and Isco — will be essential. In Spain, Spurs did this surprisingly well with an energetic, makeshift midfield of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen operating in front of a back three that had been forced into a back five. At Wembley, Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele are likely to join Winks in midfield, where disrupting the rhythm of Modric and Kroos holds the key to victory.