Champions League End of Term Report
It all ended in tears as many suspected it might. Spurs has been heroic for most of the 2018/19 Champions League campaign but beating Liverpool in Madrid was a step too far. It’s three days after the event now and it’s still too painful to dissect but this is, perhaps, a good time to look at the UCL campaign as a whole.
Have we learned from the experience and is there scope for Tottenham to ever go that deep into the competition again?
At the halfway point in the group phase, the majority of Spurs supporters expected their club to be battling it with PSV Eindhoven for the Europa League slot. After three matches we’d taken a solitary point and, in the fourth match of that campaign, we appeared to be on the brink of elimination during the home return with the Dutch side.
A second minute goal from Luuk De Jong put Spurs on the back foot and the game was drifting until two late strikes from Harry Kane snatched a barely deserved three points. We still had plenty of work to do with our group fixtures ending with a home game against Inter and a trip to Barcelona.
Against the Italians, Christian Eriksen’s late strike kept us in it but we still had to get something out of the game in Spain. Incredibly, Inter fluffed their lines against PSV while an 85th minute Lucas Moura goal brought about an unlikely passage to the Round of 16 by the narrowest of margins.
Everyone said we were lucky but the Barcelona game gave us a taste of what was to come. Some neutral observers said it was the best display they had seen by a visiting team to the Nou Camp in living memory while that man Lucas was at the heart of it all.
In the first knockout phase, Tottenham were drawn against familiar opposition. We’d overcome Borussia Dortmund in the group stages in 2017/18 so had nothing to fear against the Germans even though we were the outside bet to make it through.
We were about to head into a slump in the Premier League but there was no sign of that as we breezed past Dortmund by three goals to nil in the first leg at Wembley Stadium. Goals from Son Heung-Min, Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente gave us a cushion which Harry Kane duly plumped in the second leg in Germany.
Once again, neutral observers and pessimistic Spurs fans (i.e. most of us). Felt that our Champions League campaign must be over when we were drawn against Manchester City in the quarter finals. City had already beaten us in the league when our Wembley pitch resembled an NFL Stadium and we had that perceived disadvantage of playing the first leg at home.
As it was, a Hugo Lloris penalty save kept us in it until a Sonny strike snatched a vital 1-0 first leg lead. The only downside was an injury to Harry Kane which would rule him out for the rest of the domestic season. As it was, we missed his goals in the Premier League but in the UCL, we marched on.
A crazy 4-3 defeat at the Etihad allowed us to progress on away goals and the madness was to continue in the semi final.
When we travelled to Amsterdam for the second leg of this semi, the team couldn’t buy a goal. In the five games leading up to the match at the Johan Cruyff Arena, we’d scored just once in five games and had lost the remaining four by the same 0-1 scoreline.
The indicators weren’t good, therefore, when we went 2-0 down before half time but the team somehow managed to give us some of the best 45 minutes that we’ve ever experienced. Lucas was at the heart of it, scoring his second hat trick of the campaign and securing the aggregate win with the last kick of the game.
One day, we’ll be able to look back at those videos and memories again but for now, that final defeat is just too raw. It’s painful to know that Liverpool were way below their best but sadly, so were we.
It’s hard to know what to really make of this Champions League campaign. No-one really expected this to happen but it’s been a season of great highs that culminated in one deflating low.
With the dust settling to an extent, we have to ask the question as to whether we really are one of the top sides in Europe. More importantly, that’s an issue for the board and if they believe this to be the case, then the Chairman needs to back Mauricio Pochettino and give him the players that he wants.
At the same time, the board needs to discuss the future of certain players already at the club. We’ll cover this in more detail in a separate article but, if you pay any attention to social media, names under the spotlight include Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier and others.
The other point of view suggests that the English Premier League is the strongest in the World. Four English sides occupied the finals of the two major European club competitions and that’s the first time that one country has ever achieved this feat.
Are we up there with Europe’s best or, as the domestic league table suggests, merely the fourth best team in England? One outstanding aspect of the campaign was our ability to lift our form for Europe when domestic results had been dismal. We did that against two of Europe’s finest teams and also against the Premier League Champions Manchester City.
As to a repeat performance, much will depend on the coming summer. The core of the team is likely to remain but there must be changes. A return to major finals of this kind is now down to the club – we have the stadium and the manager but we now need to look closely at this squad to see if it matches that ambition.