There was another Champions League match on Tuesday, you know.
While the anarchy of Real Madrid’s round of 16 elimination at the hands of Ajax ensued at the Santiago Bernabeu, Tottenham Hotspur kept Borussia Dortmund’s attacking surges at arm’s length.
Harry Kane struck the only goal of the match, hoarding space in Dortmund’s crumpled defense before lashing a swerving effort past Roman Burki. In the din of the Westfalenstadion, Mauricio Pochettino’s ranks kept the hosts quiet for a second round of 90 minutes and signed off with a 4-0 aggregate triumph.
Here are three takeaways from Tottenham’s second meeting with Dortmund:
Vertonghen leads Spurs’ resolute rearguard
Davinson Sanchez owes Jan Vertonghen a pint.
Days after the Colombian defender was guilty of conceding a soft penalty against north London foes Arsenal, his awkward attempt to deal with Raphael Guerreiro’s cross spilled the ball to Marco Reus early in the first half. The midfielder had just Hugo Lloris between him and the goal.
Vertonghen then popped up from nowhere, stretching every sinew to block his route. Reus, understandably confused, swung at nothing.
Vertonghen’s enjoyed the past few weeks. The headlines from the first leg were dominated by tales of his incredible showing as an ersatz left wing-back. In that encounter, he hit a delicious delivery over Dan-Axel Zagadou’s head and onto the instep of Heung-Min Son for the opener, and then neatly scored following an instinctive run deep in the second half.
Then, in the reverse fixture, he leaned on his defensive qualities.
There are plenty of other deep-lying Spurs players who deserve recognition following the second leg. Sanchez shook off his error to put in a mature performance and Vertonghen’s compatriot Toby Alderweireld was near-immaculate. The wing-backs, Serge Aurier and Ben Davies, also combined for 11 clearances.
And all of these players shone while Lloris pulled off some cracking saves behind them.
Pochettino’s defensive ranks forged the foundation for another immense team performance on continental duty.
Dortmund’s ‘old’ campaigners thrive
It could’ve been Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund out there, minus the goals.
Germany will share the embarrassment of the Bundesliga leaders not scoring in 180 minutes. However, the continued influence of Reus and Mario Gotze in Lucien Favre’s brood deserves praise.
Reus was almost unleashed in a free role, leading a press and attack that had Tottenham pinned back for long spells. Gotze, meanwhile, dictated proceedings deeper in the lineup with the third-most touches on the pitch, a passing accuracy just below 90 percent, and a tackle count of five that was only matched by teammate Marius Wolf.
Reus and Gotze’s combined ages amount to just 55, but given the unripened nature of their colleagues and their own chequered fitness records, they are the experienced campaigners of Borussia Dortmund.
“The injuries have taught me to enjoy the time I have on the field, the time I am training with the guys,” Reus told Rory Smith for his New York Times feature preceding Tuesday’s scuffle. “As you get older, you learn it will end at some point, and so you cherish the moments you are healthy.”
Continental progression neither side needed
Dortmund’s pursuit of their first Bundesliga title in seven years is faltering. Their latest setback, Friday’s 2-1 loss at lowly Augsburg, allowed Bayern Munich to move level on 54 points. Dortmund’s nine-point lead in late January has been vanquished after a run of three draws, a win, and a defeat.
There was never any fear of a miraculous comeback after Kane’s goal. Reus’ withdrawal on 74 minutes was gratefully received by many BVB supporters: not only was he industrious and a leader in Dortmund’s backyard, he was also needed as his team quickly prioritizes its title hunt. There’s work to be done.
Spurs were also spluttering. In the space of a couple of weeks, a legitimate chance of pipping Manchester City and Liverpool to the Premier League title has lurched into a desperate melee for the division’s remaining two Champions League qualification berths. Christian Eriksen was looking worn and, if anything, Kane’s reintroduction to the first-team fold after overcoming injury disrupted Pochettino’s XI.
Now Spurs must reassess their season after a tactically efficient doubleheader with Dortmund. Is finishing in the Premier League’s best quartet still most important? Should they go all-out for an improbable and inaugural Champions League success? Can their resources manage the second leg of their upcoming quarterfinal merely days before a domestic trip to Manchester City?