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Did Tottenham Hotspur pass its biggest European test?

Wednesday 18th October 2017
Tottenham Hotspur's Tuesday night trip to the Bernabeu was billed as a test of their European credentials. A hard-earned, precious draw suggests that they passed that test. And many have, rightly, been gushing in their praise for Mauricio Pochettino and his players. But do they deserve it? 
The trajectory of Tottenham Hotspur is unquestionably exciting. Mauricio Pochettino might be the most talented manager in world football. He has, with class and grace, guided Spurs into the upper echelons of the Premier League. He led them to their first finish ahead of Arsenal since Arsene Wenger arrived in North London, and is now ploughing ahead with blowing European expectations out of the water.

On Tuesday night, the trajectory peaked. Spurs, when drawn against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund for the group stage of the Champions League, must have feared the worst. However, three games into the campaign, they currently sit above both. That came after a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu that, for many cemented Spurs as a genuine threat, both on a domestic and continental front.

Throughout the days beforehand, the game was very much billed as a litmus test for Spurs. Is Harry Kane ready to take his place as the world-beating centre-forward that his form has hinted at? Can Pochettino out-coach one of the brightest footballing minds of the past 20 years in Zinedine Zidane, both as a player and manager? Could Spurs, ever the bridesmaid to their neighbours, become the bride?

If you were to simply read the score and move on, the answer would be yes. A draw, away from home, against the best club in the world is not to be scoffed at. In fact, it should be celebrated and heralded, as it has been. But, while, ultimately, the score is the only stat that counts, in terms of analysing the performance of Spurs, breaking down whether this was indeed a test passed or not, it falls short of the detail needed. And, once delving into the detail, it's clear to see that this was not necessarily the impressive performance that it has been praised as.

First and foremost, Madrid dominated possession, with 66% of the ball. To put that in perspective, Manchester City have averaged 64.9% possession in the Premier League. So far this season, the highest in the league, while Spurs sit second, averaging 60.7% possession, a far cry from the 34% that they had on Tuesday night. However, possession, as we all know, is not the be all and end all.

But Madrid did more than just dominate the ball. They engineered chances for 21 shots. They had other openings as well where the final pass or crucial first touch or last-ditch tackle prevented a shot on goal, though such moves do not show up in the statistics. Eight of these were on target and forced Hugo Lloris into several truly remarkable saves. In fact, perhaps more than any statistic or anecdote or comment or piece of analysis, the fact that Lloris was named the Man of the Match tells you everything you need to know.
Now, I am not here to simply criticise Spurs. I am a great admirer of Pochettino. He and his players should be given the highest praise for being disciplined and industrious enough to earn a point at Real Madrid. But the coverage of that game has not been accurate. Spurs did not pass this test. Or, at least, they did but they did not deserve to. This was a fortunate point. A welcome one. But a fortunate one, nonetheless.
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!


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