Afforded space to hurt each other, the midfield trios were at the heart of a thrilling Champions League encounter that finished Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.
Bold, brave and ultimately brilliant. Mauricio Pochettino made calculated gambles, as he backed the team to perform in the intense cauldron of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Space was given, but also conceded in midfield, as each team benefited and suffered from matching up three versus three. The outcome was a score of Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino is becoming a master of handing in a team sheet that consequently springs a surprise on the field. This time it was a back three of Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld flanking Eric Dier. What’s more, Jan Vertonghen was at left wing back, but there was also a central midfield trio of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen.
The midfield trio had the most interesting dynamic. A deep lying and a more forward thinking playmaker combined with a powerful dribbling runner. Playing Real Madrid there was suprisingly very little defensive prowess, but a trio more focussed on instigating counter attacks.
Matching up with Madrid’s own trio that included two playmakers, Pochettino had decided to ditch defence in favour of options that were better in space on the ball. It was a calculated risk as each trio afforded the other room to operate. Albeit at the extreme over the whole game, this screenshot highlights each midfield’s attitude to afford and benefit from the space.
Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have given Eriksen and Sissoko acres between the lines. However, should Spurs turn the ball over then the Madrid men are in threatening positions to torch the space that the Tottenham duo have left.
It would ultimately be this affording of the other midfield trio space that would cost each team a goal.
Madrid attack our left back
Eyeing up Jan Vertonghen at left back, Real Madrid started the game by trying to isolate and attack him. The ball was often whisked out to the quick-footed Achraf Hakimi to run at Vertonghen one against one.
Vertonghen dealt with the task expertly. He was rarely beaten, picking the right moments to stay on his feet or slide challenge. Madrid tried to increase the pressure as Cristiano Ronaldo often tried to run beyond him. However, Vertonghen’s positioning and focus to not bite on the first move, trick or flick saw him rarely passed.
Vertonghen was aided by the decision to play Toby Alderweireld at left centre back. Alderweireld’s turn of pace and reading of the game saw the pair combine expertly against Ronaldo and Hakimi.
Tottenham’s trio exploit space
The match had opened with each midfield trio playing through the other and Madrid focussed on attacking Jan Vertonghen. Real Madrid had gone close, but it would be Tottenham that would take the lead through exploiting the space being afforded in the middle of the park.
Harry Winks had acres of room as Kroos, Casemiro and Modric had become wildly separated.
As a result, Moussa Sissoko equally had space to receive the ball. He had time to neatly pass up the line to the overlapping Serge Aurier who had rampaged forward. Our midfield combination had suddenly taken Madrid’s trio out of the game. Kroos, Modric and Casemiro had all been navigated past by the play of Winks and Sissoko.
A knock-on effect now saw Marcelo drawn out and Sergio Ramos across due to the danger Aurier posed. Harry Kane was left one against one with Raphael Varane in the middle as Fernando Llorente moved in to overload.
Aurier made no mistake with a dangerously delivered low cross. Harry Kane went to flick it in, but a deflection off Varane saw the ball diverted past the helpless Keylor Navas. An exquisitely deadly move as the knock-on effects of bypassing Madrid’s midfield trio unfolded to put Spurs 1-0 up.
Aurier and Sissoko
The goal saw some superb combination play between Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko before Serge Aurier delivered the telling cross. The blend of Sissoko and Aurier down our right was really causing Madrid problems. The pace and power was often too much for Toni Kroos and Marcelo to handle.
Our duo had twice started alarm bells ringing before the goal. Aurier’s run and cross won a corner that saw Harry Kane’s bullet downward header repelled by a good save from Keylor Navas. Sissoko then somehow took on Aurier’s pass with some kind of high leg kick to burst down the line. His cross was just too high for the arriving Christian Eriksen.
Following the goal, Aurier continued to get forward, with his low shot fizzing off the diving Keylor Navas’ fingertips.
After the interval and the pair continued to cause Madrid problems. Aurier’s speed gave Marcelo headaches, which included a desperate recovery lunge that the Madrid man should’ve been booked for. Aurier also crossed with confidence, including a dangerous ball straight through the six-yard box. Sissoko’s pace, power and a renewed confident touch with the ball in his stride equally gave Kroos and Marcelo issues.
Madrid’s midfield trio answer
Tottenham’s midfield trio had landed the first blow, but Real Madrid’s would answer. Modric, Kroos and Casemiro had been afforded plenty of space by our own midfield’s zonal marking, even when striker Fernando Llorente dropped in to try and make a four.
The Madrid midfield trio would create the opening as the hosts answered from the penalty spot. Serge Aurier started and then compounded their move as he tried to atone for his initial error.
Aurier had initially played out well from a tight situation, linking well with Moussa Sissoko. However, as he took a return pass, his heavy touch and poor attempt to try and kid a foul turned possession over.
Real Madrid suddenly had space to work with Tottenham’s midfield trio stretched. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were rapidly into the pockets of space afforded around Winks, Eriksen and Sissoko.
Two intelligent passes found Kroos running straight through our back line and clean in on goal. In attempting to recover, Aurier had raced across. In a last ditch attempt to block or put off Kroos, his clumsy challenge allowed the German to collapse to the floor to win the spot kick.
Not blaming Aurier. Kroos yards from goal, he had to do something. Be going mental if stayed on his feet letting Kroos shoot uncontested
— Spurs Fanatic (@spurs_fanatical) 17 October 2017
Ronaldo coolly converted to level the score up at Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs just before half time.
Spurs diamond shift
With the space each midfield was getting, Mauricio Pochettino made a change at half time. The diamond setup we’ve seen recently was restored in order to constrict this zone.
Luka Modric and Isco still found pockets of space between the diamond. However, the play was now more frequently forced out to the flanks, where the next big moment of the game would arrive. Hugo Lloris pulling off an absolute wonder save from Karim Benzema’s header.
Casemiro and Hakimi had combined out wide to cross for the French international. Benzema surely thought he’d scored, but Lloris thrust out a trailing leg to thwart his goal bound header. Another incredible save for Hugo’s portfolio of goal line denials.
Long ball Llorente
The move to position Fernando Llorente at the top of the diamond suddenly brought him more in to the game. Llorente had initially been included to provide increased hold-up presence and an out ball should we be under heavy Madrid pressing and pressure.
Llorente’s deeper starting position suddenly brought his aerial ability in to play. He had much more room to size up and get a leap on his opponent. Two big moments followed in two tantalising minutes that almost swung the match.
Firstly, Llorente won the initial header from Hugo Lloris’ long kick downfield. Llorente then received the ball back before serving Harry Kane with a perfectly weighted through ball. As we waited for the net to bulge, the usually ruthless Kane saw his shot tipped around the post by the anticipating Keylor Navas.
Seconds later and Llorente was flicking on the long ball again. This time Christian Eriksen raced clear and in to the penalty area. Eriksen had a ponderous game where he was often caught delaying or picking the wrong option. You could see what he was thinking in going for the near post, but a shot across goal or even a cutback to the arriving Harry Kane were better choices.
Tottenham were starting to gain a bit of a hold on the match and were forcing the issue. Sissoko and Aurier were making purposeful forages down the right. Eriksen and Kane had great chances from Llorente’s flick-ons.
Mauricio Pochettino then decided enough was enough and removed Llorente for Danny Rose. Expecting he might take over at left back, Rose slotted in to the left hand side of the midfield diamond. Christian Eriksen moved to the point to work off Harry Kane.
The switch gave Spurs added defensive impetus. Rose’s frequently helped thwart Madrid’s attempts to continue to attack Jan Vertonghen. However, without Llorente it was tougher to make the ball stick up front. Little trouble ensued though and the 90 minutes ended with the score remaining at Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs guarding an excellent away point.
Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs overall
A sensational performance by every Tottenham player on a night we’d waited for since 2011.
Mauricio Pochettino gambled with his opening selection and choice of his central midfield trio. Two levels of passing player and a destructive runner were bold, brave and ultimately paid off with a goal. However, what we got from the trio utilising space, we also gave up. The lack of defensive presence was exploited, along with Aurier’s impetuosity, in conceding the penalty.
The goalkeepers took the headlines with two world-class saves to deny each team’s centre forward. However, on a night when each Tottenham player shone, Harry Winks was the brightest light of all. Unfazed at having to often defend large spaces and play under pressure, Winks showed a maturity and use of the ball that belied his years. He, like the rest of this young Tottenham team, is only going to improve with experiences like this.
Final Score: Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs.
MOTM: Harry Winks.