The centre backs were destroyed by clever use of space between the lines as our Champions League clash ended Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid at Wembley.
Tottenham were ruthless, swift and clinical on one of our club’s greatest ever European nights. Zinedine Zidane deployed both two and three centre back systems as he tried to contain a rampant Tottenham team. However, both structures were annihilated by Mauricio Pochettino’s use of a diamond midfield. The game ended Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid on a glorious Champions League night.
Spurs midfield superiority
Facing Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 system, Mauricio Pochettino went with a diamond midfield. Four Tottenham players had a numerical advantage over their Madrid counterparts.
The diamond setup allowed Tottenham to do a number of things to counteract the Real Madrid possession game.
Firstly, they could control the middle of the pitch. Real Madrid were thus often forced wide or to look for the ball over our high line. Secondly, once the ball was recovered, we had men in good central positions from which to launch counter attacks.
Mauricio Pochettino had started with a similar setup in the Bernabeu. Our manager tweaked the system for this match. In Madrid, Fernando Llorente had played just off Harry Kane as a hold-up and target man. At Wembley, Dele Alli returned as a number ten. Dele’s runs from deeper found the spaces between the lines that Madrid allowed from being outnumbered in central midfield.
Toby Alderweireld’s injury blessing and curse
To start the match, the diamond formation had issues with the personnel. The inclusion of Eric Dier at the base shifted Harry Winks to the left. The positioning of the two players made Winks’ usual game as the hub passer less effective.
The injury to Toby Alderweireld changed our formation for the better in this match, but at a cost to our season. Moussa Sissoko replaced Alderweireld, which saw Eric Dier moved to anchor our back three.
Harry Winks was therefore restored at the base of the diamond and could pull the strings. His control on the game increased remarkably. Spurs suddenly had a sense of balance and Winks would play a big role in two of our three goals.
Trippier first time crosses
Spurs created a number of chances from the right, including our goal, in Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs at the Bernabeu. Mauricio Pochettino interestingly went with Kieran Trippier over Serge Aurier in this match, presumably for his better delivery.
Trippier was a major chance creation force throughout the game. Our overload in central midfield got runners between the lines, which sucked in Real Madrid’s centre backs and often their full backs, allowing lanes inbetween them. Trippier was therefore afforded space out wide to get crosses in for players arriving in those lanes.
Our first big moment of the match came from Trippier’s ability to get forward and cross first time. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were in the large spaces between the lines, drawing in Real Madrid’s centre backs and full back Marcelo.
Harry Kane’s sweeping ball out towards Trippier saw the full back punch it back across the six-yard box without hesitation. Dele Alli was flying in but failed to get on the end of the dangerous ball.
Ten minutes later and Trippier was at it again. Harry Winks was now restored to his usual position at the base of midfield.
Winks’ lofted pass found Trippier’s run perfectly. Without taking a touch, Trippier squared it across the six-yard box for the arriving Dele Alli to prod home. Wembley erupted as Tottenham took the lead against the mighty Madrid.
The goal summed up many of the good things that Tottenham did in the match. Harry Kane’s hussle forced a panicked clearance by Nacho in the build-up. Spurs had men between the lines to occupy and draw the centre backs. Sergio Ramos and centre back partner Nacho were on different wavelengths. Dele Alli therefore had a head start on the pairing to be first to Trippier’s cross. Trippier was offside, but good play can often earn good fortune.
Trippier continues to torment
Kieran Trippier’s delivery continued to be a factor throughout the match. Nacho’s outstretched leg was the only thing that could stop a sumptuous curling ball from finding Harry Kane’s run into the acres of space beyond the centre backs.
Trippier then danced through two Madrid defenders before squaring for Moussa Sissoko. The Frenchman had a glorious opportunity, but whiffed on connecting with the ball. Instead of another classic clumsy Sissoko moment, it turned out to be a good pass. Harry Kane arrived and although his shot beat goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, Sergio Ramos blocked it.
Setting up Dele Alli for his first, Trippier’s dangerous delivery should’ve allowed him to complete his hat trick. However, Dele somehow failed to get much of a connection on an uncontested header with the goal gaping. Real Madrid’s centre backs were once more affording large gaps between themselves due to Tottenham’s extra numbers in midfield and the late runs of Dele Alli.
Back three creates more space
At half time, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane switched to a back three. There appeared to be two reasons behind the move. Firstly, to force our wingbacks to retreat through using them himself. Secondly, to make use of the wide areas that Real were being given by Spurs’ narrow diamond formation.
The formation change had good intentions. However, removing Casemiro from defensive midfield to anchor the back three just created more space between the lines for Tottenham’s diamond midfield to operate in. The Real Madrid centre backs were thus more exposed with less protection in front of them.
The space manifested itself twice in ten minutes as Tottenham destroyed the makeshift three centre backs and took the game away from Real Madrid.
Eric Dier took Kiko Casilla’s clearance down easily. With time and space, Dier could pick his pass. Ahead of him, Dele Ali and Christian Eriksen were in the spaces between the lines afforded by the now overstretched Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Behind them, the back three was already in an awful position.
Eriksen let the ball run for Dele Alli; putting him immediately on the makeshift three centre backs. Casemiro was drawn out and he sold himself with an ill-advised lunge. Sergio Ramos was now exposed with both Dele and Eriksen running at him. Ramos had virtually given up and turned his back as Dele went to shoot. As a result, the ball cannoned off him and past the helpless keeper. Spurs 2-0 Real Madrid and Wembley exploded.
Ten minutes later and Spurs had numbers between the lines to attack the shaky centre backs once more.
Pivotal on our opening goal, the passing of Harry Winks was again key to the move being a success. Winks’ quick and incisive ball sprung Dele Alli in to space to rampage forward. Again, we were instantly on their back line, which had no protection. Sergio Ramos raced in to halt Dele’s progress, but was left in his wake. Casemiro then dived in again, leaving just Nacho against both Kane and Eriksen.
Kane put the ball on a plate for Eriksen to sweep in and roll home. Spurs 3-0 Real Madrid and an ecstatic Wembley went in to orbit.
Madrid vs narrow Spurs
Tottenham’s diamond midfield had seen Real Madrid reduced to either crossing or balls over our high line. There were, however, several goal line scrambles in the match. Madrid had been unfortunate not to profit from one of them. Eric Dier’s calm play had seen one of their opportunities thwarted. Sergio Ramos thumping the ball in to Cristiano Ronaldo just yards out had stopped another.
Madrid combined their crossing against a narrow Spurs team with a bit of a goal line scramble to grab a consolation.
Ben Davies was worried about the positioning of Ronaldo, which saw the dangerous Achraf Hakimi fill the space being given out wide.
Eric Dier flicked Hakimi’s cross on. However, Marcelo, now at wingback, was able to keep it in. Marcelo’s miss hit return bounced in to the floor and up over Kieran Trippier. Luka Modric leaped in, but his attempted header pinged off Eric Dier towards Borja Mayoral. His loose touch then took the ball backwards towards Cristiano Ronaldo, who thumped the ball in to the net off the unfortunate Eric Dier. A scrappy and disappointing consolation with the score line now Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.
The goal setup a brief nervy period that was laid to rest by Mousa Dembele playing the rather uncharacteristic role of hatchet man.
Dembele got in to several scuffles, which included a yellow card for an ungainly, but welcome felling of Sergio Ramos through some uncoordinated kicks. The flow of the game was therefore interrupted and the score remained Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid to the delight of the 83,782 crowd on hand.
Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid overall
A performance for the ages and a statement game that showed how far we’ve come under Mauricio Pochettino.
The use of a diamond midfield to overrun and exploit the spaces around Madrid’s three central midfielders was inspired. The Real centre back pairing, and subsequent back three, was then left exposed to the runs of Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
A glory, glory night. The Wembley hoodoo was firmly laid to rest. Spurs were more than a match for the European Champions across two games. Silverware is all we are lacking. Dare we dream that this Tottenham team could win the greatest prize in club football?
Final score: Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid.
MOTM: Dele Alli.