Tottenham begin their Champions League campaign with an extraordinarily tricky fixture against German outfit Borussia Dortmund. After failing to progress out of the group stage in 2016/17, the logic is that Mauricio Pochettino has learned from last season’s shortcomings and won’t let lightning strike twice.
However, the footballing gods couldn’t have made it any harder for the Lilywhites as they must face Dortmund, to begin with, before back-to-back games against the back-to-back Champions League winners, Real Madrid.
The last time these two sides met, Dortmund convincingly knocked Spurs out of the Europa League Round of 16 after a 3-0 victory at the Signal Iduna Park, courtesy of Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Tottenham have improved markedly in the time that has since elapsed and should present a different challenge at the second time of asking.
Last time out
Everton 0-3 TOTTENHAM [Premier League]
Tottenham were brilliant against Everton on the weekend and a complete performance across all areas of the pitch allowed them to cruise to a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Harry Kane welcomed in September, as expected, with a goal, an unintentional cross-shot effort that dipped over Jordan Pickford in goal, his 100th for Spurs in all competitions. A landmark goal for the England international.
Christian Eriksen continued his own fine start to the season with a tap-in before Kane doubled his own tally with a neat finish 47 seconds into the second half, taking his September record to four goals in three for September.
A key component in the victory was the efforts of Ben Davies down the left flank. Patience has been a virtue for the Welshman and nothing epitomised his rapid development more than a stellar game against tough opposition. Food for thought for Pochettino.
Freiburg 0-0 BORUSSIA DORTMUND [Bundesliga]
Dortmund failed to make their numerical advantage count against Freiburg as they were held to a 0-0 draw against the ten men of the Black Forest.
Peter Bosz’s side came to Freiburg in good form, having won their first two Bundesliga games, but failed to break down the resilient defence, despite having over 80% possession once Yoric Ravet was sent off after half an hour for a nasty tackle on Marcel Schmelzer.
Opportunities came their way, but Dortmund failed to capitalise, with Alexander Schwolow performing well in goal to deny the visitors.
Victor Wanyama remains out with a knee injury, but Mousa Dembele could make his return to the starting XI after his rest against Everton on the weekend, with Moussa Sissoko, who performed well, dropping back to the bench.
The Frenchman, however, was suffering from cramp in the closing stages at Goodison Park, but it shouldn’t be enough to keep him out of the squad.
Elsewhere, there are no new injury concerns for Pochettino to worry about. Serge Aurier could make his debut after being left on the bench against Everton to inject the side with more speed on the flanks.
However, Dele Alli is suspended for the opening three games following his sending off against Gent in the second leg of last year’s Round of 32, with Heung-Min Son likely to replace him.
Borussia Dortmund Lineup
Contrastingly, Bosz has a raft of injury concerns ahead of this tough tie in the Champions League.
Marcel Schmelzer and Marc Bartra are not expected to feature in defence after the duo picked up injuries in the draw against Freiburg, with the former sidelined for around six weeks.
It’s just a further headache for Bosz, who arrives at Wembley already without key forward Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Sebastian Rode, Erik Durm and Raphael Guerreiro.
Key Battle: Davinson Sanchez vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Dortmund’s danger man vs the new boy.
Last year’s Bundesliga top scorer has started the new campaign in the same vein as last year, with two goals in Dortmund’s opening three games and the Gabonese will hope to continue his strong start against Spurs.
Bosz will look to him to provide the creative spark in the absence of Marco Reus.
Looking to nullify his impact is Spurs’ club record signing Davinson Sanchez. The 21-year-old was deployed as the central defender of a back three against Everton and adapted to a tough role as if he’d been at the club for years.
His strength, aggression and, crucially, speed off the mark will serve him well against the tricky movement of Aubameyang, who’s tough to mark out of the game.
Sanchez impressed in his first start for the club and he’ll be hoping to transfer this form into the Champions League, his first foray into the competition.
Welcome to Wembley
This argument has been near beaten to death, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant for this fixture. Spurs played phenomenally well against Everton on the weekend, but they must find a means of transferring this level of performance to home turf, that being Wembley Stadium.
They’re yet to win at home this season, with a loss to Chelsea and a 1-1 draw to Burnley and there’s a sense that the longer it goes on, the more mentally taxing this issue will become for both the squad and the manager.
The Lilywhites’ Champions League campaign was ultimately disastrous last season, with their only win at the national stadium coming against CSKA Moscow once their hopes of making the knockout rounds had already been extinguished after defeats to Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco.
Putting this in the back of their minds is key.
For Dortmund, though, they’ll be treating this as an occasion. A chance to play in England’s national stadium in front of a capacity 90,000 crowd. It’s perhaps the extra incentive they need to raise their game after a disappointing draw to Freiburg.
The increased capacity subsequently leads to a larger number of away fans, and we know just how raucous the Dortmund fans can get.
Capitalising on the bigger pitch
One thing of note about Wembley, other than Spurs’ abysmal record, is the size of the pitch, which is larger than most in the Premier League. It means, therefore, that there will be significant space in behind both defences primed for exploitation.
The back three of Spurs goes some way to negating this issue, with the wide centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen covering Christian Pulisic and Maximilian Philipp on the flanks, with new signing Davinson Sanchez dropping deeper to pick up Aubameyang as he looks to break into space.
For Spurs, though, this could be an important means to victory.
A noticeable flaw of the current side is the relative lack of pace without either of Danny Rose or Kyle Walker. With Serge Aurier brought in to replace the £45m right back, the expectation is that he fills Walker’s marauding role with pace and power.
Dortmund’s high defensive line coupled with the extra space makes this game an ideal setting for a player in Aurier’s mould.
Tottenham’s number 23 has been in fantastic form this season, contributing one goal and two assists, creating 10 chances overall. He’s Tottenham’s the midfield maestro once more and when he plays well, the whole team raises their game.
That’s the key, right there.
Eriksen is such an influential figure at the club that his level of performance directly affects the rest of the team. If he turns up and has one of his better games, Spurs stand a great chance of winning the game.
Not only will Eriksen have to get on the ball as much as possible, he must use it effectively as Dortmund’s pressing denies him ample time to think in possession. Fast, one or two touch football is crucial.
PREDICTION: Tottenham 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
It really depends on which Tottenham turns up. The one from the weekend or the side petrified of Wembley’s big stage.
If the weekend side turns up, coupled with Dortmund’s injury problems, a victory is very much in sight for the Lilywhites if Pochettino doesn’t make the same mistake as last season and choose a full-strength starting XI.
However, it’s hard to forget the past and the disaster of last season and I can see Dortmund piling on the Wembley misery.
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