Tottenham vs Real Madrid: Five things we learned

Matt Gault picks out five things we learned as Spurs ruthlessly dismantled the European champions at Wembley.

Well, that was unexpected. Two weeks ago, Tottenham went to the Santiago Bernabeu and managed to stop Real Madrid. What we didn’t realise was that it was Spurs who were the ones who needed stopping. 

On a night when Spurs sent shockwaves through European football, Real Madrid could only offer a pitiful response and the Champions League holders were plunged deeper into the impending crisis that they find themselves in. After losing to newly-promoted La Liga side Girona at the weekend, a club part-owned by Pep Guardiola’s brother, Madrid’s miserable week is complete. 

On Wednesday, they were blown away by a ruthless Spurs outfit, boosted by the return of Harry Kane and buoyed by Dele Alli’s first participation in a European game this season. The latter proved to be the star of the night, scoring twice to catapult Mauricio Pochettino’s men into a commanding position before Christian Eriksen capped a memorable evening with a third on the break. 

Cristiano Ronaldo fired in a late consolation but by then the damage was done. 

Here are five things we learned from the game. 

  1. 1 Pochettino needn't have worried about tactics

    In the reverse fixture, Pochettino got his tactics spot-on. At Wembley, though, he didn't have to worry about strategy all that much. Sure, the Argentine tactician had evidently instructed Kieran Trippier to target the defensively-erratic Marcelo but Madrid were so ambulatory, disorganised and bereft of confidence they really were there for the taking. 

    There were audible groans from Madrid supporters when Raphael Varane went off injured at the weekend and it's clear to see why. Nacho Fernandez acted as though he had never met Sergio Ramos, never mind partnered him in the heart of the defence. 

    Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen scented blood. They pressed from the front with aggression, structure and purpose. Harrying Madrid, they unnerved them, out-muscled them. While their illustrious opponents have some the finest ball-playing midfielders in the world - Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco - they couldn't string together any meaningful passing sequences in the first half. 

    It was anaemic stuff from a team who, before this, hadn't lost a Champions League group game in five years. They played as though they hadn't won one in that long. 

  2. 2 Alli redeemed himself

    Dele Alli's petulant streak attracts plenty of negative press and justifiably so. The reason he was unavailable for selection in each of the first three group games was for a reckless challenge on a Gent player when Spurs were competing in the Europa League last season. 

    It was a moment of madness from a player you feel is still grappling with his more tempestuous traits but he redeemed himself brilliantly on the grandest stage, scoring twice to kill Madrid's hopes and set Spurs on their way to a famous night. 

    But it wasn't just the goals. The Wembley crowd roared as loudly when he refused to let Luka Modric settle on the ball, nicked it off him before busting a gut to kick it out for a throw-in instead of a goal-kick. 

    "It was a fantastic night for us but it could have been more if we had taken our chances," Alli told BT Sport after the game. It's true. Spurs missed chances, not least Alli, who failed to connect with a close-range header which would have clinched his hat-trick. He'll happily take the brace, though.

  3. 3 Benzema failed to prove Lineker wrong

    One of the stranger subplots to this game was the spat between Gary Lineker and Karim Benzema: the French striker taking exception to the presenter when the former Barcelona striker called him 'overrated' to which he responded by saying that he felt 'embarrassed' for Lineker whilst accusing him of 'spreading hatred.' 

    Of course, and Lineker will attest to this, the best way to silence critics is by performing on the pitch. Unfortunately, Benzema struggled to make an impression. Despite plenty of hard running, he struggled to find Cristiano Ronaldo with two sloppy passes early on and was later guilty of being caught on the ball by the insatiable Eric Dier and Harry Winks. 

    That said, calling Benzema 'overrated' is a breath-taking dismissal of the forward's contributions over the past decade and there is a reason he has remained at the head of Madrid's attack under a succession of managers. 

    Still a month shy of his 30th birthday, Benzema has three Champions League titles to his name. Only Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul, and Ruud van Nistelrooy have more European goals. That's lofty company to find yourself in. 

    Lineker, looking on with interest from his perch in the swanky BT Sport studio, would have felt vindicated when Benzema trudged off the pitch after 73 minutes. It's not that simple but Lineker may well see it that way. 

  4. 4 Trippier proved his worth once again

    Kieran Trippier could have had a hat-trick of assists in the first half. Yes, it's at least partly down to Marcelo's repeated lapses in concentration not to mention being given the benefit of the doubt by the linesman for the first goal – but the England international flourished in this environment. 

    The game was open from the outset and that suited Trippier, who was as enterprising and effective as ever on the right flank. Early in the game, the former Burnley man teased a wonderful first-time cross right through the corridor of uncertainty. None of his teammates could react quickly enough but Dele Alli was alive to pounce on another educated cross from Trippier to score the opener.

    Marcelo hadn't heeded the earlier warnings nor did he do much to rectify the problem. Shortly after, Trippier bulldozed his way through two crumbling Madrid defenders before teeing up Moussa Sissoko on the edge of the area. The Frenchman miscued horribly. Had it been Harry Kane, the net almost surely would have bulged. 

    Trippier now has six assists this season, more than any of his teammates. There is a premium on fullbacks flying forward in the modern game but their end product is often found wanting. Not Trippier. He places a premium on finding his teammates in the box. He's good at it too. 

  5. 5 Don't write off Real quite yet

    As awful as Madrid were, they are not to be written off quite yet. Astonishingly, Borussia Dortmund failed to beat APOEL Nicosia at home. This leaves Real five points ahead of the German club with two group games remaining. 

    Zinedine Zidane sets himself the highest standards. He did so as a player and he's no different watching from the dugout. It's amazing to think that, as a manager who has two Champions Leagues under his belt, his coaching career is not even two years old. 

    Losing to Girona and being outclassed by Spurs in such a manner are unacceptable at Real Madrid – and Zidane knows as much. Glenn Hoddle and Rio Ferdinand remarked during their half-time analysis that Los Blancos seemed to be treating the game as 'an exhibition match.'

    It was difficult to argue. Madrid were second to almost every ball, they were sloppy in possession and looked genuinely rattled by Spurs. This match, then, may well act as a tipping point in their season and should inspire a degree of soul-searching in the European champions. It would be highly surprising if they were to produce a performance of such defensive ineptitude and disorganisation again. 

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