Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son were on target as Tottenham came from behind to triumph 2-1 away against Borussia Dortmund and secure top spot in Group H of the Champions League with a game to spare. Here are five talking points.
READ MORE: Dortmund v Spurs as it happened
Mauricio Pochettino is rewarded for his strong team selection
Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks had to withdraw from the latest England squad after suffering injuries just before the international break, and they only returned to training at the end of last week, just in time for Saturday’s north London derby.
Winks was not fit enough to start against Arsenal, while Kane and Alli both looked short of their best, so there seemed an argument for Pochettino resting them all against Dortmund, given Tottenham had already qualified for the knockout stages.
However, he named all three in his starting line-up.
It was the right call. Assuming they had been given the all-clear from the medical staff and Pochettino was not taking an unnecessary risk, the trio needed game time and match practice; opportunities to shake off the rust after missing almost two weeks’ training and a chance to build some confidence.
Pochettino’s decision paid off handsomely, with Kane scoring early in the second half, set up by Alli, who then laid on the winner as well. Winks also delivered a typically assured and mature performance.
Eric Dier swaps places with Davinson Sanchez in the back three
When Toby Alderweireld was available he played on the right side of the back three, while Sanchez stood in the centre.
That allowed the Belgian to use his ball-playing abilities over both short and long ranges, bringing it forward into midfield one minute and playing angled crossfield passes towards the box or the opposite flank the next. Meanwhile, Sanchez offered pace as a sweeper behind his Belgian colleagues.
When Alderweireld suffered his hamstring injury against Real Madrid, it might have been expected that Dier would simply replace him on the right side. Instead, the England man took Sanchez’s place in the middle and the Colombian was moved to the right side against Madrid, Crystal Palace and Arsenal.
While Spurs defended well enough in the first two matches, they struggled at the back both with and without the ball in Saturday’s derby, making defensive mistakes and being stifled in possession.
Pochettino changed things up against Dortmund, swapping Dier and Sanchez, and there was sense in that decision. In theory, Dier is the better player on the ball and it allowed Sanchez to return to his previous role.
The different set-up had mixed success. Some of Dier’s crossfield passes were very wayward and Sanchez played Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang onside for the opener.
But Tottenham were more secure in the second half and it will be interesting to see how Pochettino sets up his back three in the upcoming Premier League matches.
Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen gradually learn to dovetail in deep roles
Some of Tottenham’s best performances and results last season came in a 3-4-2-1 system with Alli and Eriksen both playing as No10s behind Kane.
But Eriksen has generally found himself in a deeper position so far this term, operating in a three-man central midfield behind two forwards.
Alli has sometimes been used in a similar way, against West Ham for example – although his two goals against Real Madrid came when he was playing further up with Kane.
Against Dortmund he was again deployed behind the strikers, alongside Winks and Eriksen – and he and his Danish team-mate initially struggled to get into the game.
Perhaps too concerned with maintaining their shape, they were too often on the fringes in wide areas and Spurs consequently lacked creativity again.
They gradually began to dovetail more effectively though. There was a moment in the first half when Eriksen got on the ball in a central position and instructed Alli to stay ahead of him, in the space between the lines.
That is precisely the dynamic Spurs needed, with the pair dovetailing better around Winks.
Soon after that, Eriksen attacked the box and forced a good save. Then, in the second half, Alli set up both of Spurs’ goals.
On this evidence, and given Heung-Min Son’s clinical finish – his eighth goal in 10 games against Dortmund – there is an argument for keeping Alli in that deeper role alongside Winks and Eriksen.
Serge Aurier and Danny Rose put pressure on their rivals
While the duo were overlooked for the north London derby, they could easily become Spurs’ first-choice full-backs – and they put in encouraging performances in Germany.
Rose, whose relationship with Pochettino has again been the subject of speculation in recent days, was restored to the side. And, after a slow start in which he gave the ball away a few times, he went from strength to strength.
The 27-year-old’s crossing has certainly improved game by game since his return, and he created a good chance for Eriksen in each half, first drilling a low ball across the box and then lofting one to the back post, where his team-mate headed wide.
Meanwhile, on the other flank, Aurier was solid defensively and also got into good attacking positions on the right by-line.
If there was one niggly criticism, it would be that he took a fraction too long to send the ball into the middle.
Kieran Trippier has a real talent for delivering first-time volleyed crosses in front of the goalmouth, but Aurier preferred to bring the ball down first this evening.
That is entirely understandable, but it gave Dortmund’s defenders extra time to race back and get to the front post, narrowing the channel between the goalkeeper and the onrushing players.
Perhaps Aurier could ask for some tips from ‘Tripps’. Either way, given the four full-backs’ respective performances over the last two games against Arsenal and Dortmund, the competition is hotting up.
Tottenham secure top spot and look far more dangerous as they prepare to host West Brom
With 35 minutes gone there was cause for concern. Spurs were heading for a fourth defeat in six games and, like at Manchester United and Arsenal, they were lacking an edge in the final third.
But this time they turned the game around, showing character and belief to emerge triumphant. With Kane and Son both scoring and Alli and Eriksen looking re-energised, the Lilywhites showed their teeth again.
It all bodes well as they gear up for Saturday’s game against a West Brom side who are sure to set up defensively and aim to frustrate them at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Spurs can already celebrate securing top spot in Group H ahead of reigning European champions Real Madrid – emulating the achievement of Harry Redknapp’s side, who finished first ahead of holders Inter Milan in 2010.
It is a hugely impressive achievement and will give Pochettino the luxury of resting his main men for the final group game against Apoel Nicosia on December 6.
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