Tottenham snap Wembley curse with confident 3-1 win vs. Dortmund
LONDON -- Three points from Wembley as Tottenham completed a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League opener:
1. Spurs record crucial win at Wembley
Tottenham Hotspur laid to rest the supposed Wembley curse with a fine victory over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, thanks to an opener from Son Heung-min and two goals from Harry Kane. This might prove to be a crucial victory for Mauricio Pochettino's side, both in terms of getting Spurs up and running at their temporary home and in terms of putting themselves in the driver's seat for qualification to the knockout stage.
The group stages of the Champions League can sometimes feel somewhat arduous -- its opening night was marred by far too many one-sided thrashings -- but this contest at Wembley felt like a genuinely huge game. With reigning champions Real Madrid surely set to top Group H while APOEL inevitably will finish last, Spurs and Dortmund are effectively playing off for a knockout place.
Wednesday night saw an excellent, high-tempo contest immediately lit up with three excellent goals in the first half, with Son and Kane breaking in behind to score counter-attacking goals in the inside-left channel, either side of a fantastic Andriy Yarmolenko curler into the far corner. In a sense that summarised the approaches: Dortmund focusing on intricate, neat football in their 4-2-3-1 formation that looked like a 4-2-1-3 at times, while Spurs played on the break in their more cautious 3-4-2-1 shape.
In truth, both managers will have been concerned at their lack of control here -- a game that features so many chances is great for neutrals but rarely for the men responsible for defensive organisation -- and both teams will need to be tighter when facing the might of Real Madrid. But Spurs underlined their superiority with this tactically intelligent and tactically impressive performance; they're likely to use a similar strategy when they travel to Germany for the return leg in December.
2. Spurs play reactively -- and ruthlessly
Tottenham are still trying to make Wembley feel like home but their performance here was that of an away side. Spurs barely pressed in the opposition half, and instead dropped off toward the halfway line, albeit with their defence keeping a typically high line to keep the side compact.
It's difficult to remember any serious spells of possession from Tottenham in the first half; instead, they focused upon quick transitions and finding Son or Kane as quickly as possible. Indeed, Spurs' first two goals came in very similar circumstances by breaking determinedly and immediately into the inside-left channel.
First, a long pass from Kane found Son running through on goal in behind the Dortmund defence, something he regularly did to perfection against the Bundesliga side in his Leverkusen days. At first it seemed Son had dawdled on the ball but his finish past Roman Burki and into the far corner was both powerful and controlled from a tight angle.
After Yarmolenko's superb equaliser, Spurs went ahead in a similar fashion. Jan Vertonghen's hooked ball down the line was no more than a clearance but Kane brilliantly made it into a decisive assist by fighting off Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and then Omer Toprak, before matching Son's finish. Again, however, questions should be asked of Burki's positioning.
For long periods, though, Spurs invited rather too much pressure. They appeared vulnerable in the space between Vertonghen and Ben Davies and could have done with five minutes or so of controlled, unambitious possession play to slow the tempo. The fact that the first half didn't feature a single minute of stoppage time summarised its relentless nature.
Spurs continued to play on the break after half-time. Christian Eriksen was unusually quiet but teed up Kane, who slashed a shot high and wide. Two minutes later, Kane ran in behind and squared for Son, who steadied himself before shooting narrowly over. These felt like big chances.
Spurs rode their luck -- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside -- but they took a two-goal lead on the hour mark after a fine team goal. Mousa Dembele played an unusually penetrative forward pass to Eriksen between the lines, and he laid the ball off to Son, who prodded it into an inside-left position for Kane. The striker steadied himself and then fired the ball, left-footed, across Burki into the far corner. At 3-1, it felt like the Wembley curse was finally being laid to rest.
Yet Spurs could have had more. Davies drove a cross-shot dangerously across the 6-yard box, Toby Alderweireld headed over and Kane had a bouncing shot narrowly miss the far post, which would have sealed a hat trick struck entirely with his weaker foot. Three goals, however, proved more than enough.
The only disappointment for Spurs was the stoppage-time red card shown to Vertonghen, who was given a second booking after having been harshly adjudged to have elbowed Dortmund substitute Mario Gotze.
3. Dortmund take too long to get going
Peter Bosz's side found themselves trailing almost immediately on the night and were forced to come out, dominate possession and take the game to Spurs. Their long spells of possession play in midfield were typical of a manager who spent last season with Ajax, but they showed a frustrating reluctance to play passes in behind for the first half-hour.
All in all, it was a curious approach. Bosz will have expected a high line from Spurs and knows all about how to play against that system: Spurs' three-man back line of Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez and Alderweireld are so comfortable playing a high line precisely because they were schooled at Ajax. In the first half-hour, the absurdly fast Aubameyang didn't make a single run in behind, leaving that to Yarmolenko, who repeatedly caused Davies problems with his movement. He also combined well with the overlapping Lukasz Piszczek, and when allowed to cut inside, he produced the delicate, curling effort into the far corner to bring the scores level.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half, however, Dortmund played in behind more often. Aubemeyang woke up and narrowly failed to convert a pass played by Christian Pulisic in behind Spurs' defence from the inside-left channel. A few minutes later, the reverse happened and Aubameyang, now testing the offside trap rather than hanging around in behind it, produced a mirror image of the previous chance, with Pulisic unable to turn the ball home.
Now, Dortmund were threatening and their first attack of the second period prompted Hugo Lloris to sweep decisively, colliding with Aubemeyang as he attempted to reach another though-ball. He had the ball in the net on 55 minutes, too, converting at the far post in the aftermath of a set-piece only to be wrongly denied by a linesman's flag. Dortmund players in the centre were offside, but Aubameyang was not.
With 20 minutes remaining, he missed a chance from a similar, closer position when Lloris spread himself impressively.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.