Even a defeat against Real Madrid can be a positive for Tottenham
The last time Tottenham played at the home of the European champions in the Champions League, back in October 2010, they were 4-0 down after 35 minutes and facing humiliation.
Up to that point, Inter Milan had completely outclassed Harry Redknapp's team and it looked like Spurs were going to be firmly put in their place by one of the true European elite.
But every Spurs supporter knows what happened next: Gareth Bale took over, scoring a stunning second-half hat trick for the 10-man visitors, who left the San Siro as 4-3 losers but the more confident team looking forward to the second leg at White Hart Lane.
Redknapp and the players were able to paint the defeat as a positive and use it as a springboard to beat Inter at home and win the group.
More recently and relevantly, Manchester United, the first English team to play Real Madrid this season, trailed 2-0 in the UEFA Super Cup, in a contest that was looking every bit like the World, European and Spanish champions against the sixth best team in last season's Premier League.
But United scored to make it 2-1 and should have added an undeserved equaliser with nine minutes left. Though the scoreline stayed the same, United manager Jose Mourinho used the result as a platform for his side's strong start to the season, despite Real's dominance.
"To lose is disappointing -- but we leave optimistic and proud," said Mourinho, who understandably presented the match as an even contest.
Tottenham are the second English team to play Real this season and they are not going to the Bernabeu for Tuesday's Champions League match with a gallant defeat in mind, of course. Spurs are level on six points with the Spanish giants after two group games and their manager Mauricio Pochettino and several key players have insisted they can win.
"From the beginning we will be brave and aggressive and play to win the game," said Pochettino. Centre-back Toby Alderweireld, who was part of the Atletico Madrid squad to win 1-0 at the Bernabeu in Septermber 2013, added: "We have to be confident. There's always a chance to win there."
If Spurs do pull off a shock victory, it could be a seminal result for Pochettino's promising team, announcing their quality to the rest of Europe and flooding the club with confidence. Even a draw would be a significant statement for Tottenham given their inexperience in the Champions League and 11-time winners Real's total dominance of the competition, both historically and of late.
A defeat, though, remains the most likely outcome for Spurs, just as in the clubs' last meeting at the Bernabeu. Redknapp's team were thumped 4-0 in April 2011 in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg and a similarly comprehensive loss on Tuesday could be damaging for Tottenham, particularly as several senior players are using the match as a yardstick of the progress made under Pochettino in the last three years.
"We've got to test ourselves against the best if we want to be one of the top teams in Europe. You've got to see where you are," Harry Kane said. Christian Eriksen agreed, saying: "It will be a good test to see how far we've really come."
But aside from a possible humiliation, which has only happened once under Pochettino, Spurs should have no fears about Tuesday's match. They are six points clear of the other two teams in the group and can play without pressure at the Bernabeu, where the result is far less important than their performance against Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and company.
If they make the match a contest, silence the famous stadium for a period or simply keep the scoreline tight, Pochettino and the players can use any result, even a narrow defeat, as evidence of progress and a platform for the rest of the season and beyond.
As Redknapp's Tottenham and Mourinho's United have shown, a loss in this kind of game does not always have to be a bad thing.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.