Can Spurs stay under radar in Champions League? Tottenham’s understated and underrated progress through this season has been accompanied every inch of the way by suggestions they are going “under the radar”. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been following in the slipstream of headline-grabbing Premier League pacesetters Manchester City and Liverpool, almost but not quite getting knocked out of the Champions League and generally living in the shadows cast by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Spurs midfielder Moussa Sissoko even used the phrase in recent days to illustrate how they might just be able to emerge to win the title. In reality, the big prizes are rarely won by stealth and if Spurs are still under the radar after their magnificent 3-0 dismissal of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund to put themselves on the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals, then we must assume they are currently being tracked by the cheapest, most inefficient detection system known to man.
Pochettino’s stock will only rise after Spurs, regarded as slight underdogs
Pochettino’s stock will only rise after Spurs, regarded as slight underdogs when the draw was made, overpowered the highly touted Germans with a display of skill, steel and organisation that made light of the absence of signature talents such as injured striker Harry Kane and Dele Alli. The Spurs manager might still be on the radar of Manchester United and even Real Madrid – but on nights like this he will realise what a good thing he is on to in north London and this will be mutually felt by chairman Daniel Levy. When all this is bolted on to the fact that Spurs made no signings in the summer transfer window or in January, it simply underlines what a superb job Pochettino is doing. Indeed, it is a tough task to think of any manager at a high-profile club currently making better use of, or getting more out of, the resources available to him. Spurs will now need a collapse of calamitous proportions not to reach the Champions League last eight, while still standing only five points behind Manchester City and Liverpool in the title race, despite the searing pace the top two teams have set this season.
And while they certainly used the scenic route to reach the Champions League knockout
And while they certainly used the scenic route to reach the Champions League knockout phase after losing to Inter Milan and Barcelona and drawing with PSV Eindhoven in their first three games, they look like making the most of achieving “mission impossible” by going through. The manner in which they first subdued and then outclassed such impressive opponents as Borussia Dortmund was a tribute to the inner steel and staying power of a team that has not had the credit it deserves this season. And that applies close to home, where some of us praising them now were doubting them earlier in the season. After the home loss to Barcelona maintained that miserable start, this observer suggested it was stretching credibility to say Spurs belonged anywhere near Europe’s best, as Pochettino had stated a year earlier after Real Madrid were beaten at Wembley.
If the humble pie is not yet being eaten, it is certainly on its way from the kitchen
If the humble pie is not yet being eaten, it is certainly on its way from the kitchen in the aftermath of this Spurs performance. Credit where credit is due. The recent late victories against Watford and Newcastle United and the fight to the finishing line against Leicester City showed one side of Spurs, stubborn and resilient and almost overcoming themselves to grind out the points. Against a team five points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga, they delivered a more complete display here to snuff out the threat of the first half and push themselves into dreamland after the break as two late goals from Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente delivered that crucial three-goal cushion bolstered by the all-important clean sheet. Vertonghen, in a wing-back role, gave a performance that must rank among his finest for Spurs. The Belgian was not only solid in defence, he gave Spurs an added dimension in attack, his cross dropping over Dan-Axel Zagadou for Son’s opener before he knocked the stuffing out of Dortmund by slamming home the second himself. Llorente, sometimes derided but now a match-winner against Watford and the scorer of the third here, demonstrated exactly why Pochettino retains such faith in him. Harry Winks, the long injury problems behind him, is maturing into a midfielder who will excel for Spurs and England.
And in Son, Spurs have a remarkably consistent attacking operator of the highest class
And in Son, Spurs have a remarkably consistent attacking operator of the highest class, tireless, dangerous, intelligent and never frightened of running the hard yards. Son has also made Borussia Dortmund his personal playthings. He scored five in five games against them when he was with Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and now has four in five games for Spurs in Europe. They must be sick of the sight of the South Korean. He is the man keeping Spurs going in an attacking context in the absence of their big hitter and with Kane now on the brink of a return after his latest ankle problems, Son’s contribution cannot be praised highly enough. No wonder he attracts so many from his homeland to Spurs games, South Korean fans posing proudly with their national flag for photographs after the final whistle. This was no freak victory. This was fully deserved, a sign of growing quality and stature and a reminder that when Spurs get it right they can be a huge threat in this competition. Pochettino will now be warning his players against complacency before the second leg in Germany on 5 March, although Spurs do not look like a team that entertains such an attitude. They still feel the pain of how a five-minute switch off cost them in the second leg against Juventus at this stage last season, wasting the hard work of the first game when they came from two goals down to earn a draw in Italy. Of course, accidents can still happen but what a position Spurs have fashioned for themselves. Spurs are the team that simply will not go away. And if Pochettino and his players are still under the radar, it is time to invest in a new detection system.