By, Kyle Gibson
The UEFA Champions League roared into 2018 the best way possible, with a sensational match in one of the game’s best cathedrals.
Many perhaps were not expecting much of Tottenham Hotspur in Tuesday’s first leg at Juventus Stadium. The Turin lights and a frenzied crowd seemed to rattle spurs early and sure enough, Gonzalo Higuian netted off set piece after just more than 90 seconds.
Not too long after, Spurs left back Ben Davies connected with Higuain in the box, setting up a penalty too hot for Hugo Lloris to handle. (I like Davies, but he played a part in both Juve goals today).
The crowd was going wild. Many teams would have folded and the game, and round, could have been over, with the Old Lady starting a complete rout. Prizefighter Higuain squared up to Spurs and delivered two knockout blows right on the chin.
But Spurs did not fall down. If we’re going to keep this boxing metaphor going, they collected themselves, went to the corner, and cut man/coach Maurico Pochettino told them just to hold steady and get back in the game.
Three players in particular then stepped up. First, the unstoppable Harry Kane connected on a Dele Alli pass and flew past legendary keeper Gigi Buffon to roll the Spurs lifeline home. It’s fitting that the day before Valentine’s Day, we got to see “When Harry Met Gigi.”
I want to see Kane stay at Spurs and break big Alan Shearer’s Premier League goal record, but he is world class and a much bigger stage is calling.
That stage also is calling for Christian Eriksen. The Dane is superb in every single game I watch him in and this game was no exception. He has gained the ability to take big games and control them. As soon as Erik Lamela earned a free kick in a dangerous spot, I said “Eriksen” out loud, probably confusing my dogs. Eriksen then delivered, with a little help from Buffon, who will want this one back. (The game would end at 2-2, which will give Spurs the advantage for the deciding match at Wembley.)
Speaking of control, Mousa Dembele was the third irresistible Tottenham player today. Anyone who follows my personal Twitter feed will no doubt be sick of my adoration for Dembele, who I think is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. Today, he showed how versatile he truly is, keeping the team shape, knowing when to push the pace and when to slow it down and always picking the right pass.
As a colleague of mine once tasked me to watch, Dembele almost never loses the ball. He is not always in the Spurs first team, but I think he should be. He frees up Eriksen and Alli, while making the entire team look better around him.
This game was a warning to the rest of Europe. Tottenham Hotspur was on its last legs in the home of a European giant and on the verge of a first round knockout. Instead of faltering, this team clawed its way back and ended the night with two crucial away goals.
If Spurs advance, there is no reason for the squad to be afraid, no matter which giant they draw out of the hat next.