While Dortmund was punching their ticket to the Europa League, at best, Tottenham Hotspur shocked the world by entering into the Bernabeu and leaving with a 1-1 draw. While a draw at Wembley would have been a mild surprise, taking a point from Real Madrid at their place was not something may people saw happening. How were Spurs, who most people outside of North London considered the third best team in the group, able to get a result against the title holders when the Black and Yellow failed so profoundly in their own fortress?
First, we have to consider the element of luck. While I believe the adage “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”, there was certainly an element of good fortune in the outcome. Within the first ten minutes, Ronaldo curled a shot off the post and then a few minutes later had Hugo Lloris beat with a quick shot that just skidded wide of the goal. If one or both of those goals connected, this article has a very different tone to it.
The biggest difference between Peter Bosz and Mauricio Pochettino’s strategies when facing Real Madrid were their reliance on what they knew. Bosz trotted out his usual 4-3-3 system with Aubameyang up front and made him the focal point of the attack. Even though other Dortmund players on the pitch were equally on form, Casimiro and a rotated partner were able to almost nearly successfully defend the Dortmund forward. The second element was, of course, the Bosz high line, with the back four coming up to the halfway line multiple times in the match. Gareth Bale torched this high line and Ronaldo found tons of space to run into after the first runner breached the line, hence the lopsided scoreline.
Pochettino went to a different strategy than he normally plays in the league, where like Dortmund, Spurs have found success this year (albeit not enough to sit atop the table). The visitors came out in a 4-2-3-1 that when Spurs pressed in transition became more of a 3-5-2. Despite having played only 34 minutes up top together this season, Pochettino paired Harry Kane and Fernando Llorente together. Llorente was enough of a menace to draw defenders towards him in the middle of the pitch and allowed Kane to find space for himself. Like BVB, Spurs did try and press and, like against BVB, that gave Real Madrid the early advantage. Yet the Spurs backline held an excellent shape and forced a few of Real Madrid’s runners offside. When Real gained the upper hand, Spurs would pull back on the press but it was something they would come back to in order to unsettle Real Madrid for spells.
On the night, there were some major differences between BVB vs. Real Madrid and yesterday’s game, things like Gareth Bale being injured against Spurs. Even despite the differences of circumstances and players, it was Pochettino and Spurs’ willingness to show a different tactical look that helped them secure the point.