Tottenham’s risk play pays off with great display of character, but comeback mentality may not go the distance
Ottenham made another spectacular comeback in stoppage time and passed a stern test of character as they booked a place in the Champions League knockout stages last night.
While Saturday’s final win over Bournemouth was down to Spurs’ quality on the bench, the result felt more like a win for the mentality of Antonio Conte’s players.
Enough or not, Spurs won’t shake the bottlers tag until they win something and the occasion had more than enough to suggest they could crumble under the pressure, of the lingering pain of Harry Kane’s denied winner against Sporting CP last week at the presence of three former Arsenal players in Marseille’s XI.
More importantly, Spurs lacked key players and Conte himself – with the Italian banned from the touchline and dressing room – while home fans created a fiercely hostile environment.
There was a booming atmosphere here inside the Stade Vélodrome – even with a stand closed by UEFA for previous crowd issues – and Marseille ultras welcomed Spurs to the port city with two fabulous fires fireworks outside their team hotel in the early hours of yesterday morning. .
At the start, Spurs looked set to wither and they rightly followed Chancel Mbemba’s header after an atrocious first-half display.
Watching from the stands and unable to communicate directly with the dressing room, Conte must have feared his dismal Champions League record would continue but, in his absence, his players rallied for another round.
Clement Lenglet equalized with a header 10 minutes after the break and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg finally secured their place in the round of 16 and as group winners, with a ferocious finish on the post with the final kick of the game.
Captain Hugo Lloris described the match as a ‘psychological battle’ and the victory was further proof that Conte is building a team with impressive mental strength, although questions remain over their performance and the head coach’s own decisions. .
It was the third game in a row in which Spurs have recovered from the back, following the 3-2 win at Vitality Stadium and last week’s draw with Sporting, but the pattern is surely not sustainable anymore long time.
Conte insisted it’s impossible for his players to sustain their intensity for a full 90 minutes given the relentless schedule and one possibility – raised by his assistant, Cristian Stellini – is that the slow starts are part of the game. a strategy to conserve energy and beat the opponent in a 45-minute match.
“The stadium was very hot in the first half and sometimes it’s normal to give the opponent the opportunity to play, to use the energy you have in the second half,” said Stellini, who replaced Tale when it was banned.
“It could also be a strategy. We have to try to play every 90 minutes at the same level.
While playing halfway for the first 45 minutes is part of Conte’s big plan for this half of the season, it’s clearly risky and Spurs could have been punished by Marseille if former Arsenal player Sead Kolasinac didn’t. had not missed a latecomer. at 1-1.
More plausible is that Spurs simply didn’t know how to approach the first half, when knowing a draw would have been enough to guarantee qualification.
“We didn’t play well in the first half because we didn’t know whether to attack or defend,” said Lenglet, who headed in Ivan Perisic’s free kick.
The result ensures Spurs will be drawn against one of the runners-up from another group in the Round of 16 in February and March. Next up for Conte’s weary side is a visit to Liverpool on Sunday, ahead of the midweek Carabao Cup third round at Nottingham Forest and finally a home game against Leeds before taking a World Cup break .
Despite all the talk of Spurs’ disappointing performance in the first half of the season, they are now well placed to approach the winter break from a position of strength, comfortably in the hunt for the top four and even the title, and are preparing. for a knockout match in the Champions League.