Tottenham illustrate England’s return to the Champions League elite

At the beginning of the 2016/17 season one of the biggest questions surrounding the Premier League was just how the influx of truly elite coaches would impact the division.

Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola all took jobs in Manchester or London whilst Mauricio Pochettino continued his upward surge with Tottenham Hotspur.

One of the major issues of the time was just how poor English clubs had been in the Champions League, even though Manchester City reached a semi-final in the 2015/16 season, few felt they deserved to be there on merit.

English clubs had steadily declined in Europe’s top competition despite their fiscal advantage over the rest of the continent growing larger and larger due to new television deals.

Yet, rather poetically, as the Premier League’s latest television deal saw a drop in both income and interest with two packages remaining unsold on Tuesday, Tottenham Hotspur put in the sort of performance away to Juventus that signified English clubs’ return to the Champions League elite.

An element of top level naivety cost Spurs as they found themselves 2-0 down after around eight minutes, a poorly defended free-kick handed Gonzalo Higuain a golden opportunity which he took before Ben Davies lost his positional bearings and gave away a clumsy penalty.

It would have been easy for the North London club to fold, as many previous Spurs sides would have done, Christian Eriksen even intimated as much after the final whistle.

“When I arrived here four or five years ago, the games where you went 2-0 down against the top teams, you lost 6-0,” he explained in his post-match interview.

“This is what we have changed with the new manager coming in. Tottenham are now completely different, we aren’t going to lie down even if we are 2-0 down.”

As soon as Juventus netted the second goal it was almost as a switch was flicked amongst the visiting Spurs players, immediately they realised the need for an away goal and went searching for it, sometimes in a cavalier manner.

Juventus panicked, they retreated into their own half and allowed Spurs an infinite amount of time on the ball, Mousa Dembele is an exceptional footballer and you will inevitably get punished if you allow him to bring the ball into your half without any form of pressure.

Harry Kane was always involved in the match, even if it was merely a physical tussle with Giorgio Chiellini; it was a perfect matchup which kept the vastly experienced Italian defender busy all game long.

Some may argue that the goals came too early for Juventus; they then allowed Spurs to dominate them. Pochettino’s charges played no differently to what would be expected if they happened to be 2-0 against a middling Premier League team.

After withstanding sizable pressure, Kane found the net with a fine finish from a tight angle to really set the Turin nerves jangling before Eriksen’s second half free kick secured the 2-2 draw.

Much of the knockout stage of the Champions League hinges on luck, Tottenham were given a huge slice of it when Higuain missed a golden chance to put the hosts 3-0 on the counter attack.

His penalty miss on the cusp of half time soon followed and despite scoring two goals, the Argentine was all of a sudden in a position where his two misses had impacted the tie immeasurably.

English teams have held such an inferiority complex in the Champions League in recent seasons, last season Spurs failed to make it out of the group stage whilst Arsenal and Manchester City were embarrassed by Bayern Munich and Monaco respectively, conceding 16 goals collectively in both of their first knockout round ties.

It said an awful lot that Leicester City, a team that were in the lower half of the Premier League table, were the English team which reached the furthest stage of the competition.

This year things are totally different, barring a miracle Pep Guardiola’s side are already in the quarter final, Spurs are likely to go through and there is a possibility that three further English teams will join them in the next round.

Manchester United and Liverpool will be expected to surpass Sevilla and Porto comfortably although Chelsea have a difficult tie against Barcelona, but they remain the only team to stop Lionel Messi scoring over multiple matches.

For years the Premier League has been ahead financially but behind on the pitch in the Champions League, now with the incredible quality of the coaches at the top clubs in England’s top flight, they have caught up to Europe’s elite and as Spurs showed on Tuesday, 2018 might be the year and English name is back on the famous trophy.

 

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn

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