From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – European nights in N17 just aren’t the same without fans, and with the prospect of a deep run on the cards, Tottenham could perhaps have done with that extra 10% a buoyant crowd brings in their last 16 first leg win over Dinamo Zagreb.
Spurs will take a healthy 2-0 lead to Croatia next Thursday courtesy of two close-range strikes from Harry Kane, and they were made to work for such an advantage by the Blues.
Dinamo – who arrived in north London on an eight match winning run – wanted to get at Spurs from the off, attacking immediately from kick-off and aggressively pressing their hosts. Clear cut chances for the visitors were few and far between, but they were always nipping at Tottenham’s heels (physically and metaphorically).
Jose Mourinho’s team selection was proof that he wasn’t taking the threat of Dinamo lightly, starting Kane and Son Heung-min just three days before their trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
It’s rare to see a ‘weakened’ team from Mourinho anyway – he’s desperate to win every trophy and he’ll let you know about it. But he’s acknowledged a number of times Spurs’ gruelling schedule and noted the thousands of miles that his players have clocked this season. He’s been trying to find the right balance in a fiercely competitive squad.
Managing Gareth Bale’s minutes has been one of Mourinho’s priorities, but it’s clear he also wanted to keep Tottenham’s recent momentum flowing, and try to kill this tie before it ever really lived.
But Dinamo were here to hassle and harry Spurs, and make their life difficult. West Brom, Wolfsberger, Burnley and Crystal Palace all sat off Tottenham in their recent home drubbings, and perhaps a sterner test is what they needed to keep them in check ahead of the north London derby.
While Spurs have been in cruise control at times on this winning run, you wouldn’t say they’ve been complacent, but maybe a drubbing wouldn’t have been the best preparations for a game of Sunday’s magnitude.
Arsenal have been in decent form since their pathetic loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in December, and won’t just be toyed and manipulated with again so easily – they are no longer relegation candidates.
If Spurs had the week off, there’s every chance Mourinho would have sent his squad on a wild goose chase to the Himalayas in search of the abominable snowman, but a bruising Europa League win will suffice.
Erik Lamela, Tanguy Ndombele and Eric Dier were all in the wars, maintaining Spurs’ tempo on and off the ball, keeping a manic and dogged Dinamo largely at arm’s length.
Son continued his recent performances as a tricky touchline winger rather than the inside forward who’s been so prolific this season, and Kane put in another vintage display. His brace was the top line of every match report, but his passing and general footballing IQ elevated him above every other player on the pitch.
The Europa League is definitely a winnable competition for Spurs, and while they’ve played their way back into top four contention domestically, their exploits on the continent may still represent their best chance of a return to the Champions League – they have one foot in the quarter-finals and one of the biggest games of their season on the horizon.