Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
Tottenham Hotspur exorcised their Wembley demons, and added to Borussia Dortmund’s, by taking full advantage of this thriller’s defining characteristic.
Determined to stymie Dortmund’s usual attempts to play through the middle, Mauricio Pochettino met the Germans’ ultra-high defensive-line with one of his very own.
Taken together, both aggressive offside-traps reduced the effective playing-area significantly, denying the visitors space in which to ply their passing trade.
But the Argentinian wasn’t finished there. Eschewing his usual 3-4-2-1, Pochettino instead opted for a midfield diamond, to further crowd central areas.
As such, although Peter Bosz’s side enjoyed a whopping 73% share of the first half-hour’s possession pie, through-ball opportunities were at a premium.
Tottenham, meanwhile, used their paltry time on the ball to devastating effect. Son’s devastating pace, and Harry Kane’s strength, ruthlessly exploited the cavernous space in behind Dortmund’s defence, to fire Spurs into 1-0 and 2-1 leads respectively.
Pochettino’s plan, therefore, in conjunction with Dortmund’s always-advanced full-backs, regularly mired Bosz’s uncertain centre-backs in dicey 2-v-2 situations. But it also featured one big drawback — its obvious vulnerability to those very same full-backs.
Dortmund worked wide areas brilliantly in the early going, continually overloading Spurs’ wing-backs to create chances.
Mere seconds before Moussa Dembélé allowed Andriy Yarmalenko to run off him and equalise, Toby Alderweireld produced a timely interception to prevent Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from converting a Lukasz Piszczek cross.
Yarmalenko’s leveler forced Pochettino into an early, and decisive, tactical change. Cognisant of the Belgian’s languidity, and unsuitability for a shuttling role, the Spurs manager promptly stopped asking him to perform it.
The hosts duly reorganised into a more familiar 5-4-1, with wing-backs Serge Aurier and Ben Davies gifted wide-midfielders to offer them greater protection against Dortmund’s wide-barrage.
Chances fashioned from the flanks immediately dried up. But suddenly, just as Pochettino had feared, the Germans began to threaten between the lines.
Victor Wanyama’s absence was felt, as Shinji Kagawa drifted behind Dembélé to thread two consecutive through-balls; one of which saw Jan Vertonghen brilliantly intercept a Christian Pulisic centre, the other running through to sweeper-keeper Hugo Lloris.
Shortly after that Lloris claim, Pulisic wasted Dortmund’s biggest chance of the half; the only one directly created by both sides’ pressing endeavour. Davinson Sanchez was the culprit, dispossessed on the halfway-line, allowing Aubameyang to finally collect a through-pass and square for the American teenager.
Neither side changed their approach at the beginning of the second-half. But a trailing Dortmund’s lax defensive transitions dropped them further into the mire.
Christian Eriksen’s resultant prominence between the lines saw both Kane and Son waste a gilt-edged chance apiece. Eventually, Ben Davies joined the Danish string-puller in his generously-vacated zone-of-influence to help tee-up an unmarked Kane.
That insurance goal arrived shortly after Dortmund finally punished Spurs’ resolutely high-line; only to see their presumed leveler unfairly ruled out. Aubamayang dispatched Mohamed Dahoud’s lofted through-ball, but was foiled by the flag.
A potentially damaging Vertonghen dismissal aside, this was one for the scrapbook for Pochettino. The Argentinian devised, and implemented, a logical plan to foil Dortmund’s predictable approach. But, most impressively, he also demonstrated the capacity to quickly diagnose, and fix, an obvious chink in his side’s armour.
Bosz’s rigidly attack-minded dogma was no match for Pochettino’s intelligent pragmatism here. The Wembley hoodoo is no more.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112