Tottenham 1 Monaco 2: Tottenham’s Champions League debut at Wembley turned into a damp squib as they lost to Monaco in their opening game in Group E but it was not the stadium but their own inefficiencies which cost them dear and cast doubt over their ambitions in the tournament.
This was Tottenham’s first Champions League tie at Wembley and it’s a venue that Mauricio Pochettino’s men need to get used to quickly – they will also play Premier League games here next season as the club’s new stadium alongside White Hart Lane is completed. But it wasn’t a happy start as a technically-gifted Monaco side, inspired by Bernardo Silva, clinched a 2-1 victory.
There was always a concern in the Spurs ranks the Wembley factor, although welcome in terms of building support for the future (there were 85,011 packed inside which amounts to Tottenham’s record home crowd), could complicate matters in the short term.
It is not easy to settle into a new environment as Arsenal found when they played Champions League matches in England’s national stadium (albeit the old version) in 1998 and 1999, losing three out of six ties. So if Tottenham are to feel at home in the 90,000-seater venue in future they need to start building good memories as soon as possible and find ways of taking advantage of the ground’s large energy-sapping pitch and echoing atmosphere. On this occasion, however, they couldn’t do it – and some of their limitations were put on show.
The early signs were good as Spurs’ fans filled almost every seat, creating a sea of white inside Wembley – just like an England game except with noise, as one wag put it. But despite a quick start, in which Son had an early effort cleared off the line, there were worrying signs, too, that Tottenham’s inexperience in the competition could be an issue..
Spurs, don’t forget, have only played in the Champions League or European Cup on two previous occasions, the last time in 2011 when, inspired by Gareth Bale, they reached the quarter-finals before being humbled 5-0 on aggregate by Real Madrid.
For much of this match Spurs continued to play as if it were a Premier League game, throwing themselves into attacks but leaving themselves vulnerable at the back.
Two quick lapses of concentration cost them dear in the first-half. First, the excellent Bernando Silva shrugged off two challenges after Erik Lamela had given away possession, moved the ball onto left foot and drove a sweet finish across Hugo Lloris for 1-0 in the 15th minute. Then, after 31 minutes, poor defending from a throw-in and then from a Sjibril Sidibe cross allowed subThomas Lemar, only on after Nabil Dirar injured himself in the early stages, to thunder home left-footed at the far post and double Monaco’s lead.
Thankfully for Mauricio Pochettino, whose body language made it very obvious what he felt about his side’s defending, Spurs found a way back in the very last minute of the first-half, Toby Alderweireld rising above Kamil Glik to head home a Lamela corner at the near post.
That goal changed the entire atmosphere and Spurs, who brought on Mousa Dembele for Son at half-time, drove forward in numbers in a bid to rescue the game. A dipping volley from Alli, who had a lively game, was spectacularly turned over the bar by Danihel Subasic and Spurs thought they had won a penalty when Fabinho was booked for a push on the Spurs midfielder as the home side prepared to take a corner. Referee Gianluca Rocchi rightly explained, however, that with the ball not yet in play a spot-kick could not be awarded.
The longer the match went on, however, the more Tottenham struggled to clear cut chances and the more Monaco’s intelligent front three of Silva, Radamel Falcao and Lemar began to weave triangles at the other end of the field.
Of particular concern was the form of Harry Kane who wasted an excellent chance when shooting straight at Subasic after 78 minutes and who seemed to be missing his usual spark. Is the number 10 fit? Is he still suffering from the battering he was given when playing for England at Euro 2016? You’d hope not, but certainly he wasn’t himself at Wembley and that’s a worry for Spurs because their squad is not strong on strikers.
Pochettino brought on Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko in a bid to turn the game but in the end it petered out almost apologetically. In fact there was barely a smattering of applause at the final whistle - and most Tottenham fans had headed for the exits before the team even left the pitch in an eery silence. If this is going to be home for Spurs there’s a lot of work to do.
Lloris 6, Walker 6, Alderweireld 7, Vertonghen 6, Davies 6, Dier 6 (Sissoko 81), Alli 7, Son 6 (Dembele 46; 7), Eriksen 5, Lamela 7 (Janssen 71; 6), Kane 6. .
Subasic 7, Raggi 6, Glik 7, Jemerson 7, Sidibe 6, Fabinho 6, Bakayoko 7, Dirar 5 (Lemar 7; 8), Joao Moutinho 6, Bernardo Silva 8, Falcao 6 (Germain 81).
Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
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