Toby Alderweireld hails savvy Spurs: ‘We played like adults, not children’

Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur and Serge Aurier of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates victory together after the UEFA Champions League group H match between Tottenham Hotspur and...

Toby Alderweireld felt that Tottenham Hotspur showed a new-found tactical maturity in the 3-1 Champions League win against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on Wednesday night.

The central defender emphasised the point with a snappy soundbite. “We didn’t play like children,” he said. “We played like adults.”

Tottenham’s priority in home matches is to squeeze high up the pitch and impose their pressing game, but against opposition of Dortmund’s class there was the realisation that they would have to play in a more containing and reactive way, which featured clinical thrusts on the counterattack.

Dortmund hogged the ball and they were easy on the eye, particularly in the first half, when they stretched Tottenham. During that period Mauricio Pochettino’s team sat too deep and they invited Dortmund on to them too much. They pushed up more in the second half and found a better balance. And yet Dortmund still trailed 2-1 at the interval.

The story of the evening from a Dortmund point of view was heavy on hard luck. They could lament the goal that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had wrongly ruled out for offside in the 56th minute – which would have made it 2-2 – and argue that Harry Kane ought to have been penalised for a foul on Nuri Sahin in the buildup to his first goal for 2-1.

Moreover, Dortmund made the game; they looked high-end and sophisticated, and they threatened. On the other hand, there was naivety from them at the back and the goalkeeper Roman Burki was twice beaten at his near post.

Alderweireld was impressed at how Tottenham dug in during the first half while making their two counterattacks pay – in the shape of goals for Son Heung-min and Kane. They were forced to defend manfully but they did so and Alderweireld could enjoy how they were able to come out more in the second half, when Kane added his second.

It was a triumph for Tottenham’s game management and it certainly felt that they had learned a few lessons from their failed Champions League campaign last season, when they were outmanoeuvred at Wembley by Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen.

“It wasn’t going our way but we fought, we kept compact and we tried to be dangerous when we came out,” Alderweireld said. “We did that in the first half and the second half was better. We’ve learned quick and we have to learn quick. It’s a good step from last season and a good start.

“When it doesn’t go our way, because we want to press and sometimes we’re a little bit late, we [have to] just stay compact to get through it. And when we got the ball, we tried to be dangerous. That’s a big plus from last season. They had a lot of possession but we defended very well. We didn’t give a lot of chances away. In the second half Dortmund got more tired and we should have scored more.

“Everybody knew what we had to do. We have more experienced players and they know what to do now in those kind of situations. They keep their heads calm and bring what they have to bring. We’ve learnt from last season.”

Kane was pleased at how Tottenham were “clinical when we needed to be” but he also made the point that they could not hope to press all the time against the top teams in Europe. The buzzwords have to be balance and savvy.

“It was an experienced performance from us,” Kane said. “We were clever in the way we pressed and when we dropped off. We’ve got to learn we can’t always press 100% against good teams because they’ll find spaces. We dropped off when we needed to and we caught them on the counterattack with the spaces in behind. We learned from last year’s campaign. We said we wanted to improve our home form and we’ve done that.”

The blot was the stoppage-time sending-off of Jan Vertonghen for a second yellow card. He threw an arm back and caught Mario Götze, seemingly accidentally, and saw the Dortmund substitute go down theatrically. Vertonghen, who will be suspended for the trip to Apoel Nicosia, made it plain that he was unimpressed at Götze.

“I didn’t agree with it,” Vertonghen said. “I had no intention of hitting him. For me, it was a mistake. I was trying to win the ball, protect it, but I had no intention to hit him. I think a couple of guys made too much of it.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Thursday 14th September 2017 12.00 Europe/London

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