SPORTS | UCL: Spurs beaten, but proud

Mauricio Pochettino’s men could not record the victory they so craved at the national stadium but they were never cowed in a gutsy performance in front of a record crowd.

When it was announced that Tottenham would play their Champions League home games at Wembley Stadium in 2016-17 there was much excitement among the Spurs faithful.

The prospect of 90,000 fans – predominantly clad in white and blue – turning out at the national stadium and cheering Mauricio Pochettino’s men was a charming, almost romantic notion. On Wednesday it was clear that Spurs have done everything in their power to turn Wembley into a home away from home; from the huge Spurs flag hanging from the rafters to the pre-match video package, ripped straight from White Hart Lane, those in attendance will have felt a real sense of familiarity.

On the pitch, however, things threatened to turn very sour indeed after just 15 minutes. Erik Lamela was sloppy on the ball, meekly surrendering possession in his own half, and Bernardo Silva capitalised. The Portugal international raced away and was immediately shown onto his stronger left foot by Jan Vertonghen. Afforded such a golden opportunity, the 22-year-old made no mistake, rifling a superb effort past Hugo Lloris. Silence reigned. As home debuts go this was more Jonathan Woodgate than Anthony Martial.

Thomas Lemar soon rubbed salt into the wounds, making the best of a shambolic defensive mix-up between Vertonghen and Ben Davies to slam home a half-volley from six yards. Pochettino appeared aghast on the sidelines as Leonardo Jardim pumped his fists in celebration.

Pochettino selected an attacking team for Spurs’ first game in Europe’s elite club competition since 2011, desperately hoping that a midfield pairing of Dele Alli and Eric Dier would offer both attacking guile and defensive strength.

Alli is a loose cannon. While he is a brilliant and willing runner in the final third and a truly terrifying prospect on the break, he does not offer the defensive protection of Mousa Dembele, who was strangely consigned to the bench, and Dier was given too much work to do throughout the first half. While he regularly won possession back for his side, he was overrun.

And yet, for all of the frustration in the opening 45 minutes, there was hope come half-time, as Toby Alderweireld rose highest in the box to plant a quite brilliant header past Danijel Subasic. Suddenly, Wembley believed in miracles.

Dembele was introduced at half-time, replacing the occasionally brilliant yet often frustrating Heung-Min Son and he immediately released Alli, whose box of tricks was suddenly prised open.

A drag-back leading to a nutmeg on the left flank drew gasps from the crowd, as did a dipping half-volley from 25 yards that had Subasic scrambling.

In the second half Spurs were a team transformed, regaining the fluidity and precision that had seemingly abandoned them 45 minutes prior. Tim Sherwood once claimed that Spurs lacked “gut”, but there was no evidence of that on Wednesday.

Moving into the Champions League from the Premier League regularly brings teams to their knees as they are pitted against the very best the continent has to offer; we have often seen the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal fail in Europe, despite their considerable resources and relative success domestically.

Tottenham, though, appear set to give the Champions League their very best shot; again and again they poured forward, dominating Monaco and penning them back into their own half.

Despite the wishes of the 85,000 in attendance the equaliser did not come, as Monaco’s resolute defending, coupled with Tottenham’s profligacy, prohibited late drama.

Time and again chances were spurned, with Harry Kane a serial offender, most notably in the 79th minute. Vincent Janssen, substituted on for Lamela, held off the challenge of Jemerson and cut the ball back for the England international. The Kane of last season would have fired past Subasic and brought Spurs level. This time, he merely sent the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands.

The pressure continued into injury time but Spurs could not find a way through, and trudged off at full-time aware that this was a game that was there for the taking.

Yet while Monaco proved that they must be taken seriously in this year’s competition, and they surely pose the biggest threat to Spurs’ chances of progression, Tottenham must leave Wembley with their heads held high.

In front of a record British crowd for a Champions League game this side were never cowed, and they steadfastly refused to lie down.

Monaco’s victory may well prove to be a pyrrhic one, as this experience will surely stand Spurs in fine stead as their European campaign continues.

This is a young team, but they performed bravely, and showed that they are in this competition to stay.

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