London (AFP) – With their swashbuckling 3-1 dismantling of defending champions Real Madrid in the Champions League group phase, Tottenham Hotspur announced themselves as European heavyweights.
The most consistently impressive team in England over the past two years, Spurs had the misfortune of running into the Leicester City miracle in 2015-16 and a Chelsea juggernaut in 2016-17.
This season they trail Manchester City by eight points, but Wednesday’s stunning display at Wembley let Europe know — as England already knew — that Mauricio Pochettino’s side are a force to be reckoned with.
“This is a great manager, with great, young, ambitious players,” former Arsenal striker Ian Wright told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“They’re not fly-by-night players. They look like the real deal. They hammered Real Madrid and it’s a team still with a lot more to give.
“As an Arsenal man, it’s a frightening prospect seeing their progression.”
A performance built on asphyxiating pressing and relentless attacking, Wednesday’s win — which took Spurs into the last 16 — showcased the best of Pochettino’s team.
Dele Alli stole the show with two goals and although Harry Kane, for once, failed to find the target, it was his perfectly weighted pass that set up Christian Eriksen for the home side’s third goal.
The hosts’ opener showed off their celebrated English core as 21-year-old midfielder Harry Winks’s raking pass was volleyed across goal by Kieran Trippier for Alli to bundle home.
In condemning Madrid to their heaviest group-stage loss in nine years, Spurs called to mind the swaggering performances of their last Champions League campaign of note.
In 2010-11, future Madrid star Gareth Bale terrorised reigning champions Inter Milan over two games in the group phase.
Spurs then edged AC Milan in the last 16, before crashing 5-0 on aggregate to Madrid in the quarter-finals.
– ‘Got to believe’ –
The only other time they have reached the latter stages occurred in the 1961-62 season, when a team managed by the great Bill Nicholson reached the semi-finals before falling to eventual champions Benfica.
Over the intervening years, Spurs fans have grown accustomed to watching their rivals fly the flag for England in Europe.
But despite their lack of continental pedigree, Kane believes the victory over Madrid — European champions in three of the past four seasons — shows they can go all the way.
“Definitely, why not? We’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves, but we’ve got to believe,” said the England striker, who trails Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo by one goal in the scoring charts.
“I think everyone doubted us at the start of the group stage but for us, of course you’ve got to believe.”
It is a bold claim for a club who have won only one major trophy — the 2008 League Cup — since the turn of the century, but it is in tune with Pochettino’s thinking.
The former Argentina defender played down the importance of the domestic cups last month and promptly saw a weakened team bundled out of the League Cup by London rivals West Ham United.
Tottenham have traditionally been seen as a cup team and with eight FA Cups to their name, they are the third most successful team in the tournament’s history behind Arsenal and Manchester United.
The statement victories over English rivals racked up over the past two and a bit seasons have convinced Pochettino that his side can now compete for the biggest prizes in the sport.
But he knows the plaudits and the glory nights will count for nothing if Spurs cannot transform them into silverware.
“We need to understand that we are at a level where we are playing fantastic against the best teams and to get to the next level, we have to win things,” he said.
“Right now, we’re very proud. But this means nothing if at the end of the season we haven’t won a trophy.”
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