Wednesday 16 January 2019

Magical Modric turns on style as super Spurs open new chapter in Euro fairytale

Tottenham 3
Werder Bremen 0

Henry Winter

Tottenham continue to feast at Europe’s top table, continue to gorge on startled defences. Playing with pace out wide and deftness through the middle, Harry Redknapp’s team of dynamos swept into the knock-out stages of the Champions League Spurs even kept a clean sheet, their first since August.

Redknapp has forged a real team in these famous lilywhite shirts, the players united in their belief in the manager and in each other. A togetherness underpins Tottenham’s prominence, creating an even greater platform for the virtuoso talents like Gareth Bale and Luka Modric to perform on. Even Redknapp showed a good first touch to control a stray ball, drawing an admiring smile from Werder’s best player, Marko Marin.

Spurs’ quality down the flanks was again showcased, Aaron Lennon joining Bale in bequeathing more nightmares to more visiting full-backs. Spurs’ wing-play has been one of the features of the Champions League season, stretching even the European champions Inter Milan, but so has their subtlety through the middle. Making light of Rafael van der Vaart’s absence with an ankle problem, Tottenham were simply inspired by an immense display from Modric, fearless in winning the ball and full of ideas in using it.

Spurs display was far from faultless: Roman Pavlyuchenko squandered two inviting chances, Bale missed a penalty while Redknapp’s full-backs, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Alan Hutton, gifted the ball away late on. But they were far too strong for Werder, scoring through Younes Kaboul, Modric and Peter Crouch. ''Three nil - and a long way home,’’ crowed the Spurs fans at their German counterparts, who had added to the occasion with relentless noise themselves.

The idea of Spurs making the last 16 with a game to spare would have stretched the credulity of even their most ardent backers when they trailed 3-0 to Young Boys Berne in their qualifying play-off. Spurs can even progress as Group A winners if they match Inter Milan’s result against Werder when travelling to Twente Enschede.

With Chelsea due at the Lane five days later, it will be interesting to see the strength of Redknapp’s side in Holland. Spurs manager, whose team are now 20-1 to win the trophy, promised to field a strong team, emphasising his desire to finish top, although he pointed out the depth of resources he has to call upon.

Michael Dawson returns to training tomorrow, although William Gallas will take some shifting on this evidence. One piece of defending, shepherding the ball away from the threatening Marin, reminded Redknapp of Bobby Moore against Jairzinho in 1970. To think Arsenal allowed Gallas to leave.

Wednesday night confirmed the depth of resources Redknapp can call upon.

When Jermaine Jenas injured his calf, Wilson Palacios anchored midfield expertly, making some weighty, well-timed tackles. With Pavlyuchenko disappointing, Jermain Defoe darted off the bench to take another stride down the road to match fitness. Redknapp is not short of options. Spurs also don’t seem to have the peeps of dissent heard at some other clubs with similarly large squads. The upbeat spirit engendered by Redknapp and his coaching staff helps that mood. So does successful football.

Redknapp had promised to cause Werder ''trouble’’ down the flanks. Within a minute Bale was raiding down the left, taking on Clemens Fritz, winning a corner and creating a period of early pressure that soon brought reward. Werder could not lift the siege. Seizing on a desperate clearance after six minutes, Alan Hutton maintained the momentum by whipping the ball first time to Lennon, who accelerated past Daniel Jensen.

Lennon has often failed to exploit the potential of situations created by his devastating pace. He certainly delivered with his final ball here, checking on his team-mates’ movement before picking out Kaboul with the perfect cutback. The Frenchman’s finish was expert, the ball volleyed crisply past Tim Wiese.

Rattled, the Germans vainfully sought to get the ball through to their lone frontrunner, Sandro Wagner. Werder’s X factor was found elsewhere, in the quicksilver form of Marin, the nimble left-sided No 10. His shirt looked too big, his fingertips only just visible, but nothing could hide Marin’s talent.

He saw the ball too infrequently, though. Spurs kept speeding forward, kept probing down the flanks. From one Bale cross, Crouch teed up Pavlyuchenko, who fired over and then wasted excellent approach work by Lennon. No matter. A second goal arrived just before the break. Crouch headed Hutton’s cross into the path of Modric, whose response was pure Van der Vaart. Dummying Sebastian Prodl, Modric deftly placed the ball in the net.

The only surprise of the second half was that Spurs added only one more. So adept with a moving ball, Bale could have had two goals with a dead ball. First he lifted a superb free-kick over the Bremen wall and was denied by the bar. His next effort was less impressive; when Felix Kroos caught Modric, Bale placed his penalty too close to Wiese.

To freshen up his attack, Redknapp withdrew Pavlyuchenko and sent on Defoe, who so nearly found the mark. When Modric slid in with a marvellous challenge on Onur Ayik, the ball rebounded to Defoe, who unleashed a shot that Wiese punched spectacularly away.

Spurs continued to stretch Bremen, adding a deserved third with 11 minutes left. When Bale’s cross bounced off the woodwork, Lennon eluded Dominik Schmidt and rolled the ball to Crouch, who gave Wiese no chance. It was all over bar the standing ovations. Spurs march on.

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