Tottenham’s swaggering 3-1 victory over Real Madrid proves they deserve to be ranked as genuine contenders for the Champions League title, manager Mauricio Pochettino has claimed.
Pochettino’s side came of age at Wembley on Wednesday as they delivered a breathtaking display to book their place in the last 16 and hand Madrid their first Champions League group stage defeat in five years.
Dele Alli opened the scoring and bagged a superb second before Christian Eriksen notched Tottenham’s killer third, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s late strike no consolation for the shell-shocked European champions.
Aware Tottenham hadn’t been accepted as one of Europe’s elite despite their impressive progress under his management, Pochettino insists there can no longer be any doubt his team are the equal of Real and rest of the Champions League super-powers.
“Obviously this sort of win makes us more visible. It’s something everyone around Europe will see,” he said.
“You’ve seen today Tottenham are a big team. We now belong not only among the best teams in England but also in Europe.
“This is preparing us very well to achieve our goals. We want to win big competitions.
“If we get there this year remains to be seen but we are moving in the right direction.”
The vibrant performance will go down as one of Tottenham’s greatest days, joining the Gareth Bale-inspired rout of Inter Milan in 2010, Ricky Villa’s FA Cup-winning heroics in 1981 and Paul Gascoigne’s 1991 Wembley masterclass against Arsenal in the club’s pantheon of iconic moments. It was remarkable to see a side of Madrid’s class rendered so helpless in the face of Tottenham’s relentless pressing and incisive attacks.
Pochettino demurred when asked if it was the best result of his career, but the pride was clear to see on his face.
“It’s important for everyone. It’s a great victory, but honestly I feel happy like when we beat Liverpool or Bournemouth,” he said.
“I feel relaxed, calm. I’m thinking of Crystal Palace on Sunday. We must win.”
After an indifferent start to the season from Alli, this was a welcome return to form for the England midfielder, while Harry Kane and Harry Winks also gave influential displays that suggest Tottenham are ready to break through.
“It was fantastic for Dele. I start to feel he is getting better every day,” Pochettino said. “We need him at his best to achieve the things we want. I expected to see the very best of Madrid. But we are starting to believe in our qualities. We are competing with the big teams on a physical and mental level.”
In contrast to Tottenham’s unbridled joy, Real boss Zinedine Zidane is facing the first serious test of his coaching credentials as the pressure mounts following his side’s second successive defeat.
Already trailing eight points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona following Sunday’s shock loss at Girona, Madrid were alarmingly lethargic as the club’s long-awaited maiden Wembley appearance quickly turned sour.
With two games to play in Group H, they have a five-point cushion in second place and should still qualify for the last 16, but Zidane conceded they are in trouble at present. “We are going through a bad moment. This is life. You have to accept sometimes that things won’t go your way,” he said. “The players aren’t happy, They can’t be after a match like this. It’s hard to take. What’s important is we know how to change this. We have to stay faithful. After losing two in a row perhaps we are not at an optimum level. I’m not worried. We are a team of champions.” Zidane must have been alarmed with the way his team folded under pressure. But Real forward Ronaldo is adamant there was nothing wrong with their motivation. “The only thing we can control is our attitude, how much we run, we fight and I don’t think we lacked any of those things in Girona or today,” he said.
“You have to be positive because what matters is the end not the beginning.”