Well, at 10pm on Wednesday night he was charging around the pitch like a fan, jumping around arm-in-arm with Kieran Trippier, clenching his fists and shaking his arms at the away end in gleeful vindication. Spurs are in a Champions League semi-final and a winnable semi-final at that.
This was without any question the greatest moment of the Pochettino era so far. No, for all their good work, they do not have a trophy yet, as they are often reminded. And their biggest games, cup semis and finals, have often produced disappointing results. They lost FA Cup semis to Chelsea and Manchester United that should have been well within their reach.
But now they have beaten Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City over two legs, ending any chance of a quadruple, and setting themselves up for the biggest game of their lives. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will host a Champions League semi in the next couple of weeks, which is not a bad start given that it only opened its doors 14 days ago. Pochettino has often spoken about how the team is progressing quicker than the club, and here he has delivered a moment that no-one at Spurs ever planned for.
Who knows whether Spurs will go on to lift the famous trophy in Madrid on June 1 but the fact that this is even a possibility shows how much they are over-achieving. And in this, a season in which they bought no-one, ran themselves into the ground, and did not play their first home game until early April. They even thought they were out of the Champions League back in November, after three bad results, and took a remarkable turnaround just to get into the last-16. Spurs have finished second and third in the Premier League under Pochettino, and this campaign can now be seen as just as difficult, just as unlikely and just as impressive as those.
The performance itself? Spurs have certainly played better than this. They were set up in a 4-4-2 diamond designed to take advantage of City’s mistakes, and it worked. Heung Min Son’s two instinctive finishes early on set the tie up Spurs’ way. Without those goals City would surely have cruised past Spurs, but those two instead played with City’s minds.
Of course with Victor Wanyama in a glued-together midfield Spurs had to ride their luck, and there were moments early in the second half when City were all over them. And it felt as if they would keep scoring until they won 5-2 or 6-2 on the night. There were moments there, like Hugo Lloris’ save from Kevin De Bruyne, whose importance only became apparent in time.
Because Spurs did the hardest and most important thing here, when it looked like everything was against them. They stayed in the game. They made sure they did not get blown away. So all that they needed was a lucky bounce for them to score a deadly third. And with Fernando Llorente on the pitch you always have a chance. He tested Ederson with a header even before his goal, so whatever the controversy about how he scored, City cannot said that they were not warned.
And while City might feel that they should have won by more tonight, Spurs could say the same about the first leg too. City enjoyed far more of the ball over the two legs but each side ended up with four goals and, crucially, Spurs made fewer mistakes. It was City who missed the penalty last week, City who gave away two away goals in three minutes last night, City who took let the game get away from them again right at the very end here.
So for Spurs to get past City is an achievement, all the more so given the injuries they faced. Spurs had no Harry Winks or Eric Dier in midfield last night, forcing them to start Wanyama, before losing Moussa Sissoko to an injury of his own. They had to get through the second leg without Harry Kane, who injured his ankle again in the first game. So this was not even peak Spurs, but a tired, run-down, patched-together Spurs, who pulled off this amazing combination of results.
There is a theory at Spurs that sometimes without Kane they get surprisingly good results because everyone plays out of their skin to prove a point. That was the case with his last injury, when a series of last-gasp wins kept them in the Premier League hunt. But nothing was as surprising or as spectacular as this, the greatest result in Spurs’ modern history, the greatest 4-3 defeat of all time, as a Kane-less Spurs did enough to derail an unstoppable force. And to set up a date with history of their own.
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