Tottenham fans could be forgiven for believing that their club is cursed. It seems like Spurs somehow give up that one goal or lose that one game or suffer that one injury that consigns them to failure at the least convenient possible times, even during this miraculously successful spell under manager Mauricio Pochettino’s stewardship. Today’s Tottenham-Manchester City Champions League match felt like it would prove yet more proof of the Lilywhites’ star-crossed nature, and yet somehow Spurs overcame their bad fortune to win, 1-0.
It only took about ten minutes to really start to get the feeling that today would not be Tottenham’s day. City forward Raheem Sterling zipped in from the left wing all the way through the heart of Spurs’ defense, and when he finally cocked his leg back and took a shot, a sliding Danny Rose was able to deflect it out for a corner kick. However, the video assistant referee flagged the play for further review by the head ref. When that ref took a look at it, he saw Rose’s arm actually deflected Sterling’s shot. Penalty to City.
Surely, the famously cool Sergio Agüero would deposit the spot kick into the back of Tottenham’s net and it would signify the start of Tottenham’s ending in both the match and the tie. Rather than acquiesce to this fate, though, keeper Hugo Lloris stood tall in his net and saved Agüero’s penalty:
Crisis averted ... temporarily.
While the rest of the first half played out pretty evenly, Tottenham would encounter their most cursed moment early in the second half. That was when Spurs’ best player, Harry Kane, went to close down a Fabian Delph clearance and wound up getting his ankle wrecked by Delph’s cleat:
Kane didn’t even try to to stay in the match. With assistance from the training staff, Kane hobbled down the tunnel and was substituted right away for Lucas Moura. An injury to that player, at that moment, and of that specific part of the player’s body, looked like it would spell Tottenham’s doom in today’s match and possibly even for their entire season.
Again, Kane is easily Tottenham’s best player. He is, when healthy, probably the best center forward in the world, and is thus the focal point of Tottenham’s entire attacking structure. With Kane out for the rest of the match, it was difficult to imagine how Spurs could find a goal. With Kane out for the away leg of this Champions League tie, which will be played in just eight days, it was difficult to imagine how Spurs could survive the onslaught sure to await them in Manchester and hopefully nick what could prove a crucial away goal. With Kane out for a significant chunk of the rest of the season (and Kane missing most if not all of the rest of the campaign is a distinct possibility, in no small part because of his history of chronic ankle problems that take him a long time to heal from), Tottenham’s entire year might have fallen apart after one kick to the leg.
Somehow, though, Tottenham found a way. City controlled the match after Kane went out, as Tottenham had a terrible time building the counter attacks they relied on earlier in their striker’s absence. But Kane isn’t Spurs’ only world-class player, and two of their others—Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min—combined in the 78th minute to give Tottenham the lead:
Man City couldn’t find a goal of their own, and so the match ended in a 1-0 Spurs victory.
This win is huge for Tottenham. By winning the game while also preventing City from scoring an away goal, Tottenham now have a sizable advantage going into the second leg of the tie. If they can hold onto their lead, Spurs will qualify for the Champions League semifinal, which will be the furthest they’ve ever gotten in Europe’s premier competition.
Of course, the ultimate fate of Tottenham’s season will likely lay with Kane’s health. Without him, it’s almost impossible to see them getting past their likely UCL semifinal opponents, Juventus, and even more difficult to see them going on to lift the European Cup. Even worse, if Kane misses a substantial part of the remaining Premier League season, Tottenham could very easily continue their recent slide and fall out of the top four. Missing out on Champions League play next season could be incredibly damaging for a club that desperately needs the money and the prestige that accompanies UCL play in order to attract new players and keep hold of the ones they’ve already got.
But those future fears are a little besides the point right now. Right now, Tottenham have withstood what could have been a pair of fatal blows and came out the other side victorious. If that isn’t enough to celebrate at least for a day, enough to get the club’s fans to believe this team might be blessed rather than cursed, then nothing is.