As the complaints from a narrow win over Getafe fade, we set our gaze towards Tuesday’s heavyweight clash against Spurs.
(No, Tottenham aren’t Bayern, or City, or Juve, or Barca, or Atleti — but they’re pretty good! Let’s give them heavyweight status out of respect for Andrew who we’ve interrogated below)
This is a big game, and Real Madrid enter it knowing two things that should provide fans with comfort: 1) It’s a big game, and Real Madrid have been just fantastic in big games under Zidane; and 2) These players all rested against Getafe: Luka Modric, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, and Isco (who played just 13 minutes).
Appreciate that depth, because it’s rare. It’s not something that Mauricio Pochettino has at Tottenham, and he’ll be missing both Delle Ali (suspension) and Ben Davies (illness) with no real replacements for them.
To help us set the stage, I reached out to my good friend, and elite Spanish football writer Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) of Yahoo Sports UK. We’re used to discussing La Liga, and in particular Valencia, with Andrew — but he is a Tottenham fan after all. And as he said once on our Churros y Tácticas Podcast — you can only truly support one team.
OK, let’s get it:
Kiyan: Hi. Harry Kane for Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marco Asensio, and Isco. Who says no?
Andrew: Real Madrid say no. Harry Kane is a rare breed of player who genuinely loves the club he plays for, and as such, is priceless. However there's no way Spurs would turn down having all those players in exchange. Although part of me wouldn't part with Kane for any money, player or players, as long as he wanted to be at the club. His connection with the fans, coupled with how much Spurs mean to him, is something unique in modern football and it'd be a shame to ever see him wear another shirt. Well, apart from England's.
Kiyan: The last time I spoke to you about this upcoming match was on the Churros y Táticas Podcast back in September. You weren't very confident. Has that changed at all?
Andrew: I don't think any side enters a match with Real Madrid, at the Bernabeu, and feels confident of winning. Even with Madrid's domestic troubles, there's enough individual quality which can hurt you in a heartbeat. Their squad depth is to be feared and as we saw last season, even the 'B' side can put most teams in Europe to the sword.
In saying that, I don't think it's beyond Spurs to grab something from the match. There's no pressure on Pochettino to get a result here and as such the pressure is passed onto Zidane. With the wealth of attacking talent in Madrid's midfield, there might be chances for Spurs to strike on the counter. The problem is if you overcommit and get caught with too many bodies further forward, Madrid will take advantage. Alderweireld and Vertonghen will need to be at their very best.
Kiyan: How much of a hit is it not having Dele Alli, as well as Ben Davies, who doesn't seem to be recovering from his illness in time?
Andrew: Hm, I think Davies would be a bigger loss than Alli. I know, I know, Alli is a much better player but Spurs have no genuine alternative to Davies. With Alli out there's the option to play Son further forward or just have an extra man slot into the midfield and try to outnumber Madrid there. Alli's form isn't great going into this game either. This idea he's been awful is an exaggeration but even he will admit he hasn't quite hit his stride so far this season. We sometimes forget Alli is only 21.
Supposing Davies misses out, it seriously unbalances Spurs. Danny Rose's absence was made so much easier after Davies stepped up and showed he's good enough. He took a lot of stick last season, most of it unjustified, but he's been one of the most consistent members of the XI so far. If we see Son playing at LWB, I might cry a little inside.
Kiyan: Poch says Spurs will try to attack Real Madrid, but admits if they get pushed back due to Real Madrid's quality, they'll have to adapt. OK. Your take? What approach should Spurs take? I'm interested to see this unfold because in many ways Tottenham have a similar playing style to Real Madrid, but with less quality -- but definitely enough quality to win as well.
Andrew: Spurs definitely shouldn't go all out, that would be disastrous. The sides which have enjoyed success at the Bernabeu this season (Valencia, Levante and Betis) were all given less respect than Spurs will be. That's why the attacking intent of those mentioned caught Madrid by surprise. There's no way Madrid will do the same here and less so with Kane in such good form. They'll respect Spurs’ attacking ability and take greater care on the counter.
If Spurs are on the front foot it plays into the hands of Madrid who excel on the break. Giving the ball to Modric, Kroos and Isco might seem crazy but if the defence is organized then Spurs will create plenty of chances of their own.
I expect it to be how Spurs ended up playing against Dortmund. After initially attempting to go toe-to-toe they dropped deep, invited pressure onto the defence, before killing Dortmund on the counter. Madrid did something similar but that's also because Dortmund were quite wasteful. Spurs will hope Madrid struggle to break them down, overcommit, then grab something on the counter. We all know how difficult it can be once Madrid get a goal at home, especially in Europe. The longer it takes to come, the better it is for Spurs.
Kiyan: I know Harry Kane has been brilliant; but I'm more interested in asking about Christian Eriksen, who low-key is integral to everything Spurs do. Can you tell us about him, and why he's so important to Spurs? How can he hurt Real Madrid?
Andrew: Eriksen is the central hub of everything good Spurs produce. Kane destroys defences but without Eriksen, Spurs create so little. Alli's transition from central midfielder to second striker puts even more pressure on Eriksen to pull the strings for two men, not just one. The only other midfielder who is similar to him in the entire squad is Harry Winks.
I always thought Eriksen would eventually drop deeper and become the true heir to Modric's throne (that's right, we made Luka). Eriksen covers a lot of ground, isn't a bad tackler and always finds an extra yard of space to pick out an attacker. If you close down Eriksen, you close down Spurs. Kane is dangerous feeding off scraps but if Eriksen is allowed the time to find him, maybe, just maybe, Spurs can really hurt Madrid.
Kiyan: Call it.
Andrew: Bah! I just think this is a game Spurs can afford to lose, as long as it isn't heavily, and it won’t do too much damage. We're in the middle of October and all of the teams in the group are likely to lose at the Bernabeu. A win wouldn't mean much, apart from taking a step closer to qualification to the KO rounds, so there's little need for Spurs to risk everything. A huge loss could damage morale so it's important Spurs are smart.
I'd love to see Spurs come away with a point but I expect us to lose, maybe 2-1 or 3-1.