Tomorrow is game day, against a Tottenham team who thoroughly impressed at the Bernabeu earlier in October. Poch’s team is slightly limping right now (or furiously awaiting to take out their frustration on Real Madrid on Wednesday) after their league loss to Manchester United. If Tottenham is limping, though, then Real Madrid is crawling — suffering a brutal start to the league campaign with a ton of key players out of form. Will they step up like they normally do for big games? There’s a lot to unfold here, and we’ll almost surely be neck-deep trying to analyze everything by the time tomorrow’s match is over.
To help set the stage, I reached out to Sean Cahill, editor of SB Nation’s Cartilage Free Captain. I also answered some questions for them over at their blog, so feel free to pop over there to see my answers.
Kiyan: Spurs’ subreddit seemed like they would've been happy with one point from these two legs. Is that an accurate representation of how fans feel? And have expectations changed at all given how the 1st leg went?
Sean: I think any rational Spurs supporter went into this group thinking any point from a matchup with Real was a bonus point. Real was always going to get through this group and it was between Spurs and Dortmund for the second spot. Given how the group has gone, expectations have been exceeded given that Dortmund is sitting in third with just a point. Spurs fans rally around ‘The Game Is About Glory and To Dare Is To Do’ but I'm way too rational of a fan to sit there and go "Oh yeah, we're going to the Bernabeu and kicking Real's teeth down their throat."
So, that point on the road? Amazing, but wasn't at all expected.
Kiyan: Poch allowing Kane to roam freely while inserting Llorente to keep Varane / Ramos occupied was pretty badass. Assuming Kane is healthy to return on Wednesday, what changes with Delle Ali coming back?
Sean: It caught all of us off guard, believe me. We looked at the lineup and thought Poch had turned in a joke lineup to screw with all of us. Joke was on us, though, because somehow it worked.
I would be stunned if Dele Alli didn't start on Wednesday. I think you'll see a formation and lineup we're used to that includes a back three and has an attacking band of Kane / Dele / Eriksen, but Kane is a match-time decision. He trained on Tuesday, but it's still very much a toss-up.
Kiyan: How confident are you that Tottenham have shed the 'choke in Europe' curse?
Sean: Ask me that again in about three weeks. I'll buy into that when they qualify for the knockout rounds.
Kiyan: Tottenham defended extremely well in the first leg. They packed the left flank to unnerve Isco and Marcelo, and Vertonghem single-handedly thwarted young Achraf on the opposite flank. There wasn't much space for Real Madrid to operate in the final third. Does Tottenham change anything now that they return home? Perhaps a looser leash defensively?
Sean: I don't think much is going to change, tactically. Vertonghen is such an important piece to our defense because of his versatility. Maybe if Danny Rose starts in this match, things change because Rose has better pace to stay with attackers on the flank than Davies does. Verts is going to play that assist role no matter what, though. It's a staple of the Poch back three that he rotates and then doubles back to keep the shape. It's effective and there's no reason to change it drastically.
Kiyan: Explain what your offense looks like if Harry Kane isn't available.
All joking aside, Heung-Min Son more than likely slots into the striker role, though we may see Llorente paired up with him like Kane was at the Bernabeu. Not much else changes, other than me breathing into a paper bag for 90 minutes.
Kiyan: What should Real Madrid be most worried about?
Sean: The defense and midfield are about as healthy as they've ever been. Danny Rose may play tomorrow and while Victor Wanyama has returned to training, he won't be ready to go just yet. Young Harry Winks continues to impress us with his passing and Spurs could slot either Eric Dier or Mousa Dembele (probably the latter tomorrow) and feel comfortable with him. That group is a rock right now.
Kiyan: Call it.
Sean: Call me an optimist, but I'm feeling strangely good about this match tomorrow. Real are beat up and Spurs are pissed at their result over the weekend against United. I think they come out with a fire lit under them. It would take an amazing 90 minutes to pull off a win, and while I think they can do that, I'm not THAT much of an optimist.