Tottenham Hotspur Must Do This To Contain Borussia Dortmund's Rising Star Jadon Sancho
Tottenham might feel, once again, that the Champions League draw has been unkind to them.
The north Londoners’ path to the last-16 has not been easy, as they became only the eighth team in the competition’s history to qualify from the group stages after taking a solitary point from their opening three games.
Having overcome that test, they would be justified in lamenting a draw that has pitted them against Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.
To make matters worse, Mauricio Pochettino has been keen to point out, the German outfit have enjoyed an extra day’s rest due to TV scheduling. Fine margins, but ones which could turn out to be crucial in the first leg on Wednesday night.
The first hour or so of Dortmund’s clash with Hoffenheim at the weekend served as a reminder of all that is brilliant about Lucien Favre’s side this season. Goals from Jadon Sancho, Mario Gotze, and Raphael Guerreiro saw them cruise to a 3-0 lead.
However, those Spurs opposition scouts tasked with sticking it out to the very end will have been delighted with what they saw: a Dortmund defence that capitulated and conceded three soft goals within 13 minutes as Hoffenheim snatched an unlikely point.
This was not the first alarm bell that has rung in recent weeks. First, there was a 1-1 draw with Eintracht - respectable, but concerning given that Bayern Munich are smelling blood at the top of the table. Then came a DFB Pokal exit at the hands of Werder Bremen.
That second defeat came at a heavy cost, Marco Reus, who has been so effective as a number 10 this season, suffering a muscle injury. The skipper is facing a race against time to be fit enough to travel to Wembley.
It has to be said that Spurs have displayed their own vulnerabilities. Leicester missed a host of good chances in their 3-1 defeat. On the injury front, Harry Kane is scheduled to return from an ankle injury earlier than expected but won’t be in contention until February 23 against Burnley, at the earliest. Dele Alli and Ben Davies are still out, while Erik Lamela missed the win over Leicester with a minor back injury.
Danny Rose will be given a late test to assess whether he’s fit enough to make the bench, but will not start. That suggests Jan Vertonghen will be utilised at left-back.
Yet Tottenham ought to have seen enough to give them hope that they can, at the very least, keep the tie alive going into the second leg.
Dortmund’s inexperienced defence
It’s easy to attack Dortmund’s current defence as inexperienced. Abdou Diallo is 22, Julian Weigl is 23, and Achraf Hakimi is just 20. Those accusations do not appear to be unwarranted, however, judging by the manner in which they went to pieces against Hoffenheim. Diallo, in particular, struggled, was clearly at fault for the first goal, and almost gifted the visitors a winner late on.
Hakimi could have a hard time against Fernando Llorente in the air, if the Spaniard starts for Spurs. Dortmund desperately need Manuel Akanji back from his hip injury, but he has only just returned to training and will be unavailable. Lukasz Piszczek ought to retain his place despite the former Poland international complaining of continued discomfort in his heel.
Jadon Sancho is the key
Arguably Spurs’ biggest task will be stopping Jadon Sancho. The 18-year-old continues to catch the eye from afar, scoring eight goals and assisting another 10 in all competitions this season. The young Englishman’s display against Hoffenheim was widely described as his best yet, despite what happened to his team-mates at the other end. The way he linked up with Gotze for the third goal, scored by Guerreiro, was glorious.
How do Spurs combat him? Well, that could depend firstly on winning their battles in midfield. Fortunately, Harry Winks has looked increasingly willing to take on defensive duties. He has had to take on that responsibility playing alongside Moussa Sissoko, in the absence of an out-and-out holding midfielder.
Vertonghen would not have been Pochettino’s first choice at full-back, especially taking on Sancho’s pace. Yet the alternative would be to bring in Kyle Walker-Peters, who was found out at the Nou Camp against Ousmane Dembele in the group stages.
Toby Alderweireld, who started on the bench against Leicester, is expected to return to the starting XI to keep the back-line organised as he did when the two sides met at Wembley last season. On that occasion, Tottenham secured a surprise 3-1 victory. It was a surprise too, not so much for the fact that they hadn’t gone into the group meeting as favourites, but because Pochettino’s men played in a way that was uncharacteristic of them.
They dug in, they didn’t try to beat Dortmund at pressing, and it paid off. Another performance like that, and Spurs could find themselves with one foot in the quarter-finals.