Tottenham, Real Madrid battle to draw that suits both, and satisfies Spurs

Harry Kane and Raphael Varane were collectively responsible for Tottenham’s goal. (Getty)
Harry Kane and Raphael Varane were collectively responsible for Tottenham’s goal. (Getty)

Both Real Madrid and Tottenham remain in fantastic position to advance to the Champions League knockout stages after a thrilling 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital on Tuesday night. After 90 minutes of chances and heroic saves, both will rue missed opportunities. Both will feel one point could have been three.

But if the cheers that erupted from the visiting fans at the Santiago Bernabeu were any indication, one of the two teams will be significantly more satisfied than the other. Those traveling Tottenham supporters celebrated a point that few expected. It’s a point that, coupled with Borussia Dortmund’s draw at APOEL, pulls the club ever closer to its second-ever trip to the Round of 16.

It’s also a point that Spurs fully deserved.

In fact, Spurs have a few legitimate reasons to believe their evening could have been even better. They took a lead through a Raphael Varane own goal that capped off 10 really strong minutes in the middle of the first half:

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Tottenham needed halftime five minutes before it came, and conceded a penalty three minutes before the interval. Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos intricately picked their way through Spurs’ back five. Serge Aurier brought down Kroos as the German midfielder took aim at Hugo Lloris. Ronaldo buried the spot-kick.

Madrid came out firing after the break, too. But Spurs retaliated on the counter, and could have gone back ahead. Fernando Llorente, starting alongside Harry Kane up top, engineered two glorious chances. Keylor Navas, though, was equal to both of them. First, he tipped Kane’s close-range effort past his left-hand post:

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Minutes later, Christian Eriksen was victimized by Navas’ acrobatics. The Costa Rican keeper made himself big to deflect Eriksen’s shot into the outside of the side netting.

The majority of the game’s action took place at the other end, and Spurs have Lloris to thank for the point. He produced an otherworldly save from a Karim Benzema header 10 minutes into the second half:

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Lloris was on his toes all evening, and made seven stops on 21 Real Madrid shots. He was peppered by various players, from various angles.

But, after all, most keepers who step out onto the Bernabeu pitch have similar experiences. Tottenham did fairly well to limit Lloris’ work.

Spurs held their own throughout the first half. They stayed relatively compact in a 5-3-2, with Jan Vertonghen at left wing-back, and 21-year-old Harry Winks in between Moussa Sissoko and Eriksen in midfield. It was the type of game in which Tottenham would have struggled a year ago. The makeshift midfield was constructed to account for the absences of Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli. But Winks and Sissoko were up for the challenge.

Madrid bossed the ball, but not necessarily the game. Chances arrived, but not necessarily quality ones. And they came by way of Madrid’s world-class talent, not any Tottenham frailties. Ronaldo struck the post with a difficult header after four minutes. Later, he dragged an 18-yard shot wide of the far post. But until the penalty, Spurs were never carved open.

And when they got the ball, they were purposeful with it. They failed to capitalize on a few Madrid giveaways, but they cycled play through Winks and Eriksen. The young Englishman in particular was integral in the build-up to the goal.

Madrid, perhaps more than any team in the world, punishes mistakes, but Tottenham didn’t make many. When it did, the mistakes were often made in harmless areas of the field.

The hosts did put Tottenham under overwhelming pressure early in the second half. Benzema’s header came at the end of a flurry of probing passes and half-chances. But Tottenham found a wonderful balance between the attacking and defensive phases of the game. It rarely left itself open and susceptible; it often left open the possibility of the counter, and troubled Madrid when it broke.

The result was a tribute to how far Mauricio Pochettino’s side has come. It has been the best team in the Premier League since the start of the 2015-16 campaign. But previously, it hadn’t replicated that success in Europe. Now it’s doing just that.

The draw took Spurs to seven points. It keeps them level with Madrid, and six points ahead of Dortmund, meaning four points from their final three group-stage games will be enough to see them through. And if you’d have offered Pochettino that situation five weeks ago, he’d have jumped at the offer without hesitation.

But just as telling was the performance. Even if it didn’t yield victory, it was more convincing than a 3-0 win at Everton, or a 4-0 win at Huddersfield. Tottenham’s next step as a club is to equal its domestic success on the continent. With a 3-1 defeat of Dortmund last month, it inched in that direction. With Tuesday’s result, it took another step in the right direction.


Elsewhere in Europe, the big winner was Liverpool. Literally. The Reds put seven past Slovenian minnow NK Maribor. After laboring to two draws against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, the 7-0 victory was both a relief and a massive boost in a tight group. Spartak surprisingly trounced Sevilla, 5-1, in the other Group E match, meaning Liverpool, despite its toils, tops the four-team table at the round robin’s midway point. Spartak sits in second on goal differential. Sevilla is one point back in third.

NK Maribor 0-7 Liverpool
Spartak Moscow 5-1 Sevilla

Besiktas, meanwhile, took control of Group G with a 2-1 triumph in Monaco. The Turkish side has won three of three, and is five points clear of second-place Leipzig. Monaco is lagging behind with just one point, and only one home match remaining.

Monaco 1-2 Besiktas
RB Leipzig 3-2 FC Porto

Manchester City was impressive in a 2-1 win over Napoli that kept it atop Group F. The Serie A leaders, who also fell to Shakhtar on Matchday 1, now have ground to make up, and three matches in which to do so.

Manchester City 2-1 Napoli
Feyenoord 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Wednesday’s Champions League slate is headlined by Roma’s trip to Chelsea and Manchester United’s visit to Benfica. The full slate is below.

Benfica v Manchester United
CSKA Moscow v FC Basel

Anderlecht v PSG
Bayern Munich v Celtic

Chelsea v AS Roma
FK Qarabag v Atletico Madrid

Barcelona v Olympiacos
Juventus v Sporting CP

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.