LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur lost 2-1 to AS Monaco at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday as their return to the UEFA Champions League didn’t go according to the script.
[ MORE: UCL scores, stats here ]
In front of a record-breaking crowd at their temporary home for UCL games this season, Spurs were hit by two first half hammer blows and couldn’t recover.
[ RECAP: Spurs fall to Monaco ]
Here’s what we learned on a disappointing night for Tottenham.
MIDFIELD BALANCE MISSING
In the first half Spurs were hit by two sucker punches by Monaco as the French side scored with their first two shots of the game. Apart from those goals, Tottenham looked steady enough but the correct balance was missing in midfield.
Pochettino decided to start with Eric Dier and Dele Alli as Tottenham’s two central midfielders and it just didn’t work. Alli was dropping too deep on the ball and wasn’t able to get involved in more dangerous areas further up the pitch just off Harry Kane. Erik Lamela was caught in possession too deep for Monaco’s first goal as the entire midfield was too deep and there was a serious lack of cohesion as Spurs had chances but couldn’t control the game in midfield.
Pochettino rectified his mistake at half time, bringing on Mousa Dembele (his first game back following his six-game ban for gouging Diego Costa in the eye last season) and Spurs reaped immediate rewards.
[ MORE: Spurs sell out Wembley ]
Alli pulled off an outrageous nutmeg, had an audacious volley from distance tipped over and suddenly it was like watching the Spurs of last season came alive. However, after that initial burst of energy arrived after half time, Spurs couldn’t make the most of it. Dembele looked like a man who hadn’t played regularly in months and Spurs’ fluid offensive machine clicked out of gear as quickly as it had clicked back in.
It was a mistake to play Dier and Alli together in midfield from the start and Monaco ruthlessly punished Spurs for their early lapses. Welcome to the big league, boys.
85,011 fans packed into Wembley Stadium on a record-breaking night for Tottenham Hotspur.
Not only was this attendance the largest for a home game in club history, it was also the largest for a Champions League home game for any English club. The noise was deafening when Spurs scored, during the game and before it when the famous Champions League anthem returned for Tottenham for the first time since 2011. Spine-tingling.
With White Hart Lane reduced to just 30,000 fans due to renovation work, it made sense to move Totteenham’s home games in the Champions League a few miles across north London.
There was plenty of trepidation about how the atmosphere would be inside Wembley but it was electric. With their historic White Hart Lane home to be demolished next summer, Spurs’ move to their new 61,000 capacity home on the same site is set for the start of the 2018-19 season. They are yet to secure a venue for their home games during the 2017-18 season but these three UCL games were seen as a soft opening as Chelsea are further behind in their quest for a new stadium but are also vying with Spurs to have Wembley as their temporary home.
If Spurs’ first Champions League game at Wembley was anything to go by then their time at Wembley will not only provide them with a great atmosphere but it will be a rip-roaring success. “Is there anyway you can expand that 61,000 capacity at the new stadium, Mr. Levy?”
MONACO LOOK THE REAL DEAL
As much as Spurs struggled to live up to the hype, Monaco put in a professional display. Leonardo Jardim’s time took their first two chances and were clinical and confident.
There is no surprise Monaco have already beat four-time reigning Ligue 1 champs Paris Saint-Germain in the league this season and are sitting pretty atop of France’s top-flight.
As they did against PSG in their 3-1 win at Stade Louis II in last August, Monaco raced into an early lead and when they were rocking at 2-1 up they soaked up the pressure and always had a threat on the break. Monaco didn’t threaten Spurs too much after it went to 2-1 but they looked comfortable enough to deal with the threats Spurs possessed. Aside from Alli’s speculative volley and a few deep crosses, it’s hard to remember Spurs getting a clear look on goal.
Monaco were the ultimate party poopers by rolling into Wembley and winning but they deserved the victory for their ruthless streak and showed their experience when it mattered most. A draw was probably a fair result but after going 2-0 up Monaco didn’t have to force the issue and they still came away with the win. Very impressive.