Spurs are alive… just.
Whatever happens in Camp Nou in a couple of weeks’ time, this second consecutive Champions League win has gone a long way towards restoring some pride in a campaign which began in Milan with a bitter defeat and continued with another loss here at Wembley against Barcelona.
Of course, that could well mean defeating Barca in their own backyard but they would have taken that after their disastrous start to their European campaign, which saw them pick up one point from their opening three fixtures.
Furthermore, the Blaugrana's 2-1 win over PSV in Eindhoven means that Ernesto Valverde's side are sure of top spot in Group B, and will thus have nothing but pride to play for. Qualification will be on the line for Tottenham, which looked unlikely when the teamsheets for the visit of Inter came in and revealed that both Christian Eriksen and weekend hero Son Heung-min would begin on the bench.
It hinted that Mauricio Pochettino was already looking ahead to the North London Derby this weekend against Arsenal.
It would be nice for Spurs to play their best team every time but that’s just not possible, particularly as they embark on a run of 11 games in just 40 days. Between now and the end of the year they won’t have time to lift their heads.
Pochettino was clear in his pre-match press conference that Tottenham would be rotating players for this decider against Inter, no matter what was riding on the outcome. There will be a need not only to maintain freshness in the coming weeks but to also get the mix right.
The Argentine is a fierce competitor and would no doubt like to go all the way on the domestic front and in Europe but the fact remains that it is difficult ask for any squad, let alone a Spurs one that wasn’t strengthened over the summer.
As such, Eriksen and Son were sacrificed to begin with, but gave the team a second-half boost. Moussa Sissoko’s Spurs resurgence continues apace, meanwhile, and it was the Frenchman’s thrusting right-flank run which yielded Eriksen’s winner. There was also a deft touch in there from Dele Alli.
The starting XI held Inter comfortably at bay and gained greater power still with the introduction of the Dane. He’s a hard man to leave out but his presence at any stage of the match is enough to light up the game around him.
He proved it at the weekend against Chelsea, where Spurs were well on top. Spurs have 30 points from 13 games – their best Premier League return at this stage of a season – and perhaps it is not worth jeopardising that for a shot at the unlikely in the Champions League.
Having been drawn against Barcelona, the best Spurs realistically could have played for in this group would have been second place. Two games into the group stage – and down two defeats – they knew they were up against it.
Pochettino even admitted pre-game that these Spurs players would not be going into this tie with the pressure of earning additional Champions League revenues on their minds. They would contest the game on its sporting merit only.
But his team again proved just what kind of guts they’ve got in them. To recover from two defeats out of two – in a six-game sequence – would be miraculous, particularly if Barca are accounted for along the way.
This Spurs squad is clearly going places and it’s vital to keep them on track and keep them believing in their potential. In the scheme of things, it is perhaps more important to re-qualify for the Champions League next season than embark on a quixotic quest to win it in this one.
This second Wembley season was never meant to happen and so the whole Champions League campaign had a bit of an air of After the Lord Mayor’s Show about it. It wasn’t close to full, with Pochettino pointing out on Tuesday that even with 50,000 or 60,000 fans inside it still tends to look empty.
Regardless, Spurs put plenty into this performance and deserved to win it.
Harry Winks cracked a fine effort against the bar in the first half and put in a fine display in centre midfield. Sissoko is a revelation either in midfield or on the wing. And Eriksen gives Spurs the kind of playmaking quality that not many teams on the continent possess.
To qualify from here is not only daunting but it’s practically out of reach. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
That’s the San Siro defeat accounted for… now what can Spurs do to rectify the loss they suffered here against Barca?