Tottenham Hotspur came from behind to save its men’s UEFA Champions League campaign by winning 2-1 at Marseille on the final matchday of the group stage. A stoppage-time goal by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg gave Spurs the win and first place in the group ahead of second-place Frankfurt, while Marseille finished fourth in the group after being in a position to advance to the Champions League knockout rounds (at Spurs’ expense) when it was ahead 1-0 in this match. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• Spurs completely turned things around in the second half. In the biggest Champions League game of the day, the main thought coming into halftime with Marseille ahead 1-0 was probably this: Antonio Conte underperforming in Champions League, again. (Even though Conte was in the stands serving a red-card suspension, you knew he was calling the shots.) OM had dominated the first half as Tottenham looked like it was trying to play for a 0-0, and Chancel Mbemba’s skying header had given Marseille a deserved 1-0 advantage. Even worse, Heung-Min Son had been forced out of the game in the 29th minute due to a head injury. But Spurs made a change after 45 minutes, bringing on Emerson Royal for Ryan Sessegnon, and Spurs was instantly better from the restart. Clément Lenglet found the net with his own set-piece header to equalize in the 54th minute to put Spurs back into a position to advance, and Højbjerg hit the game-winner on the break to vault Tottenham into first place—and, thus, a presumably easier Round of 16 opponent. Part of you wishes Spurs would have played the way they did in the second half from the opening whistle. But no Tottenham fan will complain about the way things turned out in the end.
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• Marseille let a golden opportunity pass it by. What can you say? OM was playing at home in one of the most festive soccer atmospheres in Europe, and a victory would have taken it to the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time in 10 years. And Marseille did everything it needed to in the first half to possess the ball, create chances and take the lead. But the second half was a disaster for the club, as it let Tottenham back into the game and whiffed on its own top scoring chances—none more so than when Sead Kolasinac sent his downward header from close range just wide of the goal in the 87th minute. That could (and probably should) have been the moment that gave Marseille the win and sent it to the knockout rounds instead of Spurs. Instead, Kolasinac missed, Spurs took advantage of OM’s desperate forays forward and struck for the win on the counterattack. A silent Stade Vélodrome was the result.
• Son’s injury is really concerning for Spurs—and for South Korea. Anyone who watched Son walk off the field when he clearly wasn’t himself could feel the pain. Head injuries like Son’s are absolutely scary, and you hope he’ll be OK and won’t be rushed back to play until he’s ready. We’re also extremely close to the World Cup now, and Son is the unquestioned star of South Korea. We don’t have any detailed reports yet on Son’s condition, but he’s a phenomenal player, and we’re sending positive thoughts his way.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
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Note: I edited my first thought to make it clear that Conte was in the stands serving his suspension—though we all know he was still directing things.
Champions League group stage game #6. The definition of “head on a swivel”. The CL rarely disappoints. Thanks, Grant.