With Tottenham facing early Champions League elimination, Christian Eriksen came to the rescue against Inter Milan.
The Dane came off the bench in the 70th minute and made an immediate contribution to thwart an ultra-defensive Inter Milan side that only needed a draw to advance to the last-16 and eliminate Tottenham. Eriksen scored in the 80th minute to seal a 1-0 victory at Wembley Stadium that leaves Tottenham’s fate in its own hands heading into the Group B finale at Barcelona.
“Inter came to defend, they knew one point would be better than losing,” Eriksen said, “and playing against Italian sides you don’t have many chances.”
The hard work in the lead-up to the goal was done by Moussa Sissoko, driving down the right flank and cutting past Inter players before squaring to Dele Alli. The ball was quickly laid off to Eriksen who lifted it over goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
“It was a very good move,” Eriksen said, “and I’m happy to finish it.”
Eriksen will likely get the headlines, but Sissoko received much of the praise from the two coaches.
“We had to defend better against that Sissoko run down the left,” Inter coach Luciano Spalletti. “But probably it’s the only mistake we made.”
After struggling to prove his worth since arriving in 2016, Sissoko is living up to the 30 million pound (then $40 million) fee Newcastle received for the French midfielder.
“Now everyone has seen he is doing fantastic,” Pochettino said. “His contribution is fantastic for the team in a period we need this type of performance.”
Tottenham must still beat Barcelona on Dec. 11 at the Camp Nou to make sure of advancing to the knockout phase.
However, Barcelona has only lost once at home in the Champions League in five years, and locked in top spot with a game to spare by beating PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday to go six points clear.
Spalletti hopes Barcelona doesn’t give its stars a rest.
“I’m sure Barcelona will not give anything easy to Tottenham even if they are already qualified,” Spalletti said. “Players like (Lionel) Messi, like (Gerard) Pique. I don’t even dare to have a shadow of a doubt. I’m sure they always give their best and play to win every game they play.”
Back in the Champions League after seven years, Inter has the easier task against PSV, which are already guaranteed to finish last in the group and has nothing to play for.
While Tottenham and Inter are level on seven points, the London club is now up into second place by virtue of Eriksen’s goal in the reverse fixture in September. A late collapse saw Inter win 2-1, and Tottenham lost the following game at home to Barcelona. But a campaign that was in peril is alive again for Tottenham, which has never lifted the European Cup.
“We struggled a bit,” Eriksen said. “We played some good football but we didn’t get the points in the first (two) games.”
A draw and victory against PSV revived Tottenham’s prospects, showing the resilience that has Pochettino’s side in third place in the Premier League only five points behind Manchester City.
Victory over Inter came after a 3-1 dismantling of previously-unbeaten Chelsea on Saturday and ahead of the north London derby against Arsenal on Sunday. It’s why Eriksen had to be rested from the start.
“The most important is to try to avoid risk, to mix … and rotate,” Pochettino said. “We need to change like basketball so players can go in and out.”