Tottenham’s B-team made a $184m point v Barcelona that could be huge for Postecoglou & Kane

Five days out from their respective seasons starting, Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham gave Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona an almighty scare. It took three goals in the last 10 minutes to secure the 4-2 victory for Barca, but Spurs fans can dare to dream, writes Nick Stoll.

That score line does not reflect the vast majority of the match, where a Spurs team that was mainly made up of bench players held Barca’s collective feet to the fire for 80 minutes. 

For long periods they pressed, they harassed, they played without fear, they created chances and they didn’t back down despite the opposition. This is, already, an Ange Postecoglou team. 

In the first half, the local television commentary in Spain said the former Brisbane Roar coach had given Xavi “a dance, tactically.” This is a country that knows a thing or two about dancing and football tactics. 

“The first half was excellent,” Postecoglou said post-match. “They got the goal but our response to that was excellent.” 

“The whole first half we played some really good football, pressed them and you could see they were uncomfortable. I thought the lads were outstanding.”

The biggest sports newspaper here in Barcelona, Mundo Deportivo, described Postecoglou’s team as “excellent”.

“Barcelona found an aggressive Tottenham,” wrote Joan Poqui. “They dominated the game after Lewandowski’s early goal and were very consistent despite playing without many first choice players.” 

The Joan Gamper match, the annual event that FC Barcelona uses to announce the return of the new season, started as a party; a housewarming for their temporary home in the Olympic Stadium while the Camp Nou is being rebuilt. 

Pre-match, there was a full orchestra blasting a triumphant return, a human pyramid went up five meters into the sky and featured small children at the summit. Postecoglou watched on alongside his assistant coach, former Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak. They’ve been to World Cups together, but even so this was something new. 

TOTTENHAM STARTING XI: Vicario, Reguilon, Sanchez, Dier, Porro, Bissouma, Skipp, Perisic, Lo Celso, Solomon, Richarlison

BARCELONA STARTING XI: Ter Stegen, Araujo, Kounde, Garcia, Balde, Romeu, Raphinha, Pedri, De Jong, Gavi, Lewandowski

Each Barcelona player was introduced one by one, the crowd roared when they heard the names of Lewandowski, Pedri and co. The attitude was; the stars are here, let the celebrations begin. 

Expectations were low heading into the match for Spurs. Postecoglou made 10 changes from the 5-1 win over Shakhtar that had concluded just over 48 hours earlier. Only new goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario remained in the XI. Rotations were needed ahead of Brentford away on Monday morning (AEST). 

With a few exceptions – Giovanni Lo Celso, possibly Eric Dier – this appeared to be Spurs ‘B team’ up against a full strength Barcelona. 

From the start, ‘the reserves’, who clearly are keen to impress the new boss and upgrade their status, did what all Postecoglou teams do – press with intensity, play a high line, pass through the opposition’s press. 

Then after three minutes, they were down 1-0.

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It was brutally rapid. Both in the execution of the move and the fact many fans were still taking their seats. Postecoglou’s high-line comes with a lot of risk. This will not be the only time Spurs concede this way. 

Raphinha’s blistering pace propelled him into the space behind Sergio Reguilon and Davinson Sanchez. The Brazilian wasted no time and found an unmarked Robert Lewandowski at the back post, who finished with ease. 

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, Mike Tyson memorably said. This was an early blow for the Postecoglou plan. 

But the thing about Postecoglou is; he sticks with his plan, no matter what happens. And then,  almost always, he eventually triumphs. He nearly did tonight. 

Spurs continued to play their game, as Postecoglou’s yelling bellowed around the stadium famous for the 1992 Olympic games. “Up! Up!” he urged his team. “Forward! Play! Play! Play!”

And play they did. After 23 minutes they had their reward, a wonderful team goal that was trademark Postecoglou, finished off by 22-year-old midfielder Oliver Skipp. 

Ivan Perisic, wide on the wing, found Sergio Reguilon’s underlapping run with a crisp through ball. The Spanish left-back cut the ball back for Lo Celso whose side foot shot hit the post, only for Skipp to slam it home on the rebound for the equaliser. 

Full-backs getting forward, midfielders arriving into the box, this is the football of Postecoglou and crucially what Spurs have been missing in the past two seasons. 

Just 12 minutes later, Ange-ball had brought what was meant to be a party to a complete standstill. An audible gasp echoed around the stadium as Spurs took the lead. 

Perisic found space on the left wing and floated in an inviting cross that Skipp, once again in the right place at the right time, headed home. 

After that, Tottenham looked comfortable even in this unfamiliar environment. 

The passing was crisp, they recovered the ball numerous times in midfield, stealing it off the likes of Pedri, Frenkie De Jong and Gavi – some of the best midfielders in the world, struggling to get a grip with what it means to face a Postecoglou side.  

New Israeli signing Manor Soloman had a great chance to make it 3-1 just before half-time when he went through one-on-one only to shoot it straight at Barca goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen. 

If Spurs were doing this with these players, it makes you wonder what awaits when Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and the other starters return this weekend. 

Kane didn’t travel to Barcelona, the official word from the club is that he was just being rested along with other players and is happy with the new boss, despite well publicised interest from Bayern Munich, who are reportedly ready to table a final £94.6m (A$184m) bid for the England captain according to Sky Sports.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Kane, but what is clear is that Postecoglou can make this work even without Spurs’ all-time record goalscorer. Although, Kane must also be relishing playing in a team that even at half-strength can go toe-to-toe with the La Liga champions. 

As the match wore on in the second half, both managers made changes. There was a noticeable switch in control back to Barca as Skipp came off for Djed Spence while Xavi was able to bring on the likes of Ilkay Gundogan – fresh off winning a treble with Manchester City – Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati. 

But it was 16-year-old winger Lamine Yamal who impressed most for the home side. The local kid who was born seven minutes away from the Camp Nou had the crowd on its feet numerous times in his 10-minute cameo. 

Two minutes after coming on, the skillful winger exposed that same space between Reguilon and Sanchez that Raphinha had in the first half and put it on a plate for Torres to make it 2-2. 

It was Yamal’s beautiful turn and pass that started the move for Ansu Fati’s 89th minute goal and then it was the 16-year-old’s run from deep that opened the space up for Abde Ezzalzouli to round off the scoring and secure the victory. 

The home fans marched down the mountain from their new temporary home happily. 

Despite all their economic woes, and there are a lot of them, La Masia has once again produced another gem that has the potential to light up this city like so many have in the past. Ousmane Dembele hasn’t even officially left the club and it seems he’s already forgotten. 

“We just ran out of legs in the second half,” Postecoglou explained. “We had a lot of guys out there who this was their first 90 minutes at this intensity.

“It was my decision not to make too many substitutions today and to leave guys at home because I feel with pre-season the way it has been we are a couple of games short. 

“It cost us in the end but in terms of the effort the players gave maximum and that is all you can ask for.”

After a warm chat with Xavi post-match, Postecoglou and his team headed straight to the airport as their attention turns to the start of the Premier League this weekend. 

There is plenty to ponder for the former Socceroos boss. Lo Celso, Sanchez and Reguilon all made cases they should be regular starters. 

But one thing is for certain, he won’t be changing his plan any time soon, despite this result. It’s what the Aussie has always done. 

He stuck with the plan in 2010 while at Brisbane Roar when he lost 3-0 to Melbourne Victory, the match – that he wrote in his 2016 book – that “crystallised” it for him.

Luke DeVere had attempted to play out from the back twice and coughed up the ball in the space of five minutes, resulting in quick goals for Victory. At the time Roar fans were fuming, but Postecoglou knew that his players were committed to the style no matter the initial setbacks.

“It was in that moment, when the second ‘error’ was made, that I knew I had this team,” he wrote.

“I knew at that point the whole thing had crystallised. Call it a turning point, even vindication. These guys believed in what we were doing. There was no way I was going back after that.” 

And he hasn’t gone back, he’s gone to the Socceroos and won the Asian Cup, he’s gone to Yokohama and won the J-League and he’s gone to Glasgow and dominated the Scottish Premier League. 

Every single time there were initial setbacks; the Socceroos lost every game at Brazil 2014, Yokohama flirted with relegation, Celtic struggled in Europe. 

Tonight, only the result is a setback, but the signs of progress are there. 
This Spurs team looks just as committed as Brisbane, Yokohama, Celtic and the Socceroos were.

Ange-ball will excite, Ange-ball will win matches, Ange-ball will surprise. Here on Montjuic mountain, the man from Melbourne very nearly surprised one of the biggest teams in the world.