On the day that Daniel Levy celebrated his 20th anniversary as the Tottenham chairman, it was perhaps inevitable that the lack of silverware on his watch was highlighted. The return amounts to a single League Cup.
José Mourinho describes trophies as the “salt and pepper of football,” the essential seasoning, and so has Levy’s reign been bland? Hardly. Yet how everybody connected to the club craves something this season, very possibly in the Europa League. Against the 21-times champions of Croatia, Spurs took another step towards the dream. In the 45th game of a marathon campaign, they proved too strong for Dinamo Zagreb, wearing them down to put themselves in charge ahead of next Thursday’s second-leg.
Harry Kane finished the game with an ice pack on his knee, having been substituted on 84 minutes, but with the decisive contribution behind him.Two poacher’s finishes put him front and centre yet again and gave Spurs a fifth win on the spin in all competitions. They will approach Sunday’s derby at Arsenal in confident mood. It looked as though Kane’s ice was precautionary.
It was the first serious test of Spurs’s credentials in the competition, even if it had taken them eleven matches to reach it. The Europa League can often feel like the ultimate slog. Dinamo had begun the season in the Champions League qualifying rounds only to lose to Ferencvaros and drop down and they brought form in the shape of eight straights wins in all competitions to north London.
They married technique and intensity at the outset and Spurs were fortunate not to concede with only 43 seconds on the clock. Tanguy Ndombele’s pass back towards Serge Aurier was all wrong and it succeeded only in ushering the Dinamo dangerman, Mislav Orsic, through on goal. Davinson Sánchez gave chase but there was relief for the home team when Orsic dragged his shot weakly.
Mourinho went for it with his starting XI, with the stakes too high for heavy rotation or, to put it another way, for Kane and Son Heung-min to be left out. Sergio Reguilón, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Gareth Bale were named among the substitutes but Mourinho plainly hoped to take a grip on the tie.
Spurs stabilised after a sloppy start, with Erik Lamela central to asserting them as a physical force. It was not an evening when they could simply weave their patterns; Dinamo were too aggressive for that. Lamela fought fire with fire; putting his foot in, hustling. There was also skill and directness from him. He had almost teed up Kane with a ball over the top when he drove the breakthrough goal.
Ben Davies passed inside and it set up a 50-50 between Lamela and Lovro Majer, in which there was only going to be one winner. Having spun away with the ball, leaving Majer on the ground, Lamela’s only thought was to drive at the edge of the area and the Dinamo centre-halves, who seemed spooked. He swerved from left to right, moving away from Rasmus Lauritsen and throwing Kevin Theophile-Catherine before flicking a shot with the outside of his boot that came back off the inside of the post. Kane was on hand to roll the rebound into the empty net.
Spurs worked a few promising openings before the interval, leading to crosses from Aurier and Davies only for nothing to come of them, but they were on top, with Dinamo largely shackled. Could Spurs score again?
They felt they had a potential opportunity to do so when Ndombele threw a step-over inside the area to panic Majer, who lunged in at him. The Dinamo midfielder jammed his boot against Ndombele’s ankle, with no contact on the ball, before rather bundling into him. When Ndombele went down, it felt like a penalty would be the upshot. The referee, Serdar Gozubuyuk, saw it differently. Mourinho lost himself in a fury.
Spurs advertised a second goal, with Kane volleying a Son cross towards Dele Alli only for Dinamo to clear but they dared not leave themselves open to the counter. The visitors had the players to worry them and Bruno Petkovic arrived to meet a cross after a quick transition. The finish was poor.
Kane’s second followed a miskicked clearance by Theophile-Catherine after Aurier had volleyed Ndombele’s raking pass across the six yard line.. He took one touch to kill the ball, another to roll right to nick the space from Theophile-Catherine and a final one to ram home a low finish.