Champions League

Winks on the right path after Wembley wizardry

 • by Matt Gault
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Tottenham Hotspur live to fight another day in Europe.

Trailing to PSV Eindhoven in a half-empty, hideously patchy Wembley Stadium and staring at Champions League elimination after just four games, it seemed as though Spurs’ Halloween nightmare had come a week late.

As the clock ticked past 60 seconds, Luuk de Jong, inexplicably unmarked in the Spurs penalty area, headed the visitors in front.

The match had barely begun but Tottenham’s Champions League journey had entered its end-game.

Those inside Wembley even booed Mauricio Pochettino when he withdrew the sprightly Lucas Moura for Érik Lamela and, while the Argentine knows his side need to improve ahead of Inter’s visit on November 28, a late fightback has given him three points and a lifeline.

And, while one Harry shaped the outcome with a late two-goal salvo, the other quietly produced one of his most influential and mature performances at this level.

Yes, Kane may have captured the headlines but Winks caught the eye in midfield.

The 22-year-old, with Eric Dier and Mousa Dembélé absent, was charged with orchestrating the Spurs midfield – and he did so with aplomb.

Winks put up hugely impressive numbers. He completed more passes (80, 29 of which came in the attacking third) than any of his teammates and created the most chances, with seven.

Supplementing his precision with the ball at his feet, he also landed all four of his attempted tackles, providing a bite in front of the defence that Christian Eriksen was never likely to provide.

He displayed range and imagination with his passing. At times he could be found exchanging a sharp give-and-go with Lucas, at others he was picking out Fernando Llorente with a heat-seeking cross or dropping the shoulder before sliding Eriksen in behind the PSV defence.

Winks’ Wembley wizardry had more than a hint of redemption, too. When Barcelona rolled into town on matchday two, Pochettino’s depleted ranks meant a little-and-large midfield pairing of Winks and Victor Wanyama.

It was a chastening experience for the England international who, hoping to emulate an eye-catching performance against Real Madrid on the same stage last season, fruitlessly chased the shadows of Ivan Rakitić, Sergio Busquets and Arthur as Barça ran out 4-2 winners.

But his response to that harrowing introduction to what a Lionel Messi-led side can do has been commendable. He started England’s 3-2 Nations League victory over Spain and has played every minute of Spurs’ last three matches, with Pochettino singling him out for praise.

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“I think he was very good, so I’m happy with him,” the Spurs boss said.

“He is playing a lot, played the last three games 90 minutes. The only way to grow is playing games, making mistakes and live the experience.

“I am so happy with him, today was to play alone like a holding midfielder with Christian [Eriksen] and Dele Alli next to him was a massive challenge and I think his performance was very, very good. It was excellent.”

That Winks has used his troubling evening against Barça as motivation to re-establish his influence in Spurs’ midfield is a measure of his mentality.

Having made his debut four years ago, it’s easy to forget that he won’t be 23 until February. His has been a progression somewhat stuttered by a recurring ankle injury that has caused him to miss 25 games, but he now seems on a much more promising trajectory.

Pochettino, a great believer in youth, wants to see his players demonstrating what they have learned from their mistakes. Admittedly, PSV aren’t nearly at Barça’s level, but dictating the tempo in a crucial, pressure-packed Champions League game will provide for Winks a further injection of confidence as he looks to nail down his place in Tottenham’s starting line-up.

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