LONDON (AFP) – Frustrated by a series of miserable experiences at Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur host Borussia Dortmund tonight desperate to finally vanquish the ghosts that haunt them at the national stadium.
When Mauricio Pochettino’s side kick off their Champions League campaign against the Germans, it won’t be just priceless Group H points that are up for grabs.
For Tottenham, Wembley is in danger of becoming the bogeyman that wreaks havoc on their ambitions to challenge for silverware at home and abroad.
The north London club have been forced to relocate to Wembley while White Hart Lane is being rebuilt.
But Spurs have now played 12 matches at Wembley since the famous old arena was revamped — winning just twice and suffering eight defeats.
Tottenham’s struggles at Wembley came into harsh focus last season in the Champions League when they won just one of their group matches there.
CSKA Moscow were the only team they could beat as defeats against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen sent them crashing out.
Even playing against Gent in the Europa League at Wembley proved a painful experience as the Belgians claimed a draw that eliminated Tottenham in the last 32.
Remarkably, there was still more Wembley woe in store for Spurs before the end of the season as they lost the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea 4-2.
The contrast between their form at Wembley and White Hart Lane is stark.
Last season’s second-place finish in the Premier League was built on a brilliant unbeaten record in front of their own fans, which saw them win 17 and draw two of their 19 home league games.
Yet as soon as they pitch up at Wembley, Tottenham’s invincibility evaporates. They’ve done their best to make Wembley feel like home, draping the stadium in the club’s livery, hanging posters with Spurs slogans, and employing a drummer to lift the noise levels.
But after the more intimate atmosphere of White Hart Lane, where the fans were much closer to the pitch, Wembley hasn’t been conducive to generating the intensity Tottenham thrive on.
Facing Chelsea in their first home game this season, Tottenham fell behind to Marcos Alonso’s goal before Michy Batshuayi’s late own goal drew them level.
Not for the first time at Wembley, Tottenham couldn’t keep calm at the other end and Alonso won it after a mistake from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with two minutes left.
It was the first time Tottenham had lost a home league match since Southampton beat them 2-1 in May 2016.
Pochettino’s side fared little better against Burnley in their second home game as Dele Alli’s opener was cancelled out by Chris Wood’s last-gasp equaliser.
Some Tottenham fans claim the size of the Wembley pitch, which Spurs had a request to make smaller turned down by the Premier League, is a factor in being unable to reproduce the kind of high-octane approach that harried teams into submission last term.
However, Pochettino made it clear it was his players who are to blame for Tottenham’s Wembley malaise rather than the so-called curse.
“There’s nothing to complain about Wembley. I think it was us,” he said.
“It doesn’t play on the minds of my players. The way we concede a goal is not Wembley. It’s because of us.”
Dortmund have their own Wembley pain to soothe as they return to the stadium that played host to the most painful defeat in the club’s history.
With just seconds remaining in the 2013 Champions League final, Dortmund looked destined for extra time with the score level at 1-1 against Bayern Munich.
But Arjen Robben snatched the trophy away from Dortmund with an 88th-minute winner.
Taking a positive approach that would serve Tottenham well, Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, who came on as substitute after Robben’s goal, insisted his team won’t dwell on past agony.
“We’re really looking forward to playing at the stadium again,” he said.