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Arsenal aim to winless run vs. Spurs

Five Aside
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 By John Crace

Tottenham must believe anything is possible against Real Madrid in UCL

"To dare is to do." Seldom has the club motto felt more appropriate. Real Madrid's record in the group stages of the Champions League is terrifying: in the last four years, they haven't lost a game. Indeed they have only drawn a handful.

For Spurs to get anything out of Tuesday's trip to the Bernabeu would be an awesome achievement. Most fans will have already pencilled in the result as a loss. It's possible that some of the players may have also done the same. Yet Tottenham have to go into the game in the spirit of daring. Not daring as in taking stupid risks, but daring to believe that anything is possible.

When Tottenham last travelled to Real Madrid in the Champions League in the quarterfinal stages of 2011 (5-0 aggregate defeat), it was immediately clear that the team was beaten before the first leg had even started. The players looked tense in the warm-up as if their only aim was to come out of the game without embarrassing themselves, and it was all downhill from then on. Aaron Lennon managed to injure himself before the kick-off and Spurs had to use their first substitute before a ball had even been kicked.

With the situation calling for Spurs to keep the game tight for the first 45 minutes to try and exert some pressure on Real Madrid to make home advantage count, they went a goal down inside three minutes following some poor marking from a corner.

Inside 30 minutes, Tottenham were down to 10-men after Peter Crouch had been sent off after collecting his second yellow for the only two tackles anyone could remember him making in the entire season. By half-time Spurs were 3-0 and out of not just the game but the tie as well. It was largely thanks to Real easing off in the second period that the final score was kept to 4-0. Spurs didn't have a meaningful shot on target all night and it was too big a deficit to overturn as they went down 1-0 in the return leg at home.

This Spurs team, though, is of a very different calibre to the one of seven years ago. Back then the Champions League felt like a one-off adventure, a year for the players and fans to enjoy. Now Spurs look like they are digging in for the long-term with qualification for the Champions League the bare minimum expected of a season.

Last year Tottenham got their toes burnt and crashed out of a qualifying group from which they ought at least to have come second. This year they look a much tougher European unit having won their first two games, at home against Borussia Dortmund and away against Apoel Nicosia.

Tottenham have had a good start to the Champions League but Real Madrid are a different proposition.

Though these two victories give Spurs some breathing space in the group, they should be looking at the game against Madrid as an opportunity to lay down a marker. To show the rest of Europe just how good they are and to prove that they aren't in the competition just to have a good time and make up the numbers. Something easier said than done, of course -- better teams than Spurs have come to the Bernabeu and been intimidated by the occasion -- but Spurs do have reasons for optimism.

They have a 100 percent away record in all competitions so far this season and their confidence on the road is sky high. Tottenham look to be a much more effective and cohesive unit when teams feel obliged to take the game to them and they can hit them on the counter.

Though Spurs did finally manage to record their first home Premier League win, 1-0 against Bournemouth on Saturday, their performance was still far from convincing. At White Hart Lane Spurs knew how to break down teams that put 10 men behind the ball; at Wembley they are still very much a work in progress.

Success in Spain -- by which I mean anything other than a defeat -- will depend as much on temperament as organisation. Spurs can't allow themselves to be rattled by the fact that with both Ben Davies and Danny Rose almost certainly sidelined, they can't play their favoured formation of three at the back with two wing-backs. A more conventional back four looks likely. Jan Vertonghen proved his versatility against Bournemouth and he can do so again. Nerve and concentration will be the order of the day.

Madrid, too, have their own injury worries and it would be sad if Spurs old boy Gareth Bale isn't fit enough to make their starting line-up. Bale remains one of the most exciting players around and it would be a good test for Serge Aurier to deal with him, though the full-back will get that whoever lines up in the Madrid XI.

But Tottenham must travel to Madrid with hope. Six years ago, there was little of that and it told in the final score. This is a very different team, and fans will expect a very different result.

John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.

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