Well, that was miserable.
White Hart Lane was in a riot by the final whistle, but here, in the lonely night of the soul (and my apartment), the result which will see Spurs into the quarterfinals of the Champions League was, if one thing, sobering. Sobering, that is, in the way an alcoholic frightfully survives Delirium tremens. Because even if Milan could not finish the journey, they have certainly charted the course. Spurs’ next opponent would do well to keep this match on the Tivo.
Let’s get down to it then. The blood is still pumping and my emotions are still dancing around the room.
The time is now for rash declarations!
Michael Dawson and William Gallas are as good as you need!
Sandro is rightfully the world’s MOTM (though I’d vote Modric a winner’s share, too), but it was the partners in central defense who steered the bus around the box.
Pato’s late attempt – set up with brilliant touch to his own right foot – was one of the few shots that got through to Gomes with any real pace. And while a lot of that was down to aggressive play from the midfield (You see lil’ Luka tossing branches into Milan’s spokes?!?) (You see Sandro throw his face in front of Merkel’s shot?!?), Dawson and Gallas were quietly perfect. I’d say 7 of 10 Milan crosses met Dawson’s head. Gallas was never more than a foot off the ball when it did manage to touch the ground.
Luka Modric is God
What changed from that horrendous, gut-wrenching first half? I felt like I was watching Arsenal in lilywhite and Barca in Red during the first 45 minutes. Milan had to have kept 60-65 percent possession. Was that the plan? I don’t think it was, but of course we’ll never exactly know. What was clear, however, was that when Spurs did get a chance to touch the ball, it was only in spastic bursts. The sad fact of the matter is that Steven Pienaar is just not up to it for these games.
Pienaar is a half measure. He doesn’t quite provide offense and I can’t quite recall him dispossessing or tackling anyone at any point in his hour and ten minutes. His replacement, Jenas, for all his faults, provides something. The lad tackles. Nothing more, as Gareth Bale – running wide open like Jimmy Orr in the end zone in Super Bowl III – would attest, but there is that little bit of steel.
Modric, by contrast, is a lot bit of magical pixie power. (Speaking of, can we please put to bed the “Magic Pixie” business? If it’s Arshavin, then someone tell him to dust his mates when they’re all together in the changing room at halftime. It’s the closest he gets to them during the games.) The Croatian is Tottenham’s heart, soul, and central nervous system. With so many of his teammates so clearly cowed by Milan’s oft-bruising style, it was the smallest man on the pitch who betrayed no fear. No, Modric came out for the second half inspired, demanding in his gentle way that most every ball come through him. And not by barking for it, or clapping, or stamping his feet, but by his presence in all the right spots. And when he ‘s on the ball, wow. It’s like his feet can swing 360 degrees around on his ankles. There’s no angle he can’t figure, no passing lane too narrow. God.
Van der Vaart is not for rainy days
Are you still hurt, Rafa? The Dutchman wanted no part of it tonight. Some of that has to be down to Crouch’s ineptitude in nodding the ball in his direction. (By extension, some of that was down to the inability of Lennon or Pienaar to fire in a purposeful cross.) Whatever the root causes, van der Vaart looked like a petulant NBA shooting guard. He could not find his own shot, and with no one supplying him the ball, he took every chance to send off test balloons from 20 and 25 yards out. (In hoops, it’s called a “chuck.”)
His last (non-)kick told the story. Gomes’s pass might have been ill-advised, but it was on van der Vaart to pick up his mate and run toward the ball. Instead, he waived petulantly, like an underthrown Terrell Owens, as the pass was intercepted and Milan came on the counter.
Hey Citeeeeeh, did you see Robinho running?
Seriously, Milan did a brilliant job of shutting down Lennon (and Bale later, with a similar approach). Lennon’s poison was a backtracking Robinho, who time and time and time again cut off his inside channel. A true bit of yeoman’s work from the Brazilian.
Gomes goes out for a walk
I love the guy. He makes saves no one else on earth could dream. But his mind is eternally gaseous. Tonight’s brain fart saw him go for a stroll after a loose ball – unfortunately, his walk took him past the play and out into the Never, Neverland. It was only Gallas, with his veteran’s intuition and young man’s athleticism, that saved my dear Heurelho from an historic howler.
What it all means…
Whereas a few weeks back I was digging in my heels on the “We do one thing better than anyone else and no one has shown they can stop us” theory, I’m somewhat less confident after this one. Milan could’ve had three or four; Spurs had maybe one decent opportunity. The pundits will call this a professional performance. They’ll say it’s proof Spurs can play to the situation. And while it was nice to see the lads keep a clean sheet at home, this is not how they are going to become European Champions. (That’s what we’re here for, no?) Madrid, Barcelona, United, Chelsea… this kind of game is in their nature. They are better at it. Tottenham need to do something weird and special if they’re going to take down the big boys. Their bus is not built for the kind of assault that’s surely coming.
Oh, and about Zlatan
He kinda looks Italian, no?