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Tottenham fail to excite, but what a fantastic performance to see off Milan

Graham Fisher in Editorial, UEFA Champions League 9 Mar 2011

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First leg joy for Tottenham

After Arsenal’s comprehensive, if controversial, defeat at the hands of Barcelona, it was the turn of their North London rivals Tottenham to see if they could knock out a legendary European force and move on to the next round.

Stronger

Like Arsenal, they carried a one goal lead into the second game, but they were in a far stronger position having won the away leg 1-0.

Once again, most of the pre-match build up and talk centered around who would be fit to play. The doubts surrounded Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart, who like Fabregas and van Persie for Arsenal, could arguably be the teams most influential players.

Doubtful

Bale was regarded as doubtful, whereas van der Vaart was declared hopeful. For Milan, things were worse as they were missing three key players for the match. Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini were injured, and the slightly mad Gennaro Gattuso was suspended.

Tottenham went into the game in indifferent form having only lost one of their last six, but conceding six goals in their last two games against the less than daunting prospects of Blackpool and Wolves. Milan had a 1-0 win over Juventus at the weekend and sit five points clear at the top of Serie A.

Action

And so to the action. As pretty much expected, van der Vaart made the team whilst Bale was confined to the bench. Both teams had an attacking look to them and an end to end open game was fully expected.

As soon as the game started it seemed clear that Tottenham were looking to attack via the head of Peter Crouch. It was a reasonable idea as he won almost every header, but the fact he was isolated and gave away as many free-kicks as he won headers, meant that it wasn’t too successful.

Possession

Milan, on the other hand, kept possession and played some neat one, two and three touch football. It was a little like watching the Barcelona against Arsenal game again, with the English team hardly able to get a touch on the ball and when they did, giving it away again.

The Italian side dominated the first half but couldn’t find a goal. They came incredibly close when a mis-hit Robinho effort was cleared off the line by William Gallas, but on the whole, despite being second best all over the pitch, Tottenham didn’t have too many scares.

Even

The second half was more even although Milan still had the edge. Of course, Tottenham only needed the draw so it was incumbent on Milan to go for it, but it was still a surprise to see Tottenham sitting so deep.

In the end the game petered out into a 0-0 draw to give Tottenham one of the finest nights in their history. It wasn’t the exciting, attacking, memorable performance that people may have hoped for, but it was effective and got the deired result.

Special

Some people stood out for Tottenham and deserve special mention as they made it into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Yes, that’s right, Tottenham in the quarter-finals of the Champions League!

The central defensive partnership of Michael Dawson and William Gallas were exceptional. They didn’t give the perenially disappointing Zlatan Ibrahimovic a kick all night. They have been criticised recently after conceding a few goals but they didn’t put a foot wrong tonight.

Best

Good as the central defensive pair were, the best Tottenham player on the night was twenty-one year old Brazilian midfielder Raniere Sandro. He has transformed himself from a bit part player into a crucial member of the side in just a few weeks. He was magnificent tonight and was a major reason why the sometimes suspect defending of Tottenham was so solid in this game.

Every one of the Tottenham players gave their all in a performance that was more effective than spectacular but achieved what it set out to do. Each of them deserve a mention, but the one man who stands out above all the rest is their manager Harry Redknapp.

Bottom

Two and a half years ago, when Redknapp took over, Tottenham were bottom of the Premier League. Now, under his guidance, they are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. It is a wonderful story and remarkable achievement.

Redknapp actually becomes the first English manager to lead a side to this stage of Europe’s premier competition. That would suggest that he is the best English manager. I don’t know many who would disagree with that. Especially amongst Tottenham fans!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Graham Fisher


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