As a Liverpool fan I’ve enjoyed watching Spurs the Champions League this season. A bit like Blackpool in their first Premier League campaign, they have attacked fearlessly, even against the big guns, and have been a joy to watch (except maybe for Tottenham fans with heart conditions!) Last night against Madrid though, I was beginning to think that what looked like Harry Redknapp taking to the Champions League like a duck to water, may have been more of a case of beginner’s luck.
Spurs fell victim to Murphy’s Law last night as everything that could go wrong did go wrong. With the official reason being given as a sore throat, Aaron Lennon was a late, late withdrawal from Spurs starting XI. He was replaced by Jermaine Jenas whose form this season has been indifferent at best; the change was hardly like for like. As a result Spurs started the game very slowly. My thoughts were that Niko Kranjcar would have given the team better balance than Jenas, but as he was a doubt going into the game and Redknapp though better of it, especially with Bale and Gallas only just back from injury. Adebayor doesn’t strike fear into many defences these days but Gallas would not have been relishing the opportunity to mark his old team mate given his prolific history against Tottenham. It was Jenas however who lost the on-loan Man City big man as headed Real into a deserved early lead.
Real continued to press and perhaps it was out of frustration at lack of decent supply that caused Peter Crouch to lunge needlessly at Marcelo and get a second yellow. After watching the replays back even the referee Felix Brych, who was very quick to flash his cards early on, might agree the sending off was harsh. Going down to ten men left Spurs under even more pressure as they struggled to hold on to possession. It was Spurs however who had the better of the chances in the remainder of the half. They’re new make-shift front pairing of Rafael Van der Vaart and Bale creating a few half chances on the counter attack that could have gotten Tottenham right back into the game.
As good as Van der Vaart can be he offers little as a lone striker; Harry opted to swap him for Jermain Defoe for the second half. Understandably though it was Madrid who came out all guns blazing. Madrid were simply better in every area of the pitch, with Xabi Alonso pulling the strings and completely outshining the surprisingly poor Luka Modric in midfield. Ronaldo and Marcelo gave an out-of-his-depth Vedran Corluka a torrid time all night and it was from this side where the cross came for Adebayor to get his second, again a free header, Benoit Assou-Ekotto the guilty party this time. From there it was plain sailing for Real. Gomes, who had made a few fine saves, could do little about Di Maria’s superb strike from the corner of the box. Bale was off the pitch receiving treatment when the goal was scored, but even if he had been fully fit a repeat of his San Siro hat-trick was never going to happen. Casillas was a spectator in the second half.
Ronaldo rounded off what turned out to be an easy night at the office for Real with a thundering strike to the near post, Gomes not covering himself in glory this time. Even super-flop Kaka was allowed on for a cameo appearance. With the tie now effectively over, and Spurs unlikely to qualify for next year’s tournament, they will have nothing to lose in the second leg. Premiership fans’ attentions now turn to the Chelsea v Manchester United clash tonight, the winners of which now look likely to play Schalke 04; arguably an easy route to the final.
Jose Mourinho would have preferred a much sterner test last night, he even looked genuinely upset in his post-match interview when talking of Crouch’s dismissal. Having effectively lost La Liga to Barca at the weekend, the Champions League represents his only hope of a major trophy in what could potentially be a one-season stint at Madrid. Jose says he has great respect for Redknapp, maybe because Harry has never beaten him… will they be locking horns in the Premiership again next season?
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