Not like this. Not this way. If we had to go, and we’ve had a miraculous tilt at this European lark, then go down with a passion, a flourish. With the style that swept Inter aside, or the courage and poise that created a victory against Milan in Italy, then the fortitude than saw us through at White Hart Lane. But not like that.
Reaching the Champions league quarter finals is a wonderful achievement, far beyond my wildest dreams when the campaign started. ‘Reaching the group stages and giving a good account of ourselves’ or some such, that’s what I wrote back then and I believed it. To be contenders, to be part of something, that would have been enough for me.
So here we are are, the heady intoxication of the CL quarter finals, and when the camera panned around the floodlit tiers of the Bernabeu, every Spurs fan in the world bit their lip and marvelled. What that, in my eye, just a speck of dust…. At the start of the season nobody expected this but here we were, on merit. We deserved to be there because we had taken on and beaten some top sides. We had done everything we needed to and no one could ask for more.
There’s disappointment but never despair in being beaten by a better team, and Madrid were far superior on the night.. This one wasn’t quite like that. Spurs have so much to be proud of but this meek capitulation means it will take a while for that positive memory to rise to the surface of my steaming and frazzled brain. To lose to a series of self-inflicted calamities hurts. However well Madrid played, however many shots on goal they racked up, all the goals were avoidable to a greater or lesser extent. Two at least made us look mugs, and that hurts badly. They pulled us this way and that, stretching our ten men until we snapped, but two of their goals were unchallenged headers from set pieces that came straight out of the Blue Square. Majestically taken but utterly preventable. An early corner and their main danger man is unmarked. All he had to do was to take a few steps forward and jump. No one was on him. No one.
In other circumstances, you couldn’t blame the team for using a corner to take a few seconds breather. Second half now, under intense pressure but surviving with two banks of four, working hard, thinking hard, still only one nil and thoughts of having something to aim for at the Lane. But against the cream, there’s no respite. Quick corner, Gallas clearly hampered all night by his injury although he did well to make light of it, nothing in his legs to jump, but still criminally isolated as another straightforward header from a quick corner.
I’ve left the worst until now because I don’t even want to think about it, let alone write a couple of vaguely coherent paragraphs. This blog makes a determined effort not to blame individuals but the utterly inexcusable actions of Peter Crouch delivered a body blow that left us doubled up. It was as if you were cornered by a gang of bullies in the park then one of your mates turns round and whacks you. The physical pain will pass but the sense of being let down lingers on.
In my more philosophical moments, of which there are many, secretly I like it when sportsmen at the top of their profession do something stupid under pressure, because it shows that actually they’re human, they are like you and me. This is not one of those moments. Lumbering in for challenges that he was never going to win, not once but twice, the yellow card warning totally ignored. Lanky leg off the ground, not once but twice. Them’s the rules, Peter, have been all season. To compound the madness, two completely unnecessary challenges, 70, 80 yards from our goal. No despairing last ditch heroic efforts here.
Time and again we’ve stressed the value of experience in Europe and how this team has had to learn so quickly, on the hoof. Yet this is not the case for a 30 year old veteran of World Cups and of European competition. No callow youth this, tanked up on adrenalin and speeding the night away.
This destroyed us. Bizarre though it seems in the cold light of day, Crouch was arguably the single most important player in our formation. His height has troubled other European defences and so Harry teamed him with Rafa, the latter searching for crumbs as the long far post balls not only might have created something up front, they also provided a precious lifeline to relieve pressure on the defence. He might have helped out at corners too…
His absence meant we were under pressure throughout. Rafa lost his role and was taken off as the game passed him by. Ten against eleven would bend us out of shape. No out ball meant we could not shift the ball out of our half. No one to hold it up, back it came almost before we had time to catch a lungful of air. Pressed back, time and again our midfield, harassed and harried, looked up desperately for something ahead of them. However slim a chance of getting it forward at least with Crouch there would be something, but they searched in vain.
Mouriniho needs no second bidding. He pushed his men up to hold a high line. The back four could play it out with impunity. Marcello could get forward, freed from the pressure of having to care about what he had left behind at the back. No Lennon to worry about either. Very odd that, by the way. I’ve not seen the media since the final whistle. I wonder if he complained about something before kickoff and they were forced into making a sudden ‘should he shouldn’t he’ decision. Whatever, his threat was important tactically in keeping the rading Madrid full back occupied. Madird could therefore press high up in midfield, just as Barca do. We were never going to get behind their defence and Bale and then Rafa from the cheekiest of throws, were dealt with by Carvaliho. JD coming on was pointless.
Spurs passing and movement was poor and we gave away the ball so many, many times. Luka was unexpectedly at fault. I looked to him for something different. However, Madrid gave them absolutely no room to move and any team in the world bar Barca would have struggled in those circumstances.
After the early disruption caused first by Lennon’s sudden withdrawal then Crouch’s brainstorm, we regrouped and defended well for long periods by conceding territory and crowding the space in front of our back four. Jenas and Sandro worked hard, the latter dropping back to central defence to limit the room Madrid wanted to play those little angled passes. Dawson was the pick of our defenders, determined and strong. Not sure where he was for the second goal, though, and at times Madrid pulled him out of the comfort of the middle. He seldom missed a tackle. Gomes was admirably decisive and his clean handling would have inspired an increasingly desperate rearguard effort. Then an error at the near post. Those shots are harder to save than they appear on TV. It came from behind a defender and was swerving, but he still should have got a stronger hand to it to save.
Ultimately it was too much. Ten men plus wave upon wave of eager attackers, probing away. Bale not fit enough to both attack and drop back to defend, three men on him instantly he received the ball. There was room on our right. Corluka was often left unprotected too, then injured. We’ve run out of right backs for the league now. Gallas couldn’t jump. The pressure told as we tired, giving the ball away more and more, unable to close down every forward.
Not the end of our European adventure but an ignominious night none the less. 4-0 is a sound beating. Given the nature of the defeat, it will be so hard to be inspired by adversity to league success. Self-inflicted wounds take an age to heal. Stoke will be looking to steamroller us on Saturday, knackered, injuries and depressed. Never mind the top four, the struggle to hold on to the top four will test Harry’s powers of motivation to the limit.
No Wigan report this week. New piece of software, pressed the wrong button when in the final paragraph, no time to re-write it. You were mortified, weren’t you. Regards, Al