To say that didnâ€™t go quite as well as expected is probably understating the case a tad. If it could go wrong, it did. Is that an example of Crouchâ€™s Law? It should be if it isnâ€™t.
Injuries, incompetence and stupidity all played their part in this shocker. The sticking plasters started to peel off the patched up team even before kick off when Lennon pulled out, with a â€˜sore throatâ€™ apparently. His replacement, Jenas, was closest to the free as a bird Adebayor when he headed in direct from a corner after only 4 minutes. What seemed the worst possible start got even poorer ten minutes later when Crouch decided to make a tough task impossible by getting himself sent off for two unnecessary and more or less identical late challenges on the home teamâ€™s full backs. They both made the most of it but who can blame them? The ref was buying everything from anyone wearing white.
We held out for the rest of the half, Van der Vaart had a half chance and Bale a good one, and were looking ok in the second until we defended a quick corner really sloppily. We fell asleep and Adebayor took advantage of the absent defence to head his second. He was again given the freedom of the six yard box. The proverbial wheels fell off after that as the frustration that Madrid and their fans were starting to exhibit was replaced with the knowledge that the opportunity was now in front of them to finish off the tie there and then. First Di Maria fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner and then Gomes let an eminently stoppable one from Ronaldo squirm under his body. Bale, Gallas and Corluka all took knocks and we finished the match wondering how much worse it was going to get rather than trying to get at least one goal to pin our WHL hopes to.
We were supposed to have grown up in this competition. The rabbit in the headlights first half performances against Young Boys and Inter were a thing of the past. But no. The composure, poise and discipline we needed to give ourselves a chance in this game were completely missing. Crouchâ€™s sending off was just ridiculous. A suicidal and imbecilic act. Shortly after heâ€™d been dismissed, Van der Vaart was booked for booting the ball away at a free-kick, again a show of indiscipline, this time from one of our leaders on the field and one of the few with experience at this level.
For the first time this season we brought our Premier League form into the Champions League. There was no zip, pace, creativity or imagination and almost no threat up front. We werenâ€™t even set up to give our best. Modric started on the left and Bale on the right with the overawed Jenas and the overwhelmed Sandro in the middle. The sudden absence of Lennon was no reason to put out an imbalanced midfield. Bringing on Defoe for Van der Vaart was odd too given his form, confidence and size. The fact that we ended up with Assou-Ekotto, a man more left sided than Karl Marx, playing at right back summed it all up.
Yesterday we called for the team to make themselves and us proud. â€˜For Harry, Redknapp and St Lukaâ€™ and all that. Instead we got something timid, ragged and disorganised with Madrid becoming the fifth team this season to stick four past us. The occasion seemed too much for our players. All you ask for in the first leg of European ties is that you do enough to give yourselves a chance in the second. Largely through our own making, we ended up being not very close.
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