After half an hour of last Thursday’s game you’d have been surprised that we’d be able to run what appeared to be a rampant FC Basel team so close, in the end though despite the injuries, the lack of pace, width, quality up front and Belgian centre-backs it was only the ‘lottery of penalties’ that kept us from the semi-finals. Except that it’s not a lottery in our case, we are just perennially shit at them and going down once we reached the end of extra time should’ve surprised no-one who has paid any attention at all to our record with spot-kicks, whether they be in normal time or no, in the 21st century.
Having said that, Adebayor’s comedy run-up has raised the ineptness bar.
We achieved our third 2-2 draw in a row thanks to a much better shackling of the Basel front three, some smart finishing from Dempsey and a strangely cautious approach from the home side who never attempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck, but instead seemed content to sit back and wait for events to unfold.
This fatalistic approach meant that Dempsey’s late equaliser seemed to knock the belief out of them and it looked like we were heading into injury and possibly extra time with some possibly decisive momentum before Vertonghen’s mistimed tackle on Streller saw us down to ten men and on the back foot from then on. Some stoic and committed defending just delayed the inevitable.
There were good performances from Walker, Holtby, Parker, Adebayor, Sigurdsson and one should include Dempsey for his goals despite his lack of pace and wooden first touch. Dawson, Huddlestone and Carroll all stood up and were counted during extra time, Villas-Boas will have learnt a lot about his players from this game.
Another two goals conceded though and another one from a corner (one that should’ve been a goal-kick by the way). That’s four games in a row where we’ve conceded from corners. There is a malaise at the back that needs remedying if we’re going to achieve anything in the remainder of the season. In these games I personally think that not playing Lloris has been a mistake, Friedel could’ve done better with both Frei and Dragovic’s goals in the two legs. In general we’re giving the ball away too much and letting players in behind us too often. Better decision making on the ball is needed plus a way to force some width into this team.
So we’re not going to Amsterdam then. A week and a bit to gather ourselves, gird the loins, get some players back, refocus and all sorts of other clichés before it’s back to domestic action and Man City. Easy.
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