And the Spurs go marching on! So after an extremely tense evening we made it through but it wasnâ€™t pretty. Less â€˜having a laughâ€™ and more â€˜breathing a sigh of reliefâ€™. A much more positive, high tempo and coherent display by Milan than they showed in the first leg was met with stoic and occasionally desperate defending and that ultimately was good enough. Three goals conceded against both Blackpool and Wolves and yet two clean sheets against the Italian league leaders? Itâ€™s a funny old game indeed.
Plaudits in particular should go to Sandro and Gallas who were outstanding with Corluka and Dawson not far behind. Lennon was our most reliable attacking player with Van der Vaart clearly unfit (though still well enough to provide our few shots anywhere near on target) and Crouch subdued by both VdVâ€™s lack of mobility and the Belgian refereeâ€™s fussiness. It seemed that every Milanese who fell to ground or clutched a part of his body meaningfully earned a free kick especially if Crouch was anywhere in the vicinity. We committed a number of fouls in dangerous areas in the first half but I canâ€™t remember a single one in the second which gives testimony to the discipline of the team.
Crouchâ€™s difficulties meant that our tactic of hitting the big lad early rarely proved successful and we struggled, especially in the first half, to relieve the pressure on the back four for any length of time. Modric was strangely subdued, Pienaar slightly out of his depth and Lennon double teamed so it was left to the ever willing Sandro to try and lead the resistance to Milanâ€™s quick & slick passing. We were outnumbered in midfield and it wasnâ€™t until Bale and Jenas came on with about 20 minutes to go that we started to get some satisfactory possession. Jenas in particular supplied a composed and patient air that had previously been lacking.
Gomes stopped everything thrown at him, which in truth wasnâ€™t that much as most of the Milan attempts on goal were wide or blocked. His eccentric distribution and problems with communication with his back four didnâ€™t help ease the tension on the night however. His throw to a statuesque Van der Vaart that led to a Robinho shot and goalmouth scramble being the prime example.
The Italians turned up in numbers with their banners (they do seem to like a banner), shiny puffer jackets and phones glued to their ears, indeed a couple of hundred, presumably ticketless, fans were actually being led away from the ground at around 7pm. They will all feel disappointed that they didnâ€™t score but it was their performance & tactics in the first leg that prepared the ground for their exit rather than their display here. Pato was the liveliest of the three strikers and he didnâ€™t get a start at the San Siro for example.
This game will be remembered for Gallasâ€™s clearance off the line, the emergence of Sandro as an important player and the atmosphere that should allow it admittance to the gallery of great White Hart Lane nights. The Champions League is overblown and self-important with the sort of branding that smashes you over the head until you get the message but for the moment I personally am a CL junky and canâ€™t get enough of it.
A fortnight ago Blackpool regaled us with the ironic â€˜ten points, weâ€™ll only get ten pointsâ€™. Our version of â€˜Out at the qualifying stage, they said weâ€™d be out at the qualifying stageâ€™ doesnâ€™t scan quite so well, true though it is. Weâ€™ll have more players back and hopefully a match fit Bale and Van der Vaart by the time the quarter finals come round. Renowned for our goals weâ€™ve now proved we can defend. Whoever we draw will know theyâ€™re in for a game.
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