Spurs in the Champions’ League Semi-finals? Who would have thought it possible, back in the group stage after one point from the first three games, and both a point needed from the last game away to Barcelona and PSV to do us a favour against Milan in a game from which they had nothing to gain except a bit of pride? With no new signings for two seasons, another season (mostly) at Wembley while they fine-tuned the micro-brewery and set about the important job of renaming White Hart Lane station, who would have thought it possible, full stop?
Still recovering from last night, I have no real clue how we managed to do it, other than by divine intervention, our unlikely saviour, this time, being VAR. Not just VAR; I also feel we have to credit the referee in not bottling the two big decisions while the Etihad faithful (?!!?), willed him to err on their side, as the referee in the first leg had done with the ludicrous penalty award. Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport was evidently the only person on the planet possessed with the superhuman vision to enable him to detect that the ball had brushed Llorente’s arm on its way into the net for our third. The rest of us, including all the other TV pundits and, thankfully, the referee, having looked at the replays from all angles and in slow motion, could see no such thing. And the offside was, luckily, offside.
So, Ajax await. And, boy oh boy, how we could do with a 19-year-old centre half, captain and leader such as they have. For, while we can, and should, enjoy last night’s result at the expense of the world’s most expensive team (I’ll save my lecture on the morality of where their money comes from and the neat side-stepping of the financial fair-play rules that goes with it for another day) let’s not get too far above ourselves and let the result blind us to what otherwise was yet another display of the Spursyness that continues to blight our search for honours.
First off, I’m sure every Spurs fan would have said the same thing after the first leg; don’t throw the lead away in the first few minutes. Predictably, we did; Trippier neatly leaving acres of space for Sterling on the left, then ushering him inside onto his favoured right foot, with Alderweireld then seeming so concerned to keep his arms out of the way of the shot that he also ducked his head away too, leaving Lloris with no chance. Then, when Son not only scores the precious away goal that, again, every Spurs fan would have said we needed but doubles it with a great strike, before the words ‘Now play tight and don’t give them any encouragement’ are even out of our lips, Rose leaves the left wide open then deflects a soft shot that would have been a routine save even for Lloris inside the near post. And then, wide open on the left again, De Bruyne is allowed to thread a ball across our six-yard box where Sterling, again unattended by Trippier, taps it in. The fourth, by Aguero, is arguably a decent, well-worked goal, though I feel Lloris gets beaten far too often these days at the near post.
Despite all these self-inflicted set-backs, we at least get ourselves together to get a third and put ourselves back in the driving seat and once the clock ticked down to the last few minutes of injury time, even veteran Spurs fans like myself thought ‘Surely we can’t cock this one up, right?’ But we’d reckoned without Eriksen who, alongside Alli, still evidently thinks you can piss about with the ball deep in your own half and it’s better to give it away to the opposition than hoof it up the fucking field. An appalling backwards pass, setting City off for what everyone thought was the winning goal. I was about to throw the remote at the TV and the empty red-wine bottle through the front window at this latest example of sheer stupid Spursyness when the glimmer of hope that VAR signals appeared. The rest, of course, is now history.
Too harsh an assessment? Well, OK, to be fair, not only have we made no new signings but we’ve also had appalling luck with injuries. We have already seen so many times how Son steps up to the plate when Harry is injured but who would have thought last season and early this that we would miss Winks so much in midfield. Ditto Sissoko, the one midfielder apart from Winks who can now be relied upon to put a full shift in, tackle and keep the ball (Eriksen and Ali take note). Once we had to chase the game, our subs bench showed just how thin our fit squad has become. Had Aurier been fit, I’m sure he would have started – he’s always seemed a better choice on the right in Europe than Trippier.
Talking of Trippier, while he is probably still a better option than Walker-Peters at the moment, his best form, defensively and offensively, seems to have been left back in last summer’s World Cup. As for Danny Rose, whether the racist abuse he’s courageously and eloquently talked about this year has affected him I don’t know but, a decent performance in the first leg apart, his form, particularly decision-making and passing, has been poor for most of the year. Davies is never going to set the game alight going forward but he’s a more solid defender and I’m surprised he didn’t start, either with or without Rose.
I’ve talked many times in the past about our need for a leader on the field and my strong opinion is that it’s a mistake to give the captaincy to a goalkeeper or a centre-forward, neither of whom are best-placed, literally, to see the whole game and administer much-needed arse-kicking at times. Ajax have found a nineteen-year-old who fits the bill – why the hell can’t we? We were crying out after Son’s second goal, and again after Llorente making it 4-3, for someone to provide leadership, instil some calmness; instead, we continued to give the ball away.
I think this is the reason I vowed last season never to write any of these articles again; I can’t help focusing on what we keep failing to rectify. Of course I recognise that we have performed miracles staying in the top three over the last few seasons, particularly having to use Wembley as a home ground and making no new signings. And I love the fact that we give home-grown talent a chance to thrive. But we still continue to make the same mistakes, throwing games away we should win or at least not lose through taking our foot off the pedal too early. And we still haven’t learnt that we always, always, go on a losing run at the time we start talking about the fact we could win the league. In truth, I thought the same thing would happen last night after I saw a Guardian article yesterday in which Pochettino claimed we could win the Champions’ League. Thankfully, I was wrong. Long may I continue to be wrong. I’m not sure my heart can take many more nights like last night.
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