Opinion: One foot in the last eight


Harry Kane is the man, isn’t he? The most unlikely of heroes, and he hardly ever disappoints. Let’s hope the knock on his knee is not significant and that the chorus of Spurs fans yelling for Jose to sub him off ten minutes earlier don’t have to say “I told you so” to the manager. Who, by the way, got everything else about this game pretty darn correct. Yes, we have some yellow card problems going into what will certainly be a contentiousness second leg—Hojbjerg can’t play; Dier, Dele and Davinson all risk being dealt out of what could very well be a game against one of our Premier League rivals still in this competition. 

Yes, we were moderately wasteful, particularly Bale and Vinicius at the death but also some missed connections along the way. Yes, Tanguy earned a penalty and I don’t understand why it wasn’t given. Yes, Hugo was rarely threatened and for once our back four was pretty solid throughout. It could have been more, but it’ll do just fine. Score once next week and they have to go get four, and that’s not going to happen.

And now we will go from the frying pan to fire—surely on the back of a 3-1 win at Olympiakos last night (was the game in Athens?—one never knows these days) the Gooners will be ready to storm on the set that their flack Piers Morgan stormed off the other day. Any NLD carries with it more than a small dose of unpredictability—we are better than them, we are ahead of them—again—in the table, but none of that matters when the thing gets kicked off. But surely a win Sunday keeps both of these fights—for Top Four or for Europa League silverware—in relatively equal significance. And for a team that when it made its first four subs in the second half, brought on our best defensive midfielder, our prodigal son attacker, and two forwards with pace that can—and did—cause problems for any defence. We can manage this with enough depth (please return soon, Gio) to keep progressing.

I’ll begin the individual discussion to left footers and Kane. Ben Davies had one of is best games in years—he wasn’t the fullback relied upon to throw crosses into the box—that was clearly Aurier—but he didn’t just sit back but was an aggressive presence throughout. And he made one dynamite clearance in the second half when a Zagreb tap-in was possible. And Lamela continues to shine—that first goal was all his and he also was dynamic through his hour or so on the pitch. I would expect he’ll be first off the bench on Sunday particularly if and when things get a little argie-bargie. 

Dele was alright but I still think he’s lacking the spark of the old Dele, and I’m not sure all the time on the pitch in the world will restore that player over the next two months. Son had a clear role—to be both the recipient and sender of many long balls and crosses. Kane was Kane—and you know what? He’s the best English player since Charlton. That’s right—trophies or not—he’s better than Rooney. Better than Gerrard or Lampard. Better than Gazza. Better than Shearer. Very few people in this world really understand what they are seeing. He was insistent and kept attempting the long balls and link-ups—but when the chance came he was not going to miss. Either time.

Sissoko and Aurier were both solid—I have no harsh criticism of either. Nor Sanchez. They all performed well. Dier had a moment of madness near the end of the first half when after a horrible free-kick he proceeded to caught and then booked. So whether we expect him to do these things or not—and I for one pretty much are resigned to a moment or two like that every game—he recovered well and still had a credible game. But it will be good to see Toby—and Reguilon—back on Sunday. As for Tanguy, I’m simply going to say that, aside from an occasional poor pass, he was brilliant and put them under constant pressure, which is why they must have fouled him—Grealish-like—at least a dozen times, including the “non-penalty”. Give me more. Goals are coming.

Last note—to the Jose detractors—please understand this one thing. We have played 19 games (I am counting Leyton Orient because we all know we would have won that game) in knockout competitions this season. Europa qualifying, group, knockout and the two domestic cups. We have won 16, drawn one and lost but twice—the wacky affair at Goodison (which spared us a matchup with City) and the desultory defeat at Antwerp. That is it. Jose wins silverware, folks. It’s coming. 


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