For much of last night it was maddening. Frustrating. Trying to beat an Italian side at what they do best—hold for a result. Lanes were clogged. Crosses deflected away. The likes of Dele, Lamela and Kane kept trying to find an opening. Winks hit the bar. The expected substitutions of Son and Eriksen livened things but still there was no way through. The Europa League beckoned. (It still does, but must wait two weeks. And we might be joined by some Scousers) No one could blame the effort but this wasn’t Chelsea’s defence and David Luiz we were up against.
Enter Moussa Sissoko. The former pariah has been our most consistent performer for more than a month. He was playing hard again tonight if, like the others, the finishing was not quite good enough. A nice run of his in the first half was dummied by Lamela back to Lucas for one of our only decent chances. But he kept working and then, in an instant, the chance was there, the run was made, the perfect slotted to Dele who, cool as the proverbial cucumber, turned and swung it to Eriksen and there it was! Spurs had won this game the only way we could and, in doing so, move ahead of Inter due to the away goal in Milan and now must simply go and beat Barca in the Nou Camp. Or draw if PSV rises up and does the same at the San Siro. Barcelona and Messi have nothing to play for but the satisfaction of knocking their Espanyol rival manager out of the competition. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe they’re just too good. But in a week that is now one fabulous 90 minutes—perhaps—at the Emirates from being one of the best in many, many years for Spurs, I for one am not giving up hope.
As for the rest, Lloris made two quality saves to keep us in it in the second half. The defending was resolute when it needed to be, which was not very often. Aurier continues to impress. And while Davies and Winks each made a couple of mistakes which could have cost us, overall they were both solid. The Belgians were as they usually are pristine. Alderweireld made two important plays that mattered more than we might think, the first a quick professional foul earning him a yellow but denying the type of splitting goal Juventus worked us with last year, and the second the late deflection of a shot headed for the corner of the net.
Lucas seemed a bit out of sorts with two wasteful passes in the first half and lacking Son’s verve—but he did have one of the better opportunities on the afore-mentioned Sissoko-Lamela dummy. I thought Lamela, Kane and Dele were too often guilty of trying to break through a defence that was basically unbreakable, but the pressing and overall effort from all three was quality. Winks played well until he gets too deep then doesn’t seem to know what to do, but his Scholesian screamer was just a few inches too high or it might have been 2-0. Eriksen and Dele did just what they are paid to do—take a perfect chance for the winner and make it work.
And I come back to the Frenchman. His play has nothing short of sublime this last month—it is almost inconceivable that he has gone from joke/villain/embarrassment (and I thought he played better last year than people credited him for) to one of our stalwarts. He saved us tonight. Vive la France. Vive Sissoko. Un homme magnifique.
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