Here we go again.
Eyelids stapled open. Heart removed by Mola Ram and placed into mouth. Lilywhite straitjacket on. Legs and arms strapped into the roller-coaster carriage with no means of escape for a minimum of ninety minutes or so before ride ends. FAO the faint hearted; please refrain from queuing up.
As the ticker-tape entrance sees ripped up recycled paper and copies of the Evening Standard thrown up towards the North London sky whilst the teams walk out to rapturous ear-drum bursting noise, all our hopes will be focused on Spurs doing their own tear up of a Milan back-line, recycling some of that Glory Glory football, copyright to White Hart Lane N17 on any given European night.
So much is being discussed in the build up. Mostly all from Milan about how they’re going to win. We are left to wonder what team Harry will select, mostly based around the availability of key players. Bale and van der Vaart both in the squad. The latter far more likely to start if you believe the press coverage with Gareth on the bench. Corluka also fit. King has been training with the first team but is apparently not available. Best thing is to simply wait and see. Thanks to the art of mind games and second guessing.
You would expect Crouch to start, vdV to slot in behind him, Modric in the middle and possibly Sandro lining up there too. I refer you back to the mind-teasing whether Bale is fit to start. Considering the forceful Spurs is the one that includes the Dutch galvaniser in it, I would not expect him to be benched. Corluka in for Hutton at the back. If Bale doesn’t play then Pienaar most likely on the left. Defoe to play up front with Crouch if vdV is not quite fit to start.
Something like this (ideally):
Corluka Gallas Dawson BAE
Lennon Sandro Modric Bale
I did say it was best to wait and see.
Milan are either over-rated or old (or both) depending on which critic you prefer to listen to. I expected them to score in the first game. You look at their line-up and you imagine there’s goals in there. They’ve had their way against plenty of Serie A opposition this season but there was a lack of spark, imagination when they faced up to our strong, determined and high energy tireless work ethic. Patience saw us counter and score. Gomes perhaps our shot-stopping saviour at the back. We can't afford to risk the the time and space to test him, more than twice.
They will have to attack us at the Lane. Question is – can they over power us? Can they win the midfield battle, control possession and hit us for two or three goals? They have selection headaches too. They’re also an Italian club and you can argue it’s not quite in their nature to be gung-ho or cope with 100% Prem style attacks. Any form of attack from them however will (should) play into our hands. We need to be switched on from back to front to be able to turn Milan inside out.
Spurs in Europe, Spurs in Europe against a top top side – it’s not quite the same version as an off-key Tottenham at Wolves or Blackpool. Perhaps we are geared up more for Europe than consolidating a second Top 4 placement on the spin simply as a consequence of being part of the Champions League.
Perhaps that ethos of Glory and that desire to make history and live in the moment for the moment has consumed our players and club that they have consciously and subconsciously prioritised the Champions League. Not so much with a caveat stating ‘we’re in it to win it’ but rather to simply take it one game at a time, learn from our mistakes and evolve. But do so with refreshing swagger and accumulated belief.
Suddenly, on the eve of a game of this magnitude, you start to feel that old sentimental romanticised flutter of butterflies in your gut about how football, at it's purest level, is about the games. The moments. About being able to look back and pin point a time when your team created a piece of history that can never be taken away. Because it is about the moments. It should be about the moments.
Suddenly progressing in this Cup competition is actually more important than bread and butter league games. Perhaps that is naivety on my part thanks to the pumping of blood in my veins as the hour nears. Perhaps its a small team mentality that I've anchored myself onto our pretenders/underdogs tag because of the whispering pessimistic voice that tells me we might not quite make it back next year via the league. Perhaps that caveat simply needs revision to something akin to 'we might not win it but we might as well have a right go at it'. Because otherwise, what's the point? Where would you find those cherished moments otherwise? Echos of glory, right?
If we get through, we’ll be in the quarter-finals. That’s not too shabby for a side that was meant to be humiliated in the group stages. I’d say we’ve done what we’ve set out to achieve in making a very Lilywhite statement to all concerned. And the very fact that I’m sitting here thinking I will be disappointed and gutted if we go out more or less sums up the progress made by this club in such a short span of time. Some of the games have been pure box office. Made in Tottenham. Is there any other conceivable way?
(Okay, I do appreciate the importance of qualifying again in order to sustain the progression before you start on me)
I guess the last time I felt this tingle in my spin was the return leg against Sevilla. That tingle was replaced by a spasm very early on. Lessons. But that was a different Tottenham in a very different time.
Milan, over-rated or otherwise still have players capable of shocking us. I genuinely believe that whether they can or whether they believe they will - it's of no relevance if we display the same type of tempo and tenacity that we dished out to Inter when they were duly spanked 3-1. The visitors do not travel well having won just the once in fourteen away games in Blightly, losing the last nine. I pretty much hate stats like this because they are there to be broken up with an anomaly. But we would have to turn up with boot laces tied if we wanted to make this easy for them. Because anything less than making it difficult would be disappointing.
Go for their jugular. Ruin them.
I say, who cares for the side they select and the players that play. For me, it’s in our hands. It’s down to us. No crazy choke or nervous reaction to the occasion. No unnecessary dramatics. Play to our strengths. Play to win and play to win well. The last ten minutes of the game have to be beyond the reach of our opposition rather than having thousands of Spurs fans biting their nails off and eating into their fingers.
Pin-point their full-backs and set to destroy. Score an early goal. Do not concede an early goal. Show the same type of spirit that resulted with the 1-0 away win. Unlike Milan who played cautiously and without pomp, we at Spurs are of a different ilk – so please bring it Spurs.
Bring the bravado and the brilliance and knock out the Rossoneri and onwards we march.
Come on you Spurs.