Stonewall Tottenham

 

Only Tottenham Hotspur can give us what transpired away to Lisbon in the Europa League. Leave you thinking it's improbable until the final ten minutes then have you believing that some how we can do it. It's a good thing that pride was restored (probably an isolated incident). Missed that feeling in recent weeks. Even in failure there's an echo of glory, right?

We should have had a penalty at 2-1. The two goals that took us to the brink came from the feet of Nacer Chadli who is finding form out on the left and beginning to show us glimpses of physicality and skill. Late sub Christian Eriksen lifted the tempo up a notch and introduced some invention. Can we find room for both of them to start? Eriksen apparently still struggling with a back problem meaning he couldn't start the game.

This being Spurs we then had two goal-scoring chances. Two golden opportunities to send the fans in Portugal and back at home into a state of delirium. Sadly on both occasions we failed to connect cleanly and then the impossible dream ended once and for all when a penalty was given to the hosts deep into injury time to finally settle the tie.

Almost. Nearly. Might have. Brave little Tottenham, plucky as hell. Christ, how patronising does that feel considering how much of an afterthought this competition has felt for the most part. It's always an afterthought. Nobody wants to play in the EL, everyone wants to play in the Champions League, nobody wants to fight to get into the CL.

Still, that final twenty minutes at the very least gave us some excitement, although I won't let it go to my head. Benfica (with players rested) thought they had it won comfortably at 1-0 with no chance of low-scoring Spurs coming back into it. They half switched off. Credit though, we looked solid for long periods and contained them fairly well, so effort wise there were no complaints. I joked on social media how there was more likelihood of inventing time travel before we could score three times. We should all know this is Tottenham and the most unlikely story arc is the most likely one to play out.

Images by @a01chtra - more here: http://www.dearmrlevy.com/image-edits/2014/2/6/the-collection

Images by @a01chtra - more here: http://www.dearmrlevy.com/image-edits/2014/2/6/the-collection

We lost this tie last week at the Lane where we could have done with spirit and a touch more quality. Can't look back and complain, we've been a mismatched mess for most of the season so as much as I'd like us to see us reclaim style and identity - it's not going to happen this season.

I didn't expect much from this leg. If I'm honest I thought we'd get beaten by two or three goals. So I like the fact that by the end of it I was disappointed that we hadn't taken it to extra time.

Highlights?

We almost beat Benfica (last time they lost at home was against Barcelona).

Chadli and those glimpses of effectiveness.

Harry Kane made a difference upfront with his movement. He has this permanent expression on his face that suggests he's as surprised as we are.

The back-line, a make-shift selection that included Sandro and Zeki Fryers as centre-backs did well - although the goal we conceded (as so many this season) was cheap.

Nabil Bentaleb once more with maturity beyond his years. Yes, he makes mistakes but does he look fazed by it? Is he learning from them? No and hopefully yes. This is a player who believes in his ability and has something to back it up with even though he'll need some guidance on how to exert himself on a game with more authority as his development continues. Sadly, for those that wish to hurl abuse for the sake of it, they've taken to dismissing Bentaleb's presence because he's Sherwood's inclusion.

Yes - there's an argument to be had that we should be starting our million pound World Cup players, but ignoring price tags and even experience, this kid has proven he can handle the pressures as good as any of our misfiring new boys. That's probably not saying much considering how erratic our players and selections have been. If anything, let him continue to play because this season has been a write off for so long now we might as well use the remaining games to further cement his confidence. From Daniel Levy's perspective, it's a win win. Nabil's stock goes up with each game. You know, just in case the next manager in doesn't fancy him.

Roberto Soldado makes it more and more difficult for me to defend him. He had one glorious effort early on, scuffing it into the ground and over the bar. Perhaps, psychological he just isn't cut out for the English game (I know, this was a continental clash but hear me out).

Technically he's a superb footballer. Or at least was when in La Liga where he scored for fun. Thanks to the baptism of confusion at Tottenham, he was isolated from the very first game and struggled to fit into the system (a system that simply didn't work and one he wasn't suited to). He looked stuck between the player he is and the player he had to adapt to be. We sometimes expect strikers to be far more flexible with their responsibilities but that doesn't necessarily work with all of them.

His form and confidence evaporated. He had personal issues outside of football. He was in and out of the side, more so out especially once Emmanuel Adebayor returned. When he got another chance, he played well (he usually does fine with his passing game outside of the penalty box) and scored - then he got dropped.

Speaks volumes when Kane is subbed on for him and is more productive, giving us far better intent when moving forward.

I'm hoping, along with the likes of Chadli and the almost forgotten Erik Lamela that with a summer and pre-season behind them they kick on next season when we might have more of a settled understanding as a club and team. Our expectations make it all look a lot worse than it actually is. We signed good talented players. Under the right coaching team with the right tactics, they'll all come good. Most of them. There's bound to be a sacrifice or two.

So in conclusion, this game, the result, pretty much sums up our season. Not good enough for enough of the time, some moments of inspiration but mostly all of it an afterthought rather than a spearhead.

As for Tim Sherwood, he looked good in a suit. He still can't quite focus on the post match interview being solely about Tottenham rather than his personal insecurities and self-image.

That's that. Do we want to do this again next season? We might have no choice. 4th is gone.

There was more chance of Spurs scoring three goals in Lisbon than we have of qualifying for...oh...

 

metro