Vaart in the face of the Zlatan Zeppelin
Go to Milan. And attack.
I'm going to hazard a guess that they won't expect us to be that cheeky, all things considered (when you look at some of our away day performances and momentary hiccups). Defending away from home in Europe doesn't quite work out for us in terms of being negative and withdrawn to combat the home sides offensive. The aim is probably to soak in the pressure and counter. Theoretically it works. But we're a main man down on the flanks. And all-out defending is not the Tottenham way. Very much illustrated by the manner we go about our business when we play at the cauldron of White Hart Lane. Need to take it to them.
The benchmark should be that first half against Bremen. But the opposition this time round are just a bit better. And they have The Zlatan.
Let's just take a moment...
They said we wouldn't challenge for a Top 4 place.
They said we wouldn't finish in the Top 4.
They said we would choke.
They said we'd go out in the qualifying round.
They said we'd get thrashed in the group stage.
They said we'd...
You know what? Who cares what they said or continue to say. We have stormed it plain and simple. Sure, naive and at times calamitous, but it's been a stunning and refreshing journey of discovery for the players, the club and the fans.
Honestly, hand on heart, if you don't feel pride for what we've achieved in this campaign then you're a miserable git. We've done it the Tottenham way all the way. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
The whole point of finishing Top 4 - if you break down the dynamics of what it gives you by way of qualification - appears to be based around being part of a monopoly because traditionally, the 'top 4' rule the roost in terms of attracting world class players. The top end of the Prem is in a state of flux and nobody can quite predict how things will pan out over the next season or two. We might find that with each year it changes. No longer the same four clubs entering Europe's elite competition, but a time-share between five or six.
Regardless of the future, the present has some people already dismissing the knock-out stage double trouble fixture with AC Milan with the tagged on suggestion that finishing in the Top 4 is more important so that we're part of the adventure again next season. Apparently, we're not going to win so let it be and concentrate on making sure we find ourselves in the same position next time out.
Scratching your head like me, right?
Surely if you're going to be pessimistic you might as well just be damned with it all and proclaim to go down in a blaze of glory trying to beat every team you come up against. Tis a cup competition you know. Upsets, shocks. They happen. Destiny? It's in the hand of the one who believes the most.
Okay. I get it. Being part of the group stages sort of (hopefully) guarantees that your best players won't leave and status continues to grow. And if you consolidate a top four place you weaken someone else and it gradually builds towards possibly creating a gap of class in our favour with the unlucky team(s) that don't make it looking up at us. It's happened and it wasn't fun on the outside looking in.
But football is about these types of games. Meelan.
Back last season when we dropped points away to Everton and got beat away to Sunderland and the side just kept coming back..was it the dream of finally achieving a top four place or the dream of playing against Europe's top sides that made your heart skip beats? Back last season when Crouch scored that goal at Eastlands...all of it, the derby wins against the red and blue scum. The run-in. It gave us the keys to the door that opened a world of swashbuckling learning curves a breathtaking voyage of discovery. We just can't lose, what with it being our very first season in the competition. It's been a test to see exactly how we, the Champions League virgins, went about losing our cherry. And boy did we slut it up.
It's all about feeling pride and spin tingling excitement when the troops march out to that dizzying theme and into battle. It's no different tomorrow. And regardless of the obvious quality of Milan, I'd still be fairly gutted if we lose/go out of the competition.
We're contenders again for the top four, and if we were perhaps more fortunate with injuries and even signed ourselves a top class forward (if if if) it could have been a little more comfortable a challenge. Plenty of hard work to be had domestically, but that adrenaline you get from momentum, it's golden.
Top four is important. But tomorrow, nothing else will really matter other than the ninety minutes ahead of us. We are involved because we are deserving of it and we I'm sure the players understand the importance of carving out yet another magical footnote to the 2011 season.
We've done superbly well to get out of the group stages. Even the neutrals have loved our participation and our mantra to entertain (be it not always planned). Plaudits here plaudits there plaudits everywhere.
Nobody expects us to get past Milan (few do). Plenty of chat that pin points the fact that we are no longer an unknown entity. Teams know what to expect. I have not a clue how the Italians plan to line-up (in terms of tactics) against us but would guess they will go for the jugular. Strong hard-working midfield, creativity up front. It's tasty. Don't want to see us on the back-foot for 90 minutes, so the work rate of our middle four will have to match theirs.
Away goal anyone? We might remain depleted (Bale out, JJ suspended, Modric - not sure, vdV - expected to play) in key areas. We might be outclassed by the simplistic virtue that they have a better standard of players. No standing back and watching in awe please Mr Dawson. Get stuck in.
Hoping to see the ilk of performance we displayed at home to Inter. Not so much with the type of oomph you would possess as the home side taking the initiative, but more the discipline and concentration that might aid us in frustrating and upsetting the hosts whilst applying ample pressure on them. Making them defend enough to turn it into a contest rather than a mauling ala first half capitulation last time out in Italy (4-0 down).
Will be fascinating to see self-proclaimed greatest player Ibra and Pato up against Dawson and Gallas. The there's the experience of Flamini, Gattuso and Seedorf up against Palacios, Modric (fingers crossed) and Lennon and Niko. Milan likely to play three in the middle and three up top (Ibra, Pato, Robinho). Doubtful we'd start with Sandro and Wilson - that would encourage the wrong attitude. Pienaar in with a shout in place of Niko another possibility, but why drop someone bang in form?
Rafa's return, imperative. Modric equally so. Two out of three will have to do.
Attack. Controlled and focused. What's the worst that can happen?
Okay, right, where's the Imodium?
Would still rather get knocked out giving it a right proper go than conceding defeat by allowing fear to consume us.
It's the Champions League. We know, on our day, we can turn it on. I'd expect us to do just that back at the Lane. As for Tuesday, don't sit back, go for their jugular. No Gareth to bale us out this time, hoping we get to unleash him in the return. Might work out in our favour. The unexpected. What with all the pre-match hype usually geared towards how to defend against the Welsh juggernaut.
Width is going to be an issue (if I return to the painful truths of reality) so here's hoping they don't double-up on Azza. They probably don't rate him much like Fabio.
van der Vaart
They've got players missing too (injuries and cup-tied) but it's hardly going to make the task any easier. Much like us, their defence is not as great as their attack. Although if I'm honest, it's been a stalemate this season when deciding whether we're offensively or defensively best. Milan, they can be got at.
So, heads high, chin up, chest pumped out. Belief and tenacity. It's 90 minutes. Then it's a Glory Glory night in the cauldron back in N17. I'd take the score draw. I'd even accept a 2-1 loss. I'd rather have the moon on a stick.
Best team wins. Show some heart Tottenham.
To dare is to do 'em.