Milan, revisited

Was meant to write up a match report of the Milan game but alas, I’ve been too busy celebrating the best 0-0 ever. Touring the saunas and lap dancing clubs of London can take its toll. And to be honest, in retrospect I’m not sure too much can be read into the manner of the game in terms of tactics and especially in terms of it being any form of marker of improvement or further maturity. It was one of those games that did not go the way we wanted it to, but adapted by digging deep. We might have to do that again, and perhaps next time find a way to turn up the tempo in our favour.

This side, under Harry Redknapp, is more than capable. They’ve proven that. It’s beyond dispute. Amazing considering how it all started with our Bambi foot-work away in the opening qualifier of our campaign. It was always about that gradual learning curve having to tap the vein of belief and inject confidence until our eyes rolled and we flew as high as a kite.

We’re equipped but we’re not going to win it are we? Actually scrap that question. What I meant was, we’re not the best equipped to win it are? So it won’t be humiliating or laughable when we get knocked out because we’ve made the quarters. Sorry playa haters, but as much as your bitterness drives you towards wanting us to fail, but virtue of our progress – it’s now impossible to do so.

Do I want the journey to end? Of course not. I want more. I want more twists and turns and more chronicles in the making. Only two games away from the semi-final. I guess that’s where Spurs fans irk the other fan bases, by being dreamers, by believing the unbelievable. Heart on sleeve, might be too giddy for some but for us it’s the way we live our football. Two games from the semi. Four from the final. So be it. We’re not going to be found out, just out-classed when/if we get knocked out. And there will be no shame in it. 2006 seems so long ago now.

As for the game. I’ll try and cover everything I had planned to in the match report.

Milan – Okay, so they turned up and played like the home side. Controlled possession with good passages of play. I’ve sat down and re-watched the game and for all the time they had with the ball at their feet and their desire to get forward and test us – they didn’t do that much. Two or three chances? Arguably none of them were clear cut. The Gallas clearance? That wasn't even clear cut thanks to how the ball travelled towards goal. I’d go as far as saying that a side with three better forwards would have punished us. I’m going to firmly state they flattered to deceive. Big whoop. The Zlatan Zeppelin burning to the ground in flames. Robinho is not that good and Pato, when in a good position fluffed his efforts on goal.

Now they might cry injustice, but they're in denial. We expertly mugged them at the San Siro in a game where they failed to truly make home advantage count. Gomes the hero in that game, our patience the key with our counter and away goal. At the Lane the only injustice is the suggestion that Ibra calls himself the best player in the world.

Now in terms of how we lined up and how we played, it’s tricky to gauge. Other than perhaps forming your own opinion and taking the sage of Harry in his post-match. We don’t sit back and soak up the pressure in Europe. We appeared to do so against Milan because I’m not sure we had much of a choice. The lack of genuine fitness from van der Vaart and no Gareth Bale from the start meant a couple of outlets of our play were not present. Lennon was doubled up on (personally thought he came through and produced some quality balls into the box the longer the game progressed). And because Crouch will eternally give away free-kicks simply because he’s tall meant that the olde knock-down double act with vdV wasn’t going to have a productive night.

All made more difficult thanks to Seedorf and his excellence and Milan’s midfield and their work ethic. We failed to hassle them back in an attempt to regain sustained possession and instead built a wall out of Brazilian bricks and named it Sandro, the Beast of the Lane. The graffiti clearly stating ‘not tonight, I'm going to give you a headache’ with Milan attempting to get past it and failing time and time again, reaching for the paracetamol with the tick tock of the clock as the game worked towards its conclusion.

As pointed out by a keen follower of South American football, we hardly signed him from a team of Sunday leaguers. He played for a top side in competitive games, not unlike the ilk of Champions League. The kid has taken time to adapt to the pace of the Prem (I say adapt, it’s still early days with a handful of appearances) but even during the appearances made he looks assured, confident and believable as a defensive midfielder who can play the ball a bit (no Huddlestone) can tackle and can get stuck in. He’s robust and simply doesn’t look unfazed by much.

Our performance, our initial drive towards how we wanted to play might have been to hit Milan down the flanks and put them under pressure but having been placed on the backfoot, I think we dealt with them pretty well because the players wanted it and were therefore completely focused at completing the task. If we were not going to score, neither would they. Even with the odd error or scrappy clearance thrown in for extra nail bites. What we didn’t do is change it or attempt to change it, not until late on with the substitutions. Risky, but it worked out.

Gallas, Dawson also excellent on the night. Gomes, ignoring his walkabout, handled very well. Corluka was calm which makes me less nervous than having Hutton at right back. BAE did a job too. Modric had one of his ‘quiet’ games, it’s the type where you might at first glance think he was ineffective. But once more he recycled possession (when we had it) and worked hard covering plenty of ground. 90% pass completion from the Croation. No major link up play with vdV, a player I long to see at even 85% full fitness, something I’m not sure we’ve witnessed yet. Piennar, not box office but another hard working display. Would Niko have worked on the left in a game where grit was required because there was no apparent time for spark? Lennon our main outlet, even when constrained by the double-up, gave us some rest bite.

It was not an offensive Spurs performance by any stretch of the imagination. It was a forced defensive one. Crouch could have should have headed that second half chance at goal rather than across goal. Not enough of the ball out on the flanks which meant not enough of anything in forward positions. High hoofs to Crouch, one dimensional, at the sixth and seventh attempt but one out of desperation to get the ball up top to release the stress at the back – only to give the ball back to Milan.

As mentioned, Harry made the right subs late on. And also, as mentioned, Milan for all their posturing did nothing decisive when it mattered. Other than fall to the ground hurt time and time again. Nice one KPB and Robinho. The ex-goon also showing more of his class with another trademark lunge.

Team unity got us through it.

We have dismantled teams, bossed it and scored goals in abundance at home in the CL. This time out, it a test of character and perseverance. No matter how you wish to analyse, the fact remains, two games against one of the best sides in Italy – and they couldn’t score past us. Luck? It wasn’t luck that saw us finish top of our group was it? Doesn't matter if Ibra is over-rated or that Italian football struggles when played at a Prem rate of pace. We out smarted them in the first leg. That's what won it. That's what they can't get over.

I'm still smiling.