Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pandering to the Football Gods

Adebayor Thanks the Divine Powers that be for the happenings last night at the Bernabeu
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Many have come to the Bernabeu on a magical European night spellbound by the occasion and the legend of the stadium only to leave battered and bruised from the beating handed out by the players whose all-white uniforms seem to conceal their thirst for blood. Tottenham was certainly not the first team to have been subject to such treatment.
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They are however the first team in 7 years to have been such an ordeal at THIS STAGE of the season. At this stage of the tournament – in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
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Last night, it was as if the football Gods wanted to make it up to Real Madrid for the harsh twist of fates they subjected us to last Saturday.
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Perhaps the Gods of Football saw Mourinho’s supreme acts of sportsmanship of heading to Sporting Gijon’s dressing room to shake every player’s hands …or his stunningly glowing assessment of Harry Renknapp and the Spurs prior to the match – remarks which included ‘… IF they win, I hope they go all the way to the final’
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This led the Gods of Football to go: ‘hmmm…. Maybe this guy deserves a bit of a break.’ The result was that they seem to have pulled out every thinkable obstacle for Tottenham Hotspur and laid it upon Harry’s boys:
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… A mystery ailment that resulted in Aaron Lennon’s sudden unavailability – he was the man who was supposed to exploit Sergio Ramos’ lack of positional awareness with his pace.
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… A Tottenham Hotspur team that seemed caught out like a deer in the headlights. They genuinely seemed to be over-awed by the occasion. Who could blame them? From merely being UEFA Cup hopefuls not too long ago, here they were: facing and seeing off the likes of Inter and AC Milan and now onto the Quarterfinals where they were to meet the greatest European Footballing Superpower in one of football’s true temples: Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. At kickoff, Spurs seemed slower, hesitant… even nervous. It was no wonder Adebayor managed to score an opening goal off a corner. When was the last time this season where we saw Real Madrid score directly off a corner anyway? I don’t buy Lennon’s absence as what led to the confusion to allow Adebayor a sniff at goal: Jenas, (Lennon’s replacement) was the guilty party in the man-marking. Are we saying that the 5’5 Lennon was expected to mark the 6’4 Adebayor?
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… The twist of fate bestowed by the football Gods onto Spurs that really did them in though were 2 moments of madness by the man many heralded as Tottenham’s ‘European Trump Card’: Peter Crouch. His 2 lunging tackles on each of our fullbacks resulted in 2 yellow cards within 15 minutes – earning him an early shower.
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And as if his sympathetic pat on Crouchie’s shoulder as the 6’7 striker trudged off was his cue – Mourinho and his men understood immediately the meaning of this sign from the football gods and duly obliged. ‘Let’s pile it on boys!’ And boy did they.
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'Cheer Up Crouchie... This'll be over before you know it!"... Was what I imagine (humorously, of course) Mourinho telling Peter Crouch as the 6'7 giant headed off for his early shower
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Keys to the Match
It’s very difficult to look into the keys to the match BEYOND the plot lines above. It doesn’t matter which club you are: when you’re playing 10 vs. 11 for 75 minutes while you’re away from home in a Champions League quarterfinal – you’re screwed.
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Peter Crouch’s absence from the match essentially nullified the usefulness of Rafa Van Der Vaart who has so successfully lived off the knockdowns from balls sent up to Crouch. Playing with Crouch on the pitch also meant that we would play a high defensive line (because of his lack of space). Playing without him and only VDV in front, allowed us to play even higher: squeezing the entire field of play almost exclusively into the Spurs’ goal area. This of course is also made possible by the monster game Xabi Alonso had who masterminded the entire operation (with the help of Khedira).
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The Spurs’ gameplan for 11 vs. 11 also seemed to involve having Gareth Bale on their right side: likely as means to pin back the Marcelo + Ronaldo combination on our left (the known source of most of our attacking). With 10 men however, Tottenham were forced into 2 banks of 4 – relegating Bale to a toothless defensive position on the right. He did eventually move to his preferred left flank where his incursions created danger – a display of such devastating pace that had my mouth open as I’ve not seen a player run with the ball and still manage to outrun Pepe and Ramos stride for stride going full speed.
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The final key to the match however was Madrid’s Man of the Match: Emmanuel Adebayor (Though I still feel strongly that Marcelo also deserves a shout). His performance was a form of vindication for many:
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… Vindication for himself against those who have doubted him, doubted his abilities and doubted his stomach for the big occasion
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… Vindication for Mourinho – who fought so hard to bring him to the club. Mourinho didn’t push to just get any striker: - he wanted a striker specifically just like Adebayor: a towering presence to knock the ball up to for those days where playing it on the ground just won’t open those defenses up. Adebayor did just that last night: knocking in 2 headers at the start of each half in a game where Spurs have set themselves up just to defend, defend, defend.
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The Aftermath
10 or 11 men, I’m finding it extremely impossible to not be elated by the result. From the prospect of a cagey first leg to a second leg that will stretch all the way to 3 days before this season’s second El Clasico but sandwiched with a difficult trip to San Mames, we’ve managed to put the tie almost completely to bed already (almost being the operable word).
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There’s been much talk about forgetting totally about La Liga and just completely concentrating on the Champions League. Last night’s result allows us to not have to do that for the meantime. After a tough test that will see us travel to San Mames this weekend, last night’s scoreline would allow us play a more defensive lineup at White Hart lane and rest some of our key attacking players (play a trivote perhaps?) for the double El-Clasico that will take place during the 2nd and 3rd week of April.
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Magnanimous Mourinho’s Mind Games Begin
And since we started out contemplating the role that the Football Gods have played in last night’s serendipitous happenings that led to such a comfy win: Mourinho was quick to revert to the stunningly magnanimous mood that he’s been in as of late:
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“I know English football well and I know the English mentality. It is not over… For you, it is not over. In another country I would say yes, but with English culture it is not over. They have belief until the last minute, so it is not finished." He said of the return leg in North London next week…
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And then he started pondering on the match: “…It's just a question of the team with 11 staying concentrated, playing with a high tempo and not letting the opponent breathe. We did that in the second half, not so much in the first half. It is an impossible job. It is just a question of getting three or four. It is an impossible mission and I feel sorry for them because 11 against 11, the match would have been much better.”
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But then, also while summarizing the game, the Mourinho we all know began to creep back in:
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"I know after that, 11 against 10 at Champions League level, it is an impossible mission," said Mourinho. And then it came out:
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"I played in Barcelona with Chelsea with 10 men, impossible. I played in Barcelona with Inter with 10 men, impossible. Arsenal played against Barcelona a few weeks ago with 10 men, it is impossible."
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Asked on his outlook for the possibility of a semi-finals encounter with Barcelona, Mourinho started with the usual coaching cliches: “We’ll have to see what happens with Shakhtar-Barca… blah, blah….” And then he finally he said:
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“If we have to play against Barcelona, we have to train well how to play with 10 men, because in Champions League, everytime I go there, it’s always the same story.” (watch video here)
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And just like that the Mourinho we all know is back… and just like that, the mind games have begun.

3 comments:

  1. Finally, for a night, the connection between fans and players at the Bernabéu was at the level that Real Madrid deserves. Now we have to expect an atmosphere like this in a match where visitors play better or score a goal and take advantage.

    I was surprised because I didn't expect Marcelo playing as well as last night. Adebayor managed to show Real Madrid fans that must hava patience with new players.

    Let's fight for this European Cup. It's our competition and has to return home.

    Read you at

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

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  2. You're right Fran: the Bernabeu was rocking last Tuesday. It was great to see it.

    My first thought was also that Marcelo was Man of the Match for me - because he was everywhere. After thinking about it for a while though, I also realize that a big reason why he played so well was because they were playing with 10 men. IF Spurs had 11 last Tuesday, perhaps Marcelo wouldn't have been as brilliant...

    Things are looking good for us in the Champions League indeed. Barca awaits us though...

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  3. Nice Review buddy!! Forget about ur blog for a while! Now is the time to come back! And I think Mou needs a lot of work to overcome Barca in the Copa final and also the Champions League! Lets hope we can beat them!!!

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