Tottenham Hotspur and Gareth Bale (again) produced one of the great European performances as they swept Inter Milan, the current European champions, aside 3-1 at White Hart Lane. Harry Redknapp’s side were brilliant right from the very first whistle and thoroughly deserved their win over Rafael Benitez’s shell-shocked troops.
It is no exaggeration to say that Spurs destroyed Inter Milan.
Rafa’s team was laid bare. The great European tactician was outdone by “wheeler-dealer” Harry Redknapp and his wing wizards. Gareth Bale’s growing reputation improved significantly after another supreme performance from the 21-year-old. In addition, Luka Modric was excellent and controlled midfield, and Rafael van der Vaart, when he was on the pitch, looked like the buy of the season.
The Welsh wonder with spiky hair reminiscent of a Japanese cartoon character was simply incredible, yet again. Over the last 12 months he has improved to such a level that he is now on every major team’s wanted list. If Spurs can keep him – Harry Redknapp is sure to test his frugal chairman’s ambition by refusing to part with Bale – they will challenge for trophies.
The foundation for Spurs’ great performance tonight was laid two weeks ago in the San Siro, as they came back from 4-0 to 4-3 after utterly destroying the European Champions in the second half due to Gareth Bale’s superb hat trick.
Redknapp had rested Tom Huddlestone and Peter Crouch for Tottenham’s controversial defeat against Manchester United on the weekend, and with those two restored to the side Spurs lined out exactly as expected.
Inter, for their part, had never lost a match in London. In 2003 they battered Arsenal’s “Invincibles” like a Scottish Mars bar, as they ran out 3-0 winners at Highbury, and in 2010 they beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
They arrived in London full of confidence. Rafa, the wily tactician, was playing against ‘Arry, the one-dimensional manager who continues to play wingers.
Within minutes of the tip-off that confidence had been drained completely.
Faced with a marauding Spurs team, all of Inter’s big players chose the coward’s way out and looked to the nearest teammate to bail them out. Over the course of the 90 minutes, only Samuel Eto’o remained with his reputation somewhat intact.
The battle of the Dutch play-makers was seen as the key by many to this match. Van der Vaart and Sneijder had sniped at each other through twitter and other sources all week, and even though the Spurs man only played 45 minutes, there was only one winner.
His every touch, every pass, every run – and his attitude on the night – was perfect in every way, which is exactly what you want from your senior players.
At every opportunity he spread the ball out wide for Lennon or Bale to move onto. Both Inter Milan full-backs were terrified of the power and pace on show. Chivu backed off and called Samuel in at every opportunity, as the Romanian struggled to deal with Aaron Lennon’s pace.
Out on Inter’s right the best right-back in the world, Maicon, was ripped to pieces – over and over and over again. The Brazilian had no answer to Bale’s pace, power, skill or directness. To put it another way, the Welshman had Maicon in his pocket.
Fittingly, Spurs’ opening goal arrived from some good play out on the left. Bale fed Assou-Ekotto, whose excellent ball inside found Luka Modric. The little Croatian drove at the heart of Inter’s defence and released van der Vaart with a sublime slide-rule pass.
Faced with only Castellanzi to beat, the Dutchman did not disappoint, scoring his sixth goal in five games for Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham continued to dominate the first half, with Modric pulling the strings like the very best of mid-field generals, Bale terrorising Maicon at every chance, Lennon leaving Chivu dizzy – quite literally – and Peter Crouch leading the line like a real centre forward should.
Peter Crouch really should have extended his team’s lead after Bale, once again, ghosted past Maicon like he wasn’t there before producing a beautiful chipped cross to the far post… only for the England striker to somehow miss the target completely from just three yards.
Inter’s best chance fell to Wesley Sneijder in first half injury time, as the World Cup runner-up chipped a beautiful free kick towards the top corner only for Carlo Cudicini to claw the ball away with breathtaking agility. Most importantly, Spurs maintained their 1-0 lead going into halftime.
The second half started off exactly as the first half did, with Spurs in complete control. Whatever Rafael Benitez had said at halftime did not work, as Redknapp’s side took complete control again.
The Gareth Bale show had just warmed up in the first half; it moved into untold levels in the second. Maicon was torn to pieces. No matter what he tried he just did not have an answer to Bale’s play.
When he forced the Welsh youngster inside Bale’s pace and power took him out of the game. When he got too close Bale simply dribbled around him. And when he stood off Bale knocked it past him. All too often the Brazilian had two or three yards of a head start on the Spurs player, yet it made little difference. In the end, it was a real case of a man playing a boy.
Tottenham’s second goal arrived from the boot of Peter Crouch, but the architect of the piece was none other than Gareth Bale.
He picked up the ball around the halfway line and drove straight at Maicon, who backed off as if his life depended upon it. When push came to shove the Brazilian made a half-hearted attempt to tackle the ball, but Bale simply pushed it past him before sending over a laser-perfect cross for Crouch to score from just three yards.
The skill of crossing the ball is very often a part of the game that is taken for granted by fans and players alike. The beauty of Bale’s ball to Crouch should not be underestimated; it is every bit as good as any through ball or defence-splitting pass that the likes of Xavi, Iniesta or even Glenn Hoddle could produce in a game.
Spurs was cruising at 2-0. Redknapp, perhaps feeling that the game was over, began to make substitutions. While Redknapp’s changes had certain logic about them as Spurs looked to close out the game, the same could not be said about Rafa’s changes.
Faced with a mountain to climb and his side chasing the game, Rafa chose to leave Diego Milito on the bench and bring on the untried 18-year-old Nigerian starlet Nwankwo. The devastating Argentinean eventually made it onto the pitch with just 18 minutes to go, but not before Coutinho had come on for the ineffective Biabiany.
The home side began to sit back and paid the price for giving some of the impetus back to Inter, as Eto’o scored his 14th goal in 14 games this season.
Inter was looking to claw an unlikely draw, but they hadn’t figured on Gareth Bale.
Younes Kaboul broke down an Inter attack after disposing Coutinho on the edge of the Spurs box. He clipped the ball out to Bale on the left, and faced with just three Inter players and half the pitch to sprint into, he quite audaciously knocked the ball past Samuel and ran onto it like an Olympic sprinter.
When he did catch up with the ball he looked up and knocked a fantastic first-time ball across for Roman Pavlyuchenko to finish the game off, 3-1 to Spurs.
After such a phenomenal performance their fans couldn’t be knocked for singing “Spurs are on their way to Wembley!”
There can be little doubt that Spurs thoroughly deserved their win. They took Inter apart, and given the right fixtures and signings in January – namely a centre half – Tottenham could go far in this competition.
However, the biggest contest at White Hart Lane this year is likely to be Harry Redknapp and Daniel Levy arguing over the ambitions of the club.
Just two years ago Spurs were facing relegation straight in the face. Redknapp was brought in to steady the ship, and the turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. Levy is very tight with the purse strings and is highly unlikely to sanction a spending spree, but if the chairman is really willing to put his money where his mouth is, then he will listen to his manager and bring in a couple of players.
The other battle that Redknapp is likely to have is in trying to hold onto the players that he has lifted over the last two years. Luka Modric has grown into the midfield play-maker that everyone thought he would, and it is not uncommon for the Croatian to be linked with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
However, the player that is on everyone’s lips is Gareth Bale. His progression over the last 18 months has been incredible to say the least. He is flying at the moment and is enjoying life as a footballer at the top of his game. He is such a threat that teams now double and treble-team him in almost every Premiership match, and some teams like Everton even had up to five players closing him down when the two teams met in October.
If Spurs are to progress then Redknapp has to hold onto the likes of Bale and Modric, while attracting one or two others along the side kind of level. No easy task.
All in all it was a great night for Spurs and one to forget for Rafa.
After being locked away in Italy for a couple of months without the Italian media asking him about Liverpool, Rafa just couldn’t wait to talk when the British media came to town.
What they got was one of football’s great rants as Rafa went off about milk, yes milk…
For the return tie at White Hart Lane, Rafa chose to vent his anger at his successor at Liverpool, Roy Hodgson.
In an incredibly condescending tone the Spaniard told Hodgson that “he’s talking about things that he doesn’t know.”
He then went on to add, “Some people cannot see a priest on a mountain of sugar.”
It was a cryptic reference to Hodgson not being able to see the obvious at Anfield.
“I think that Mr. Hodgson, he doesn’t understand. Every single press conference is even worse than the last one. He’s talking about things that he doesn’t know. And some people cannot see a priest on a mountain of sugar.
“Maybe he hasn’t been in Liverpool too long. We gave the fans their pride again. We fought for the fans, we fought for the club and we fought for our players. So maybe he cannot understand this.
“With £10m net spending, I left that squad with £300m value, 13 internationals.
“So, instead of talking about flips and flops, he has to concentrate on his job, try to do his best and not talk about the level of his players or the new players.
“Concentrate, try to do your best because it will be the best for the club and will be the best for the fans.”
What we have here is a classic case of Rafa telling Hodgson that he is a priest on a mountain of sugar, when the Spaniard can’t see the wood from the trees…
His time at Liverpool is obviously distracting him from his job at Inter Milan. Tonight’s stunted performance and poor substitutions tell a tale of a man who should stick to his own advice and “concentrate, try to do your best because it will be the best for the club and will be the best for the fans.”