It’s perhaps appropriate that on whatever the hell Steak and Blowjob day is, Tottenham Hotspur choked and gagged their way to their favourite ever 4-1 defeat to progress through to the Europa League quarter finals.
Tottenham fans around the world must first count their blessings that on a night where almost everything went wrong, that they still managed to slither through to the next round. This must be the main thing they take away from a near empty San Siro, that despite playing badly, making poor decisions and being thoroughly outplayed, they’re still alive in an eminently winnable competition.
And secondly, that the tension, refereeing decisions and poor performance didn’t kill them. If William Gallas avoids manslaughter charges on the grounds his performance caused an epidemic of heart attacks in Spurs supporting pubs in North London and the home counties, he’ll be more fortunate than he was for the third Inter goal where he deflected a free kick for an own goal that levelled the tie on aggregate.
From the start Spurs, already missing a suspended Gareth Bale, a rested Hugo Lloris and a barely fit Aaron Lennon made things hard for themselves with their team selection. Andre Villas-Boas has got a lot more right than wrong this season, but his starting XI against Inter was a bad one. Spurs strikers have been poor all season, so to play two of them at the expense of Lewis Holtby was proven to be incorrect. This doesn’t even broach the logic of playing two strikers away from home when defending a 3-0 first leg lead. Yes, scoring a goal to force Inter to score five is understandable, but defensive stability surely has to come first.
That said, the team Villas-Boas put out should still have been more than able to lose by two goals or less against an Inter team in dismal form who had lost at home to mid-table Bologna at the weekend. From the ineffectualness of Jermain Defoe up front to the stilted midfield play of Scott Parker and Jake Livermore through to the defensive chaos caused by Gallas and Brad Friedel, Spurs were poor. The great spine to the team that has seen them to the Premier League top three and the Europa League quarter-finals was snapped bit by bit as Inter, regaining confidence and belief with every misplaced Tottenham pass, battered their opponents.
Spurs got progressively worse as the game went on, as a side that was behind on the night but still enjoying excellent periods of possession in the first half started to panic. The first goal saw Antonio Cassano head home unmarked, the ball being headed downwards and bouncing satisfyingly in the top of the net. The second saw Spurs' high line easily pierced, as a simple Cambiasso through ball was finished smoothly by Rodrigo ‘terrible haircut’ Palacio. A defensive high line has worked well for Tottenham this season, but with a slow 41-year-old goalkeeper unwilling to come off his line and a midfield not comfortable putting pressure on the ball, it’s never going to work. Inter cruelly exposed this.
By the time Gallas swung his right boot at a Cassano free kick, slicing the ball into his own net and bringing back memories of his threat to score own goals for Chelsea in a contract dispute, the comeback was complete and Spurs were in pieces. Their lack of squad depth with so many big players missing was being shown up brutally. A squad that had too many players under Harry Redknapp now have too little, especially out wide where Gareth Bale and Lennon are the only two specialist wingers. Mousa Dembele being played out wide is a waste of his ability and also means his sorely needed presence is missing from central midfield. Lewis Holtby is extremely gifted, but doesn’t seem to have fitted into the Spurs team yet. He may have to wait until next season to really display his obvious talent.
It was a minor miracle Spurs made it to extra time, and a bigger miracle that they actually scored. A powerful Dembele shot forced a good save from Samir Handanovic but Emmanuel Adebayor, fittingly given the effort he’s put into most of his Spurs displays this season, bundled home the rebound while lying on his a**e. In that moment he achieved many a male’s dream - to score a priceless goal for his team in a massive European tie, and do it while comfortably on your backside.
There was still time for Inter to score again, and for Spurs to put their followers through torture. Watching a My Family box set would have been preferable viewing. But by hook, crook and time wasting, they got to the end of the game having won on away goals. With that rule having knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League on Wednesday, the UEFA boffin who invented the away goals concept will be thanked from the heavens by all people associated with Tottenham.
Spurs have to learn lessons from this defeat. Gallas and Friedel showed that they don’t fit Villas-Boas’s style of play anymore and that they should not play for the club again, at least this season. The 4-4-2 formation, called for by fans earlier this season, is not fit for purpose and should be got rid of. Also away performances in Europe have to improve, Spurs yet to win away from home in Europe this season and yet to perform anywhere near their best out of England (they haven’t played Swansea at the Liberty Stadium yet).
Despite all the mistakes, mishaps, shocking errors, they are through to the quarter-finals. And they’re third in the Premier League with only a quarter of the season to go. They are having a cracking season, and a win against Fulham on Sunday will hopefully banish the memories and stigma of collapsing like the Old Spurs against Liverpool and Inter in the last week.
Above all though, Spurs now have an excellent chance of giving fans the day trip of a lifetime - a Europa League final in Amsterdam. A supporter’s dream.