A match that will live on in the memory, not for the brilliance of Spurs, but for the ineptitude of the referee, the frequent moments of rage, idiocy and finally the total lack of respect for the opponents – and, in particular, the Gattuso headbutt on Tottenham’s Assistant Manager Joe Jordan. A physical attack that, had it happened on the street, would be a matter for the police.
Regardless of the outcome of the second leg, the Spurs players can hold their heads high, as can the manager Harry Redknapp – a manager not renowned for his Champions League tactical mastery. The performance of his team, the organisation and discipline, the level-headed reaction to the Italian intimidation. They didn’t flinch from a plan.
For all his hot-headed idiocy, Gattuso’s major flaw was his weakness tactically. Compare the central midfielders positional discipline. Sandro and Palacios were perfect, looking at the Gattuso/Thiago Silva partnership you can see the pair drifting toward Van Der Vaart, nullifying the threat and distribution to the attacking trio for AC Milan of Robinho, Ibrahimovic and Seedorf/Pato.
The organisation down both flanks was also a crucial factor. Lennon/Corluka and Pienaar/Assou-Ekotto were both positionally outstanding and Lennon especially caused Antonini major problems down the right hand side.
Spurs’ domination was highlighted, rather surprisingly, in a goalless 1st half. AC Milan didn’t have one shot on target and couldn’t even force a corner. This led to Pato replacing Seedorf in the 2nd half to try and influence Milan’s threat going forward. The away side were unlucky not to score and territorial advantage was frustrating much of AC Milan’s possession advantage.
The passing chart below shows the possession, as expected, was edged by the home side, but it was the diagonal, middle-range, cross field balls looking for Crouch who regularly pulled off to the right to challenge Nesta, and Van Der Vaart was looking for the knock down, as was new signing Pienaar. The ability of Modric to keep the ball was an ideal substitution for ‘Arry’s team to play out the final 10 mins, and again could’ve been a factor in Gatusso losing his head at the final whistle.
Well played Spurs, and when AC Milan arrive at White Hart Lane, the Serie A leaders will have to take the game to Tottenham, and this could play right into Redknapp’s plans as they will have Bale and Modric starting, providing more opportunities for the counter-attacking pace of Lennon, Defoe and maybe Crouch.