Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy looks at the main talking points following Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final first leg tie in the Santiago Bernabeu where Real Madrid recorded a merited 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
In the end the final whistle brought an over-riding feeling of relief for the beleaguered Tottenham Hotspur players and supporters inside a packed Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Jose Mourinho’s side have one proverbial leg in the quarter-finals following a fully merited 4-0 win thanks to some clinical finishing.
Many will point to the loss of Arron Lennon to illness a minute before kick-off or the dismissal of Peter Crouch within the opening quarter hour as turning points in the tie but the truth is Spurs would have struggled to stay with a free-flowing Real side even if they had eleven on the pitch. Ronaldo was excellent and Adebayor came back to haunt a Tottenham side he has enjoyed scoring against for three separate clubs now (Arsenal, Man City and Real).
Left back Marcelo was at the hub of Madrid’s best moves early on and is a much underrated player in the Madrid team. Michael Dawson was immense for Spurs on a difficult night but the concession of two headed goals from set-pieces was unforgiveable at Champions League level. Gareth Bale flickered briefly in the first half but overall Tottenham can have little complaint with the final result.
* Harry Redknapp is rarely given credit for his tactical abilities but a forced decision (Lennon cried off sick just before kick-off) to deploy Gareth Bale on the right wing rather than the left in the opening half helped nullify the threat of attacking Madrid left-back Marcelo. Following Peter Crouch’s early dismissal Bale had to be switched to the left where he was Spurs’ most potent attacking weapon. But Marcelo’s influence grew as the game progressed and without the worry of having to face Spurs flying winger the Brazilian’s balance, aggression and pace led to the award of the two corners Madrid eventually scored from. Marcelo’s influence in the Real Madrid team should not be underestimated.
* Peter Crouch (and strikers in general) should not be allowed to slide tackle. One miss-timed challenge in the opening 10 minutes is bad enough but two and you are asking for trouble, especially from continental referees. The behaviour of Marcelo following the England striker’s dismissal was poor to say the least but Crouch should have known better having entered the German match official’s book so early in the game. Apart from being down to 10 men Spurs were guilty of losing their shape and their composure immediately after the sending off and the difficult task of getting a result from the Bernabeu became seemingly impossible before 20 minutes had elapsed.
* Gareth Bale was valued at 80 million pounds by Harry Redknapp in the build up to the tie and laughable as that figure might be the Welsh international’s display demonstrated he is priceless when it comes to the current Spurs setup. Bale was released twice in a difficult opening half for Spurs but on both occasions he got in behind the Madrid defence finding the side-netting from one effort and being hacked down by Pepe on the other occasion. As if that wasn’t enough a long throw-in from the winger found Van der Vaart in the Madrid penalty box momentarily unmarked but the Dutchman took too long to get his shot away and the danger was cleared. An injury during the second period stifled his influence and Madrid doubled up on the winger once they had the cushion of a 3-0 lead. In short, once Bale was quietened it was a case of how many Real would score as there was no one to occupy the Madrid back four.
* Emmanuel Adebayor had lost his way somewhat since leaving the Emirates Stadium following an uninspiring stint with Manchester City and joining the fringes of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid first team squad in Spain. The Togolese striker showed he still knows where the goal is by directing a fine header beyond Gomes for the opener and repeated that feat with a similar thumping header in the second half. Adebayor seemed inspired by the sight of the Tottenham jerseys and went on to produce an impressive performance, constantly working the Londoners back four with his unselfish running. The sight of such a motivated and hungry striker must have Arsenal fans scratching their heads as to where this version of Adebayor in his final days with the club. A telling statistic from Opta Sports states Emmanuel Adebayor has now scored 10 goals in 13 games in all competitions against Tottenham.
* Di Maria’s third goal was a thing of beauty and oozed class reinforcing his manager’s decision to pay such a hefty fee for his services. Jose Mourinho rarely lives in the shadow of any individual or team but having to play second fiddle to Barcelona for much of the current campaign must be grating the Special One’s ego. Since taking the reins at the Bernabeu Mourinho has instilled a pressing game when Real don’t have the ball which was absent under previous managers. In any other league in the world Madrid would be the only headline news every day of the week but Guardiola’s Barca and their tiki-taka football continue to hog the front pages. Mourinho may have lost the battle for La Liga this year but a chance to put one over their bitter rivals in the semi-finals of the Champions League is a distinct possibility if they can reproduce the form and pressing game on show in the Bernabeu on Tuesday evening.
* Speaking of living in shadows Cristiano Ronaldo has enjoyed a magnificent season for Real Madrid this term yet most of the weekly European football headlines concentrate instead on a diminutive Argentinean who plays for bitter rivals Barcelona. Ronaldo takes more shots than any other Madrid player an invariably sends them wide but the first-time volley which flew under Gomes’s body was pure class. The Portuguese winger is also responsible for freeing up space for his team mates as he is double-teamed by most opponents. Silly step-overs and back-heels aside, Ronaldo makes the Madrid forward line tick. His growing influence will be vital of Madrid are to overcome Barcelona (or possibly Shakhtar) in the semi-finals and qualify for the Wembley decider.