I was looking forward to an exciting Champions League tie between perennials AC Milan and newcomers Tottenham Hotspur. The match did deliver excitement but was marred by the mindless actions of both Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini. UEFA is already investigating the incidents involving Gattuso and Tottenham coach Joe Jordan. On two occassions Gattuso had a go at Jordan, the first a grab of the throat and the second a headbutt. Allegations have flown back and forth from both sides but it is a blemish on the game no matter who was to blame. Gattuso has been involved in these types of incidents before and while the cliches about him being a snarling, spiky midfielder are all fine and well, the truth is that he is a tempermental, cheap-shot artist who brings himself and his club into ill repute. Search for ‘gattuso suspension history’ and tell me I’m wrong.
UEFA will render their decision on Monday. Their rules stipulate a minimum three-match ban for assault, although the governing body have the power to dole out lengthier suspensions in exceptional cases. Chelsea’s Didier Drogba was banned for six UEFA competition matches – two of them were deferred – following his actions at the end of a match against Barcelona in 2009, when he repeatedly had a go at the referee before swearing into a live television camera.
Before Gattuso’s antics, a blatant two-footed tackle by Mathieu Flamini on Vedran Corluka early in the second half was somehow only worthy of a yellow card. Corluka had to leave the game and was later seen on crutches with a protective boot over his right foot. Corluka will have an x-ray today to determine the extent of the damage. Because Flamini was booked, he will not be punished further.
Looking past the nonsense, there were many positives to talk about. True to his word, Harry Redknapp had his team take the game to Milan in the first half. Tottenham lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation with Peter Crouch leading the line, Van der Vaart playing in his familiar trequartista role. Tottenham passed the ball around comfortably and their primary tactic was to exploit the height of Crouch with crosses from the flanks. In particular, Crouch was trying to match himself up against the smaller fullbacks rather than deal with the centre backs.
The second half was a different story as Massimiliano Allegri elected to bring Pato on for Clarence Seedorf at the interval and the switch improved Milan’s attack. The final outcome might have been much different if not for the heroics of Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who twice denied Mario Yepes headers by making acrobatic saves. The Rossoneri kept pressing forward in the second half but ultimately were caught by a counterattack around the 80 minute mark. Sandro made a vital interception and substitute Luka Modric poked a pass between two defenders to the speed merchant Aaron Lennon. Lennon jinked past Yepes leaving him on his backside in the process and laid the ball on a silver platter for Crouch to score the winner and most importantly a vital away goal. Milan were denied a late equalizer when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was judged to have fouled Michael Dawson before scoring with an overhead kick.
If I were creating a football textbook, I would include Tottenham’s display here as an example of how to play an away leg in a European cup competition.