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Spurs Play Breathtaking Football That Arsenal Would Be Proud Of

Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan, Champions League Group A 2/11/2010 Peter Crouch scores the second goal 2-0 Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Some nights of football defy you not to enjoy them. Even the most mean-spirited Arsenal fan must surely have felt at least a small stirring of joy in their souls at Spurs performance against Inter Milan. If Spurs can keep this kind of performance up and it is a big if, there will be two teams on North London capable of playing sublime if quite different kinds of football.

Arsenal’s cerebral game of intricacy and vision is often best appreciated by the impartial fan with the mind rather than the heart. For the neutral it is easy to admire but sometimes less easy to love. In contrast, Spurs’ cavalier blitzkreig game sets the pulse racing with its pace and openness and against Inter, it was utterly captivating from start to finish. In many ways, this is the kind of football that makes us fall in the love with the game. While there are many ways to play and win games, this mixture of free-running and open expansive play is the epitome of good-time football.

It is easy to over-react to a couple of good performances but wiser heads than I who have seen more than my 49 years of football are, like me, wondering if we have ever seen a marauding performance the like of Bale’s against Milan. It was that good, that breath-taking; his slow-and-then-go change of pace utterly destructive even in tight corners; his wild, stallion-like length-of-the-pitch sprinting even with two minutes left on the clock couldn’t fail to thrill even the most hardened cynic.

It seems unlikely that Spurs could win the Champions League or even go close because their defence, especially Hutton on the right, seems too porous. However, this is one more reason why they should use attack as the best form of defence. Inter are no mugs. And even into the last ten minutes after they scored who amongst us was sure they wouldn’t get an equalizer? It’s a dangerous game Spurs play, but unlike much Champions League football in the group stages, it’s worth paying good money to see.

Redknapp deserves credit for setting out a side that entertain and thrill. It will end in tears because playing such an open game probably means they need to score three in every game to make sure of victory, but who cares. Better to go out with all guns blazing, than try a more defensive, cautious game that goes against the instincts of the players. By not playing it safe, they have already provided one of the games of the season in the Champions League. Long may it continue.

Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole” is available via Amazon US or Amazon UK

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  1. Mike

    November 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    It’s tough not to like Spurs right now, and they are what they are, a top 4 team–or close enough–and likely to get to the final 16 of the Champions League. Getting Van der Vaart was prescient and boosted them to European prominence. Good for them.
    Say more, probably, about the Champions League that they’ll make it through. These group stages need to go away and we need to get back to knockouts all the way. I have a proposal to fix the tournament here: I’d appreciate some feedback. Thx.

  2. dave

    November 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Spurs were awesome – great attacking play, incisive, organised in defence, a real advert for premiership football

  3. Jon

    November 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I am a die-hard Arsenal supporter and, though it pains me to admit it, I was impressed by the way Spurs played yesterday evening. I do think, as you say, that the style is actually quite different than the style that the Gunners play – less intricate and much more all-out-cavalier-charging-down-the-flanks-to-the-box style that was and is fun to watch.

    Before we get too high on Gareth Bale, however, and I agree he is an emerging talent of immense quality (particularly his delivery of crosses to Crouch and Pavlychenko), I do think that he was allowed to showcase himself because of tactical errors made by Rafa Benitez. You can see this massive difference in tactics when you look at the Manchester United game or other games that Premiership teams have played against Tottenham. The difference is this: Bale is extremely deadly down the flanks of the park. If you give him a lane on the outside and let him carry the ball with his left foot into spaces down the line you are in trouble, because you will end up in a footrace to the touchline which Bale will win, and if you overcompensate he will cut back at the edge of the box in a shooting or passing dream zone. Inter tried to rely on Maicon to keep Bale to the outside pace-for-pace, and as Tottenham supporters cheered aloud, he could have done with a taxi ride out of the park.

    You cannot play Bale that way. You must force Bale to cut inside further up the pitch and not let him get the outside lane. If he is shephered into the inside of the park at the middle of the field, he is forced to operate on his less preferred right foot, and he runs into a jammed up midfield where a holding central midfielder and winger/right back can take away the space he needs to use that pace and power. United did this perfectly at Old Trafford, and as has been pointed out, Everton did as well. When you do this, you take away the threat of Bale pounding down the left side and munching your right back. It opens spaces for Van der Vaart (which is a different post), but it nullifies as much as possible Bale’s threat.

    It was a mistake to try to play Bale wide against Maicon, and Benitez has since admitted it when he said that Maicon is a brilliantattacking full-back but leaves something to be desired defensively. That would be true of any full-back 1v1 against Bale on the outside lane of the pitch. Maldini probably couldn’t match him in his heyday. So managers take that option away, and Bale suddenly isn’t as much of a match changer.

    I could be wrong, but I would expect to see Tottenham’s opponents adjust their style to force Bale inside from this point on in the Champions League. We’ll have to see.



    • matt

      November 3, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      I’m a die hard Spurs fan! However, I totally agree with your excellent analysis. I thought Benitez was astonishingly tactically naive against Spurs last night and against Bale in particular. Bale needs space to make those signature runs, whether playing the ball in behind the full back or surging past him on the outside with the ball at his feet. By playing a high line and single marking him with Maicon (an attacking full back), with only veteran/slow defenders like Zanetti, Samuel, etc for support, he allowed Bale to carve them open time and time again. Compare that with how Man Utd and Everton played Bale recently, double teaming him and forcing him to cut inside on his weaker foot and the result was quite different. Needless to say, Mourinho would have handled that scenario very differently and I suspect the threat of Bale would have been nullified. Happily for Spurs fans and neutrals alike Bale was given free reign to show what a terrific emerging talent he is and helped galvanize a Spurs performance that was an outstanding display of attacking football.

  4. Howard M

    November 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Bale ran past Maicon like he was a traffic cone. And just what was Benitez furiously scribbling all night?

    “buy Bale at all costs”

    • Sir Guy

      November 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

      That’s too good. 😀

    • Clampdown

      November 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm

      No, no. It was his grocery list … milk, sugar …

  5. Daniel D

    November 3, 2010 at 11:36 am

    A little knee-jerk journalism there which belies your 49 years watching football! Sure spurs played well, nobody will deny that, but 1 game doesn’t make a team all of a sudden an attractive outfit. Arsenal are head and shoulders above spurs and given the respective squads and financial resources, will remain so for the forseeable future. The gunners footbal is also on another level to what tottenham showed last night. For years they have mesmerised the football world with technique and cision comparable only to barcelona (including a 5-1 mauling of inter in their own back yard!). Also it is extremely premature to talk of Bale in world class terns – one needs to perform for more than 1 season at this level; cesc fabregas did not earn his world beater tag in 1 or 2 years. Consistency is key.

    • Clampdown

      November 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

      It’s not journalism. It’s an opinion piece. That’s what most blogs do.

      Speaking as someone who is not a Spurs supporter, nor as someone who dislikes them, they are my favorite club to watch now. Highly entertaining, and watching Bale, Modric, and Van der Vaart is a treat.

  6. Fernando

    November 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Great performance by Spurs yesterday. No doubt about it.

    Bale was outstanding, Modric immense, Van de Vaart fantastic.
    At White Hart Lane, Spurs can dominate the issue at hand though is whether games like this take all the energy away from the league/cup games that follow.

    Away from home, Spurs have yet to keep a clean sheet.

  7. DeeRexBox

    November 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I’ve never seen someone so explosive at THAT stage late in the match. I’m an Arsenal fan, and I’ve watched Spurs be…meh, this season. Very entertaining match but I agree with John, they better watch out for that counter attack.

    • canyid

      November 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

      I’m a Spurs fan and I agree. Spurs in the Prems is not Spurs in the Champs. We play our best against the best.

  8. David

    November 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I am a Spurs supporter through and through, but admit great delight in watching the Gunners when they really are on song. Last night, however, was a night in the memory for Spurs folk though. I have never seen such a sustained attacking exhibition of soccer for the full 90 minutes by any team. True Bale was superb but all the players involved worked their socks off. Whether this is a new level that Spurs can maintain is debatable, but yes there are now 2 soccer teams playing great ball in North london.

  9. Matt

    November 3, 2010 at 10:02 am

    If you look throughout the whole of football history, I think you will find that Arsenal only started playing decent (if counter attack) football once Arsene Wenger took over. They were renowned for decades for playing boring football… Boring, Boring Arsenal..

    Tottenham have throughout sort to play great entertaining, attacking football. Including some of the greatest teams of all time & the introduction of Push & Run football to the English game.

    It is great we have still encouraged this high pressure, entertaining & attacking football, while now finally bringing some quality & success to the games too, which other that in the CC, we have been missing for over 15 years. COYS…

  10. Feehily

    November 3, 2010 at 9:51 am

    *cough-cough-cough* Aaak! Sorry, I choked on me Frosties, what was that?

  11. MALSV

    November 3, 2010 at 9:50 am

    there is no one on that Arsenal squad that can stop Bale.

    • Simon Burke

      November 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

      Phillip Neville kept him very quiet.

      • zizou uk

        November 4, 2010 at 2:38 am

        All said and done I think that bale was quite sublime marauding down the flank like a trojan. He had his two best games as a spurs player against inter and that goes a long way to enhance his reputation as a devastating winger. But in all truth against everton he was quite and against united he was equally nullified. So kudos to spurs aand bale a great night, as that’s all it was.

  12. Sir Guy

    November 3, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Blackpool on steroids.

    • jose

      November 3, 2010 at 11:18 am


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