As Crouch’s legs flailed towards Marcelo, it was obvious what was coming next. As the Madrid player pumped his fists in glee, the lanky striker saw red for a second reckless challenge. And with it, Spurs’ Champions League dreams continued to die a death.
In many ways, Crouch’s sending off was reminiscent of Rafael Van Der Vaart’s against Twente in the group stages. Clumsy, idiotic and always coming. But at least in that tie, Van Der Vaart had helped Spurs into a healthy lead against weak opposition. Crouch should have known the German referee would take a dim view of his second challenge. Perhaps in the Premier League he’d have got away with a ticking off for the first one, but not at this level. It’s not as if the England striker has never played in Europe’s top competition. But he’s not the only one to blame for Spurs’ Madrid capitulation.
First though, let’s be clear. There’s no shame in being dumped out by a superior Real Madrid side in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Ask any Spurs fan locked into Eastlands after out 1-0 victory over City that secured our CL place, and I guarantee you that every single one would have taken it. Right now, it hurts. And while we should be proud, that shouldn’t stop us pinning the blame. This was an embarrassing defeat, which although punctuated by some resolute defending against a Mourinho side pumped full of stunning talent, needs to be analysed closely and learned from quickly.
Firstly, it’s clear that Redknapp set the midfield up incorrectly once Lennon was mysteriously taken ill. Bale should have been kept in his preferred left hand berth, not shoved out on the right. Jenas should never have been in the middle. That’s Modric’s position and where he works well. If anything, this showed Harry’s tactical limitations. Rafael Van Der Vaart has said one of the reasons he’s enjoyed his time at Tottenham has been Redknapp’s insistence that players go out and express themselves, with the minutiae of tactics not pondered for too long. Indeed, Van Der Vaart said this was a key difference between Redknapp and Mourinho. Once again last night, the latter showed that focusing on every little detail pays off. Harry is a good manager, but if we’re really going to step up another level, he has to take Mourinho’s forensic approach.
And then there’s our goalkeeper. Gomes, as good a shot-stopper as he is, has become a complete liability. He should have done better for Adebayor’s first goal and his failure to keep out Ronaldo’s effort summed the Brazilian up. It’s no good making great Hollywood saves if he can’t do the basics. He fails to inspire confidence in his defenders, his kicking is woeful and he’s clearly not mentally tough enough. Many Spurs fans will ask who we can get instead. If, and it’s a very big if, we make the CL next season, surely we can attract a keeper in the De Gea or Neuer mould. Lord knows we need someone with a better command of the players on front of him and one who can do the simple stuff better.
While Dawson and Gallas have both performed well this season, they should each look at themselves this morning and wonder if they could have done better. Gallas stood like a statue as Adebayor nodded in Real’s second. Dawson’s Rio-style lapses of concentration are also becoming a big worry. He should have dealt with Ronaldo better in the run up to the last goal. He clearly misses Ledley King’s guiding hand, but now is really the time for him to stand up and stay focused.
Yes, I’m being picky. But no, I’m not ashamed. This is a great first effort in the Champions League. The key now is getting back and doing better. The next few weeks will be tough. But here’s hoping the big lessons from last night have been learned. If they are, Spurs will be a better side for it.