Tottenham travelled to the San Siro with a 3-0 lead over Inter Milan in their Europa League last-sixteen clash.
However, they also travelled with a significant omission from their team – Gareth Bale.
The Welshman was booked in the first leg and was therefore suspended for the second – something manager Andre Villas-Boas felt was preferable to his being suspended in the next round, should they progress.
Spurs have been patronizingly dubbed a ‘one man team’ this season due to the 23-year-old sensational form – he’s scored 21 goals so far across all competitions and is comfortably their top scorer by a seven-goal margin.
Without Jermaine Defoe, who returned to first team action against Arsenal a fortnight ago after a spell on the sidelines, Bale kept their hopes alive in the Premier League and the Europa League and subsequently the team have come to rely on him, his presence and, more importantly, his goals.
Tottenham’s 4-1 defeat at the San Siro was more a reflection of poor defending than it was a reflecting of poor attacking.
They progress through to the quarterfinals thanks to an away goal from Emmanuel Adebayor in extra time, the two sides tied 4-4 on aggregate but Spurs’ valuable away goal means they now face Basel in the last eight.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side had been on a very good run up until their 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in the league. Prior to that they hadn’t lost in 8 games in all competitions. In the Premier League, they were unbeaten in 12 games.
It’s no coincidence that Gareth Bale didn’t feature in their last Premier League defeat 12 games prior to their defeat at Liverpool – against Everton on December 9th. The Welshman scored 10 league goals in that period between the two Merseyside defeats.
Whilst Adebayor’s winner was all-important on the night, there must be concerns for the fans and the manager that they suffered such a heavy defeat – like I said, their defending was woeful, particularly William Gallas who had a bad day the office but they’re inability to score the other end in normal time demonstrates how restricted Spurs are without their star man.
Without Bale, they not only lacked a quality finish but they created far fewer chances in general. The game was wide open for the most part. Spurs had 49% of possession just created half of the chances that Inter did – 11 to the Italians 21 shots on goal and only 6 of those attempts were on target, compared to Inter’s 13.
What’s more concerning is that they lacked focus, belief, and, crucially, drive – without their driver behind the wheel they cruised casually and almost crashed out of the competition. It’s commendable that they eventually found the impetus to score and they deserve credit for their character to see themselves through under the circumstances.
But, they must find a way to relieve the burden on their driver, they can’t afford to be passengers and Thursday night’s game should serve as warning and wake-up call – Tottenham must prove that they are not a ‘one man team’ or they run the risk of careering dangerously out of control in his absence.