The sound of bugles blowing

As the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of Tottenham Hotspur-Real Madrid match, it was actually the sound of bugles blowing and war drums sounding. The end result of this match, confirmed the beginning of a war, the war between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

This match was just supposed to be a precursor of what’s about to come.

However, the match had some very interesting features, which the team managers would have surely noticed and which will be covered one by one.

Team Reflections

  • Real are good, very good, but are not quite the finished article yet.
  • Spurs are not Champion’s league material yet and need reinforcements in some key areas before they can hope to become regular contenders.

Individual reflections

  • Gareth Bale is not quite there yet, Van der Vaart is not a world beater, Huddlestone is good , Spurs’ strikers are below average and the defence as a whole is useless, apart from Dawson.
  • Khedira is good, Ramos is average, Ozil can be easily intimidated, Marcelo needs to work a lot on his physicality and Adebayor’s first touch is horrible.

Not an amateur, not yet a world beater

The first 20 minutes at White hart Lane must have been an eye opener for Jose Mourinho. For all the  domination by Real in the first leg, Spurs more than matched them in the initial phase and were unlucky not to get a penalty for one of their 3 shouts.

The sheer pace of the match had given Real Madrid a lot to think about and a striker better than Roman Pavlyuchenko might have given ‘Los Blancos’ jitters by burying that wonderful chance he was presented with early in the second half.

What am I doing here?

Throughout the match, the backline of Real Madrid was breached, especially from the wings. Only some collective efforts kept the Spurs at bay. A more experienced Champions League campaigner would have definitely made Real pay for these lapses.

Of course, it might be argued, that with first leg already ensuring progress and a bountiful of ‘El Clasicos’ coming, Real were never going to step on the paddle. But the assurance and swagger of Champions-in-waiting was certainly not there.

Reinforcement in key areas is the ‘key’ to success

While Crouch, Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko may fare reasonably well in the Premier League, they certainly are not in the same league as Benzema, Villa  and Rooney when it comes to Europe. With the complete absence of one standout quality that makes a good striker a great one, they can never be expected to lead Lilywhites to glory at this level.

In fact the whole of the side is just that: Good, but not quite the Harlem Globetrotters except for Dawson and Bale, who is a potential superstar in making; and to a certain extent Van der Vaart (VDV) and Modric. Also they have no player who can be deemed a natural leader.

Continental champions of recent years always had something ‘extra’ that made them the bookies’ favorites:  United’s Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez combo and their defensive duo of Vidic and Ferdinand; AC Milan’s Kaka, Gattuso and Pirlo, and Maldini; Liverpool’s Alonso and Gerrard; Barcelona’s whole squad. Moreover, each of them had a ‘natural’ leader.

Spurs lack all this and they need to get these kind of players to become a domestic and continental force.

Fade to oblivion and Re-working of tactics

After 20 minutes, the looks of resignation to the inevitable were clearly visible on the faces of Spurs’ players and fans and this might have resulted in a jaded display. Bale was marked out of game by Real and later on even his teammates failed to find him.

Despite, two midfielders in an attacking role, Modric and VDV cut isolated figures. This was both because of Roman Pavlyuchenko’s lack of mobility and lack of cohesive play. VDV dropped deeper and deeper to get the ball, till he almost became a central midfielder instead of an attacking one. This allowed Modric to be bullied and since Roman Pavlyuchenko was never looking to draw out defenders, there was no scope for wingers or midfielders to run into spaces, which would have appeared had Pavlyuchenko been more proactive.

In fact, despite a 5-man midfield there was no cohesion at all. Huddlestone recovered the ball well for the defence, only to give it away due to lack of options.

Again his opposite counterpart Khedira took chances to surge forward, with Ozil and Adebayor drifting out wide and Cristiano Ronaldo coming in as an auxiliary striker, with Marcelo acting as a foil. Although Madrid scored a goal only after a mistake from Gomes, they gave Spurs plenty to think about. This mobility was just not there in the English side.

Long ball tactics and pace may help in EPL, but on the continent one needs off the ball movements which Spurs sorely lack.

Some parts function, others do not

While Spurs’ insipid display might have aided Real Madrid’s cause, they were not the dominating force that they are made out to be, in some quarters.

  • Marcelo’s dribbling skills are unquestionable; but the same cannot be said of his physicality. Time and again during his runs he was bullied off the ball by Huddlestone and Corluka. If he is to become the next Carlos, he has to be stronger to hold off the challenges. Against, the likes of Chelsea and United, one not only has to be skillful but also physical.
  • Ramos is living off his reputation that he built some years back. Bale skinned him at will in the first 20 mintues and had the odds been more favorable for the English side, one might have seen the Bale that Inter were witness to. Rarely did Ramos offer an attacking outlet and his defensive duties were nothing to write home about either. Mourinho really needs to work some of his magic on this unquestionably talented defender. Otherwise he is in serious danger of becoming an afterthought than a feared force.
  • In Khedira,  Real Madrid finally seemed to have found the perfect foil for Alonso. A simple man gracefully doing simple things, which allows Alonso to do what he does best: simple but effective passing. Lass was good, but not compatible with Alonso.
  • Adebayor is mobile and physical, but his first touch is extremely poor, which makes one question his suitability for Real. Granted he is a number ‘9’ that Mourinho wanted, but surely there can better options. Several of the attacks broke down because Adebayor failed to control the ball properly. And finishing is not that great either.

Good holdup play, useless first touch

  • Ozil is another player who simply vanished last night. Unseen, unheard and uninspired – this summed up Ozil’s performance last night. He was bullied off the ball, ran into brick walls with the ball and was unable to thread through balls. This might be treated as a one off day, but only needs to look back at the fateful night of 5-0 and one can understand Mourinho’s anxiety to play Kaka into match fitness.

Miles to go before they sleep

Overall, for both the teams the conclusions are remarkably similar despite the obvious gulf in quality between the two teams.

This match was more reflective of what the teams should do in future, than being reflective of the managers’ quality and decisions. Here two vastly different teams, with diametrically opposite styles of play met and showed each others’ weaknesses without actually exploiting them.

A sort of training ground match which would have served notices to both the managers and the players about how much and what needs to be done, if they have higher aspirations.

Their teams are still a work in progress.

Spurs need reinforcements and are a work in progress, at least as far as Bale is concerned.

Real have the players, but not the coherency to execute what they want.