On Tuesday, Tottenham head to the Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Wow, I did not think a couple of years ago I would be able to type that – from away defeat to Grimsby in 2005, to taking on the most successful team in the history of the most prestigious European club competition. Anything from this point on really should be a bonus for Spurs fans – but it’s hard to look at the game and not see a marvelous opportunity to progress even further.
First of all, there is some debate as to who will actually be lining up for Real in the first leg: Ronaldo was “definitely out” but looks likely to start; Benzema is perhaps going to miss out; but most importantly, Marcelo, the wing-back, is doubtful. With Tottenham’s main threat coming from the pace and skill of Bale on the left flank, Madrid not having their first choice defender in this area of the pitch could be a big issue for them. Of course, as Maicon can attest, even the highest rated players can be made to look ridiculous by Bale this season (and nobody likes to look ridiculous)
Real Madrid are coming into this game following an embarrassing home defeat to Sporting Gijon; a loss that not only ends any slim chance they had of capturing the title away from Barcelona, but also brought to an end an incredible 9 year, 150 game span in which Jose Mourinho had not lost a home league game as manager of Madrid, Internazionale, Chelsea and Porto. Spurs, meanwhile, have been in mediocre form, with consecutive 0-0 draws against relegation threatened West Ham and Wigan in their most recent games. However, it is hard to read too much into Saturday’s result at the DW Stadium, as the line-up was considerably different to how I expect us to start in Spain. A lack of width will be replaced with the twin threats of the aforementioned Bale on the left, and the speedy Lennon on the right. Some fans have been frustrated by the fact that Redknapp clearly is focusing on the Champions League and resting players for Premiership games – I actually agree with him on this though. There is no point just trying to qualify each year for the competition, football is all about winning trophies not just making more money for the club. While I understand that being in the Champions League allows you to attract a better standard of player, I believe this year we have done so well that we should look to go as far as we can, at least to give it our very best shot.
The worst thing about this fixture is, I really think Tottenham have a great chance to progress. With Crouch leading the line and Van der Vaart, returning to his former club with a point to prove, playing off him, Spurs will cause all sorts of problems for the Madrid defence, the type of which they have not been used to facing in a weakened La Liga. Modric and Ozil are similar players and whoever is more effective between the two of them could swing the balance of the tie. Obviously Ronaldo will be the most talented player on the pitch should he play (which I think he will), but if he is not fully fit or gets frustrated early on, it may be possible for Assou-Ekotto to stifle him (did I really just say that I thought Assou-Ekotto could stop Ronaldo? I’m setting myself up for a big fall, and I really should know better)
Look, I just cannot pick against Tottenham here, my brain is saying that Real Madrid have more quality and individual skill than us and this will likely be where it ends, but my heart is making me believe we can do it. We will do it. The Spurs fans in Spain will sing us to a fantastic 2-1 away win and then at the Lane next week, we will finish the job with a 3-1 victory. And who cares if I sound like John Locke here but – Don’t tell me what we can’t do!
I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but in the last 16 I went 7/8 in predicting the winners (see for yourself here) missing out only on the Valencia vs Schalke tie – so, to prove I have not yet learnt you should never write off the Germans, let’s start with them:
Inter vs Schalke – Inter Milan are rubbish, seriously, they should not be getting through to the Champions League semi-finals this year. But somehow they got through against an out-of-sorts Bayern and are now facing a team that is 11th in the Bundesliga. Somehow, the reigning Champions will be in the last four.
Chelsea vs Man United – I have a horrible feeling that Chelsea will get revenge for that defeat in Moscow back in…wait, what’s that Wayne? Umm okay, I guess Man United will get through then, because of their…”passion” I guess we’ll call it.
Barcelona vs Shaktar Donetsk – this is controversial, I know, but it’s not just because Tottenham (or Madrid) will play the winners in the semi-finals. I genuinely think Shaktar will knock out the favourites. Why? I think Barca have not been firing on all cylinders recently and the Ukrainians are exactly the sort of team who can take advantage of that, especially with the second leg being played in Donetsk. Call me crazy, but I’m going for Shaktar to go through.