Commando. Truly, one of the great films of the ‘80s, quite the celluloid embodiment of the all-action-no-plot mentality. From start to finish it is held together by the very wispiest of fragile plots, whilst also punctuated by numerous illustrations of the linguistic difficulties that Arnold Schwarzenegger never quite mastered (“All that matters to me now is Chenny”). As the number of blood-spattered bodies littering the screen gradually increase, it approaches its quite marvellous denouement, in which Arnie, armed to the teeth with guns, grenades, sticks, stone and catapults, strides through an entire army, killing the lot of them. For their part they line up one by one and fire everything they have at him, for about ten minutes flat, but simply cannot hit him, and all get wiped out.That climactic scene, in which one soldier after another lines up, shoots and misses, was faithfully recreated yesterday at the Lane, by our heroes in lilywhite. A 90-minute homage to one of Schwarzenegger’s finest moments, Defoe and chums pinged shots left, right, off the post, off the line, off the ‘keeper – anywhere but the target, leaving West Ham to rescue Chenny and scarper off back to the Olympic stadium.
If anyone ever wanted to see the complete opposite of the 9-1 Wigan victory this was possibly it. Where once Defoe scored chance after chance after chance, this time he missed them all; where once a late free-kick hit woodwork and ‘keeper and then bounced in, this time it bounced out via the same combination. Nil-nil, after over 20 shots on goal. Crivens.
In terms of ‘Arry’s role in proceedings, I’m not sure there was much more he might have done. Swapping VDV for Pav made sense (and might have been done earlier) for ‘twas not an afternoon for a five-man midfield, while the lonely Defoe was repeatedly swarmed upon by what seemed to be dozens of claret shirts lined up across their area. There may have been a case for withdrawing BAE, and switching Bale to left-back, in order to give him a running start on Bridge, a move that would also have introduced Kranjcar. In the final analysis however, the problem was burying the chances, not creating them.
Which leads I suppose to young Defoe. The haters will probably be stomping around incandescently, but I’m inclined just to leave him be, and wait for him to start scoring again. He has done it enough times in the past to suggest he’s not the complete malcoordinated buffoon of yesterday’s two-yard misses.
Lovely Sunny Day
On the bright side, what a lovely spring afternoon. Modders and Sandro looked sprightly in midfield; Daws suddenly popped up with a pretty impressive VDV impression; and there were none of those mental meltdowns from Gomes. Admittedly he only had one or two saves to make, but nevertheless, the longer he can go without charging off his line and launching himself at the feet of a striker, the happier we all become. Apparently it takes 21 days for a practice to become habit, so let this be a start. Mercifully, with Man Citeh and Chelski hurling their money-bags at each other for 90 minutes this afternoon, someone will have dropped points by supper-time, but as everyone ambles into the final straight it is becoming increasingly evident that on our submission form for qualification into next year’s Champions League, we have applied to do it the hard way. Again.
And just when we had all got our breath back after the Milan game, and switched our focus back to domestic matters, Gary Lineker of all people matches us with Real blinking Madrid.Minor Digression
Some lilywhites of my acquaintance reacted with dismay to the draw, but around these parts there were back-slaps and whoops unconfined. Drawing Schalke or Shaktar (or indeed Man Utd or Chelski) would not have felt like Champions League fare, but this lot most certainly fit the bill. Inter, AC Milan and now Real Madrid – it jolly well feels like we’re rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite, which was precisely what we had in mind when Crouch nodded in at Eastlands last May. Marvellous.
Marginally Less Glamorous
Back to today. Give us teams from Milan and our lot - Messrs Dawson, Gallas and Sandro in particular - defend the lilywhite net as if their lives depend on it, the threat of Ballon d’Or nominees snuffed out with élan. However, in recent weeks when we have trotted out against Premiership riff-raff our defenders have promptly flicked the dial to “Clueless”, gazing on statically while some of the country’s most mediocre journeymen fill their boots. Capable we certainly our, but unless some inspired soul blares out the Champions League theme over the tannoy five minutes before kick-off it is debatable whether the motivation levels will quite reach the dizzying heights of midweek European nights.
Bale should by now be fighting fit and straining at the leash, which will shove Niko Kranjcar even further down the pecking order, poor blighter. There is apparently an injury concern over Gallas, so Bassong should slot in (or, if injured, one of Corluka or Sandro will presumably be pressed into action at the back). Young Master Defoe has presumably spent the 10 days or so since the Milan game engaging in some surly grumbling at his omission, and given his record against former employees would be a good bet to score (or miss a penalty) today.
As for the other lot, my 15 month-old niece has been deploying her nascent linguistic skills in recent days to inform me repeatedly of the threat posed by Ba. The emergence of Sandro in lilywhite means that we no longer have to look with covetous eyes at Scott Parker, but he and the fantastically-named Hitzelsperger have been central to the recent resurgence of West Ham, so the midfield today ought to be quite the battleground.
The early kick-off gives us quite the opportunity to make the teams above squirm for a few hours, and transferring our Milan form to the Premiership would straightforwardly take care of things – but when was that ever the Tottenham way?
Well if this doesn’t get your juices flowing I suggest you go and boil your head. Tottenham Hotspur vs AC Milan. It’s the sort of fixture that makes me want to don nothing more than a loin-cloth and go wrestle a bear, then save a small child - and svelte, scantily-clad brunette – from a burning building, before reducing Colonel Gadaffi to tears with a devastating best-of-five demolition in Scissors-Paper-Stone. Precisely that sort of fixture.Various Spurs fans – both of the flesh-and-blood variety and those tiny little men who live inside my computer box – wailed and gnashed their teeth when we drew this lot. By contrast, at AANP Towers the walls resounded with cheers and the fattened calf quite rightly wore a look of doom, for win, lose or – well, just win or lose really – Spurs vs Milan is the sort of glamour tie that makes the bad old days of Gross, Francis et al seem worthwhile, the sort of glamour tie that puts us back on the map of Europe’s elite. Moreover, from the moment the tie was drawn I fancied us to beat them at the Lane. I hold up my hands, clear my throat and give a sprightly, if tuneless, rendition of Mea Culpa in admission of the fact that I certainly did not anticipate the win at the San Siro, oh me of little faith. At home however, with the Lane absolutely heaving, we can beat anybody, the bigger the better.
That said, the last time we were in this sort of situation, protecting a lead in a crucial two-legged European tie, Sevilla were two goals up before the chap next to me had even found his seat, so complacency will be way down the list tonight.
The Champions League Does Funny Things To A Man
Last time, ahead of the trip to the San Siro, I was bemoaning the absence of Jermaine Jenas of all people. And today I petition my manager to allow alcohol consumption within the office, in order that I may raise a glass to the return to fitness of Corluka. I rather like the fact that Alan Hutton is essentially a winger trying to escape the shackles of the back-four, but we can darned well do without his weekly penalty-area yanking of an opponent’s shirt tonight. He may wobble rather than run, but Corluka has more of a defensive head on his shoulders, and given that we’ve conceded six goals in two games against Wolves and Blackburn, I would opt for him against AC Milan. Plus, I can’t get enough of those weighted diagonals he plays to Lennon. Weighted diagonals, I miss thee.
Other Team News
VDV and Modders will get the chance to play their own little private game of Awesomeness in the centre, while Sandro gets the AANP vote for the final midfield spot, on the basis that he more closely resembles Wilson Palacios Circa Early 2009 than Wilson Palacios currently does.
Defoe’s goals have presumably given ‘Arry food for thought, but Crouch-VDV is his preferred European axis, and with good reason given the bewilderment instilled in foreign sorts by the gangly one.
Mind you, this will all be fairly academic if Gomes and the back-four indulge in any more of those spontaneous acts of lunacy. At the moment the entire back-line is typified by BAE, who on nights like this can either produce a masterclass in full-backery, or resemble a demented, risk-happy loon with not a care in the world for the cleanliness of the Goals Against column. Please, please, please chaps – no madness at the back tonight.
Happy St Wenger’s Day
Strictly – or rather chronologically - speaking, we have already progressed further in the Champions League this season than that ‘orrible lot down the road, so happy St Wenger’s Day everybody. However, for all the gentle ribbing in the office this bright and breezy morn, it does not really count. Yet. Avoid defeat tonight though, and my goon-supporting chums won’t be able to avoid another attack of their silent foe, Ye Grin of Smugness.
Seven hours to go and I can barely contain myself, it really is that terrifically exciting. Fingers crossed one and all for the latest, Greatest Night.