1. That Sickening Feeling
It was with a moody, morose, hangdog expression that I picked at the morning repast, I don’t mind admitting. One sometimes reads the phrase, “Sick to the pit of his stomach”, in murder mysteries and horror yarns and the like, and I never quite knew what the chap was getting at, although it sounded something one definitely wanted to swerve.
But now I know. Sick to the pit of my stomach. It pretty much hits nail squarely on head, when it comes to capturing the mood at AANP Towers ever since that blasted final whistle. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, even when you’re not actually in bed.
Or, more specifically, that feeling of having by and large, all things considered, outplayed a team over two legs, save for ten minutes in the first joust and five minutes in the second – and still ending up trudging home empty-handed and out of the competition for another year, after months of labour which actually begin at the start of last season when just qualifying for the bally thing. There’s something World Cup-esque about it all.
There were no injustices about which to complain (okay, the stamp on Son, the odd tenuous handball appeal – but if anything Lady Luck leant towards lilywhite), and no real complaints about the outcome. And yet the manner of the dashed thing is bitterly difficult to take. A lesson for us all, what?
2. Be More Clinical
And on the subject of lessons, they flew at us by the absolute bucketload yesterday. Most obviously I suppose was the need to make all the hay available when the sun is out and the conditions ship shape.
In the first half in particular we did a pretty topping job of opening up the Juve defence, and creating a decent fistful of presentable opportunities, but only scored one. The key protagonists, if not quite allowed the freedom of a fortnight back, were still looking pretty hot. Dembele was gliding, Eriksen was picking his men, Son was a little blur of whirring legs. But just the one goal. At half-time that seemed a pretty satisfactory night’s work, and there were back slaps all round; but how young and foolish we were back in those halcyon days of half-time.
In the second half it was more a case of well-set shots flying just wide of the mark. At school this would have earned that slightly patronising praise for effort, but yesterday it didn’t really tackle the meat of the problem, namely ticks in the Goals Scored column.
By contrast, Juve created two clear chances, tucked both away and that was enough. The lesson is not just obvious, it stands directly in front of you and raps you over the head with a blunt instrument.
Our heroes can certainly be proud of the fact that they twice took the game to that lot, outplayed them for large periods and created a hatful of chances. The next step, then, is to score goals at the slightest hint of an invitation, and in every period of dominance, because this stage of the Champions League is evidently pretty unforgiving, and points are not awarded for artistic finesse.
The Kane chance when he rounded the keeper; the Son effort dragged wide just before his goal; the Son header straight at the ‘keeper; Lamela’s slight delay in chasing the Kane header which hit the post – whereas in the Premier League, even against the top teams, another opportunity will likely toddle along (and if not, within seven days there is an opportunity to right all wrongs and forget about past mistakes), in the last 16 of the CL there is evidently a limit to the number of bites at the cherry over the course of 180 minutes, and if you miss your moment then you are simply plucked by the shoulders and tossed unceremoniously to the back of the queue.
3. Various Other Lessons Learned
Aside from simply sticking the thing in the blasted net from time to time, there was plenty else to learn from the way Juve got the job done, so I trust that our glorious leader and indeed those on the pitch took the time to whip out their notepads and scribble away like nobody’s business.
I suppose a lot of it could be filed under the loose heading of “General Savviness and Nous”. Things like tactical fouls, changing shape (and reacting to shape-changes), delaying play, and general game management. Some would probably be labelled fairly dark arts, but others are considerably brighter, and simply reflect a little exercising of the grey matter. Oddly enough it seems there’s more to playing football than simply playing football, which really makes one stop and think.
On a side note, amongst numerous other things I give credit to the Juve top dog for staggering his double substitution at the hour mark. Where most would simply have bunged both subs onto the pitch in one dollop, signalling a clear change of tack, the Allegri chap made his changes a minute apart.
Nothing too sinister in that, one might think, but as one of the TV bods pointed out, the effect was to give our lot more food for thought than their little minds could handle. Barely had they computed Sub No. 1 and the accompanying change in approach, than Sub No. 2 was galloping into view, and more time was spent by those in lilywhite scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the dickens was happening. Within five minutes, while we were still adjusting our dials, Juve had scored and it was all too late.
4. A Team In The Manager’s Image (For Better And Worse)
An Arsenal-supporting chum, of all things, noted to me that possibly the only flaw in the management style of Senor Pochettino is a slightly rudimentary approach to the art of substitutions, and I suppose I am inclined to agree there, because for all his qualities the old bean rarely turns a game on its head with his mid-match tinkering.
By and large we tend to muddle through anyway, but on occasions like yesterday some inspiration from Stage Right would certainly not have gone amiss. However, I suppose that, like the troupe out on the pitch, our glorious leader himself is also rather green behind the ears in these matters.
The whole team is very much in the manager’s image, which by and large makes for pretty topping stuff – the whole cast singing from the same hymnsheet as it were – but it also means that they share his few flaws, and the inexperience from top to bottom cost us yesterday.
5. Progress and Next Steps
It is often said that while you can take AANP out of the analysis I’ll be dashed if you can take the analyst out of AANP, and as such we probably ought to consider next steps.
Beating Bournemouth seems like a sensible starting point. Ordinarily this would go without saying, but given the soul-destroying nature of last night, Sunday’s game shoulders an extra wedge or two of significance. Get back on the wagon and despatch that lot, and our season remains on track. Feel sorry for ourselves and roll around morosely, and we might start dropping points, and before you know it the whole thing is falling apart and locals are running for the hills.
But on a cheerier note, there is pretty visible progress from one season to the next. A couple of years ago we stumbled and crashed through a fairly ghastly Europa experience.
Last season we were gifted a pretty cheery-looking CL group, and made a most awful mess of things, then did the same in the Europa.
This season we were pretty solid third favourites in a group of four, but topped the thing, beating the current champions, then rather cruelly were rewarded with a knockout against the other finalist, and made a respectable fist of things.
As trajectories go, the Pochettino Vintage is up there with some of the great parabolas of our time, and you cannot get much higher praise than that.