1. Absolute Gut-Wrenching Frustration, Dash It
Back in the mid-90s, if you had suggested that there is no shame in losing away to Inter, I’d have yelled “Gollazo”, thrust my false ID in your general direction and agreed vigorously. However, things – as sometimes happens – have changed. Inter’s stripey ensemble might retain a certain appeal, but their 2018 on-pitch vintage is pretty crushingly average.
Accordingly, most of the trouble we faced was overwhelmingly of our own doing – and more grumbles on that particular topic below – while our hosts did little more than huff, puff and complain about this and that.
In fact, by around the 70-minute mark Inter had fairly unashamedly thrown in the towel, and simply mooched around the place, killing time until the post-match snifters at the nearest Milanese watering-hole. Our heroes were required to do little more than light cigars and apologetically keep possession as the game and all around it drifted towards a happy conclusion.
In a group like this, three points away from home would have swung the odds pretty handily in our favour. Even one point would have been accepted, albeit sniffily in the cirucmstances. But to have the larder so completely raided, barely ten minutes after having been in complete control, was about as rotten a conclusion as one can imagine.
2. The Morbidly Fascinating Tactic of Repeatedly Trying to Pass Out From The Back
Mind you, it was a good 30 or 40 minutes before one cottoned on to the fact that Inter were not quite the prowling behemoth of yore. In the opening thrusts, we seemed to have our work cut out to keep them at bay, and it is no exaggeration to say that one pursed the lips with concern.
On closer inspection however, it became pretty evident that the nub of all these problems were our own dashed heroes – and in particular the ludicrous tactic of repeatedly trying to pass the ball out from the area at goal kicks.
To say that the plan had a mild flaw or two in its mechanics is to make a pretty fruity bid for Understatement of the Year. Time and again the ball was passed to one or other of the centre-backs, who promptly staggered around it like men who had been drinking in the city centre since mid-morning.
On the rare occasions that they managed to dispense with the thing, it only bobbed around ten yards further up the field, where either Davies or Aurier were on hand to pass it straight to an opponent or trip over themselves while the ball gently rolled out of play. Precious little assistance came from midfield either, where every lilywhite in sight was determined to add their own glaring miscontrol or errant pass to the collection, and the whole thing made football look like the most complex operation imaginable.
It was mind-boggling to behold. Our heroes peddled a solid demonstration of the definition of madness, wondering why a different outcome was not materialising, and seemingly oblivious to the presence of alternatives – the concept of simply blasting the ball into the half being pretty firmly off the agenda. I’m not sure we managed serene progress to the halfway line from a single one of around a dozen first half attempts to pass our way out from the back.
These persistent, determined attempts to stuff the same square pegs into round holes, and the consequent bother they caused us in conceding possession on the edge of our own area, rather distracted from the fact that going forward our front four or so were quietly burrowing their way into the Inter ranks.
Nothing too blistering, heaven forbid, but the little dink from Eriksen to Kane; the occasional over-elaboration from Lamela; the odd dribble from Dembele over halfway – one started to get the impression that Inter were actually there for the taking, if we just applied ourselves. And cleared the lines from goal-kicks, of course.
3. Moura The Impact Sub
Lucas Moura seems not to have received the club-wide memo that all in lilywhite must trudge about the premises looking like they have been flogged half to death all summer. Sprightly whenever he has started a game so far this season, he hit upon the terrific idea of displaying precisely the same degree of spright when introduced as a substitute, and it produced exceptional results.
Credit to the manager were due – and he has a sizeable portion of blame heading his way soon enough – it was a decision that could not have been better timed if he had been rehearsing it for weeks. We led by a goal, Inter were beginning to over-commit and their general energy levels were sapping away like nobody’s business.
Enter Moura, and every Inter defender in sight began queuing up to have the dickens twisted out of them. The only shame was that it did not bring about the second goal that it merited.
4. Aurier Turns In A Half-Decent Display
Frequent visitors to this parish – and indeed, any man, woman or child alive, who has ever cast the merest glance in our direction over the past season – will be well aware that Serge Aurier is a man of questionable defensive prowess.
“Liability” has generally been the mot juste, as the blighter has conceded penalties, earned red cards, sliced clearances and misplaced passes in a pretty determined attempt to establish himself as a dashed nuisance, and raise the blood pressure of approximately half the population of North London.
He started proceedings in typical fashion yesterday – albeit in common with most of his defensive chums. A miscontrol to concede a throw, a wayward header to concede a corner – so far, so Aurier.
Come the second half however, the chap got his act together like a man possessed. Filling in behind the centre-backs like a seasoned sweeper, he cleared up the occasional mess at the back, whilst also channelling his inner Kyle Walker by bombing up the back as if wing-backing were his specialist subject.
All in vain ultimately, and a genuine shame that he was the AWOL marker for the winning goal, but having taken every opportunity to hammer the chap over the past year, it is only fair to applaud him when he remembers his p’s and q’s, so to speak.
5. Poch Decisions
If one were to spot a gentleman going about his business with an umbrella tucked underneath his arm, and then cast a glance skywards and spot cloud formations of the murky variety – well, while one would hardly burst into spontaneous applause, one would nevertheless understand the chap’s rationale, and accept that decision as acceptable enough.
Thus did the replacement of Lamela with Winks strike me. I don’t mind admitting that I eyed the progress of Messrs Son, Eriksen and Lamela with an enthusiastic eye every time they broke over halfway to sniff out glory, and when Lamela was hooked a gentle sadness struck me. Not one of those deep, sighing sadnesses; more of a mildly disappointed shrug. Nevertheless, like the gentleman preparing for rain, one followed the thought process – we led away from home, and Winks, on paper at least, was the sort of egg who could offer a little more protection as the clock ticked down.
However, one can only judge these things in hindsight, and on results. We did lose a sliver of that attacking thrust of the previous twenty minutes, and – while neither goal had much to do with young Winks – we did concede twice. As if Our Glorious Leader did not have enough on his plate, he now has AANP raising a disapproving eyebrow at his mid-game switches.
To say nothing of his pre-game choices. The omissions of both Toby and Trippier rank amongst the most deeply suspicious of our time. Rather like one of those young brides one reads about who convinces her new octogenarian spouse to alter his will and leave her the whole dashed inheritance mere days before his death, this was a fishy move. And once again, hindsight and the result ultimately points to Poch making the wrong calls. Heaven help him if he engages in a game of Scissors-Paper-Stone, for every choice he makes this week, while honest and well-intentioned, ultimately brings about a soggy ending.
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