Bale keeps making hay with Spurs
Tottenham 3 Inter Milan 0:Andre Villas-Boas had preached extreme caution and simply sought to take something tangible to San Siro next Thursday in the quest for a place in the Europa League’s quarter-finals. The Tottenham Hotspur manager got much more as his team enjoyed an occasion that was memorable principally for its comfort.
There was little to get excited about regarding the mighty Internazionale and, as Tottenham cut through them, it became a question of whether the second leg would remain alive. There was glory to be had, even if the evening carried little of the barnstorming qualities of the 3-1 Champions League group stage victory here over Inter in 2010. Inter were lacklustre from back to front.
Tottenham punished their dismal defending and the only negative was Gareth Bale’s 14th-minute booking for diving, which represented his third caution of the competition and, as such, ruled him out of the return tie in Milan.
Whether he will be needed is open to question. Bale has been booked for simulation in the Premier League fixtures this season against Liverpool, Fulham and Sunderland. Bale’s engineered coming-together with Walter Gargano was a bad moment for him but it ought not to take the shine off the evening for Tottenham and Villas-Boas, who could savour the result against his former employer. He had considered the fixture as “just reward” for his team’s efforts in the competition but Tottenham are far from finished.
Villas-Boas had been determined to build upon the momentum that Tottenham had generated in recent weeks on what was a night to stir the passions. It is not every week that the three-times European champions roll into town, even if it was not part of the script that they turned up without their black-and-blue shirts. It was jarring to see them in red but it did give the home crowd the chance to wonder whether they were “Arsenal in disguise” as they struggled to find their rhythm in the first half. It had been difficult to ignore the undercurrent of history, of the Bale-fired Champions League ties from two seasons before, when the Tottenham winger ignited his global reputation and Maicon felt his crumble.
The Brazilian right-back is now at Manchester City but the Inter back four had been placed on notice as Bale roamed and drove from his new central role in the bid to fire fresh glories.
He was fundamental to everything at the outset and when he collected possession in the seventh minute on the left, a posse of Inter players swarmed to meet him. Bale simply fired low and square to Jermain Defoe, who dropped his shoulder toopen up the chance. The shot was too close to Samir Handanovic.
By then, Bale had put Tottenham ahead, with his 10th goal in eight matches for the club and it was one that advertised his aerial prowess and awareness, although Esteban Cambiasso’s attempt to track him from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s left-wing cross was lame. Bale leapt and powered his header down and into the far corner.
Bale provoked controversy when he was booked for diving, or hooking his leg around Walter Gargano inside the area and throwing himself down. In other words, diving. It was a black mark against his name and there will be no glorious San Siro return for him.
The first half was all about Tottenham’s hunger and intensity, which came down from Villas-Boas and the way that he has addressed this competition. Andrea Stramaccioni, his counterpart, had, by contrast, made great play of his squad’s injury problems and the related presence of six youth-team members in his travelling party.
To Inter, Champions League qualification via a top-three Serie A finish is the overwhelming necessity. They sit one point off the pace in fourth.
Tottenham want it all and they scored their second when Defoe took Aaron Lennon’s low cross, performed his spin-and-shoot routine and watched Handanovic parry. Sigurdsson reacted sharply to steer home the rebound.
Jan Vertonghen’s looping header caused a nervous moment for Handanovic and Tottenham were supremely comfortable. Yet Ricardo Alvarez could have painted a different half-time picture when he streaked clean through for Inter’s only chance. He slumped to the ground after he dragged his shot wide of the far post but Tottenham had their warning.
Villas-Boas’ team’s focus had to be spot on and it was while Inter were sorely lacking in the department. Tottenham’s third would have had the stalwarts of previous Inter generations spluttering with indignation.
It was not as if Inter had not been warned about Vertonghen’s threat from set-pieces. Moments after the restart, he had sneaked in on the back post to meet Bale’s free-kick only to slice. His header from Bale’s corner brooked no argument but none had been forthcoming. Again, Cambiasso was slack, passing Vertonghen on to Cristian Chivu, who also failed to challenge. Tottenham sought to deepen Inter’s misery and they could have regrets that the final scoreline was not heavier.