Spurs are ‘more defensive’ and ‘less gung-ho’ in Champions League now
IN THE aftermath of the historic win at the San Siro, the message from the Tottenham camp was that Spurs had triumphed because, as usual, they had gone to Milan and attacked.
En route to the last 16, the Lilywhites had become the first team in Champions League history to score two goals or more in every group match.
That feat was as much a testament to their bravery on the continent as their fearsome form at White Hart Lane.
Including the qualifier with Young Boys, Spurs had conceded 12 goals in four Champions League games away from home, scoring 10 in reply.
And, when they arrived in Italy last week, the message was that nothing would change – cavalier Tottenham only know one way to play.
“I’m not thinking about being defensive – I haven’t got the players,” said Harry Redknapp before the game.
Then, after scoring the 80th-minute winner, Peter Crouch said: “I think we shocked them a little bit because we came to the San Siro and attacked them.”
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However, looking back, captain Michael Dawson has offered a rather different view of the match, highlighting the value of a more mature, counter-attacking approach as Tottenham kept their first clean sheet away from home in the Champions League.
Contrary to the view that Spurs triumphed in Milan because they refused to curb their attacking instincts, the centre-back feels that he and his team-mates emerged triumphant because they were “less gung-ho”, “more defensive” and because they finally accepted that they “couldn’t go there and play like we normally do.”
The 27-year-old told Spurs TV Online: “We’ve learned from going to Young Boys and maybe playing in the way we did – being so open and being 3-0 down within half an hour. We went to the San Siro and played Inter Milan and it was three down within 15 minutes.
“Maybe we can’t go gung-ho at teams, we’ve got to settle into the game and go a little bit more defensive. There’s no harm in playing like that.
“That was the game plan [against Milan] – get behind the ball because we know that when we break, teams can’t live with us. We got the ball on the edge of our box and then we broke and scored.
“We did the same when we were down to 10 men at Aston Villa, so it certainly seems like a good way to play for us.
“That’s not the way that Tottenham normally play – we’re usually very open, it’s end-to-end stuff. But I think going to play AC Milan we couldn’t go there and play like we normally do.”
That is an interesting insight because, while Redknapp and Crouch trumpeted the triumph of Tottenham’s attacking traditions, Dawson paints Spurs as a team who are developing and maturing in Europe, learning from their mistakes and losing some of their naivety.
The debate over the tactics behind last week’s victory could go on, but it is time to look ahead. The job is only half done and Dawson is not one to celebrate victory prematurely – as he proved in the 80th minute of the first leg, when Crouch put Spurs ahead.
“I was pretty much at the other end of the field, I didn’t run up and celebrate,” said Dawson. “I thought ‘there’s still time – rather than running up and getting carried away, they can still score, so we’ve got to try to keep our heads, keep calm and, after the 90 minutes, it’s celebration time’.
“To be coming back to White Hart Lane with a 1-0 lead is a credit to the lads. We’re full of confidence and hopefully we can do it, but there’s still 90 minutes to play and they’re a top team so we’ve got to be ready and hopefully and put on another good performance, like we did over there.”
Meanwhile, Dawson has paid tribute to Jonathan Woodgate, who joined him in central defence for the final 30 minutes in Italy and played his part in an invaluable shut-out in his first competitive match for 14 months.
“It’s great just to have him in and around the dressing room. He’s one of those characters, everyone loves him. He’s a joker and it’s great to have him around,” said Dawson.
“Within a second of coming on he was heading the ball away and it didn’t look like he’d been away. He might say differently – he’s not been training for very long and he hasn’t played many games – but for him to be back in first-team action at a place like that is a credit to the determination he’s had to show over the last 18 months.”