In the eternal, baritoned words of Ron Burgundy……”well, that escalated quickly! I mean, that really got out of hand fast”. After a seemingly mundane, yet nonetheless deserved 1-0 victory against Manchester City in the first leg of our Champions League Quarter-Final, I don’t think that anyone (not even Jason Cundy and his axis of TalkSport evil) could have predicted the sheer lunacy of what we witnessed in the return leg last Wednesday night! It has taken almost a week for my heart rate to return to normal, so that I can properly take stock of what the hell actually happened…..but that probably has very little to do with Spurs and more to do with the fact that I eat an awful lot of bacon. I should probably get that checked out. Regardless, this game was the absolute epitome of the proverbial “emotional rollercoaster” that we have become accustomed to as Spurs fans over the years. Except that this time, it didn’t end in complete and utter devastation…..we somehow managed to win! And it is all thanks to our good old mate, VAR……who is now, hands down, my new favourite Spurs player!!! And as the dust settles on what can only be described as an “epic for the ages”, I genuinely can’t decide what is the best conclusion to draw from the game? Either this was a spectacular advert for the Champions League and by extension, the Premier League or that in the modern game, the art of defending is very much…..well, it’s basically a lost art form. Or more likely, it’s become the art equivalent of Damien Hirst…..sure, it’s still art. Kind of. Except that no one really gives a shit about it anymore. As anyone who remembers the Ossie Ardiles managerial era will testify, defending is overrated anyway.
Now, I am certain that for the neutral this was a captivating battle of two single minded, attacking teams but as a Spurs fan, I am not afraid to say that it took several years off my life……which is already significantly depleted due to the aforementioned bacon issue! As you can imagine before the biggest game of our season to date, I am sure that Poch told the players to keep it tight and try not to concede early on, an instruction that they managed to execute to perfection…..for about 4 minutes! After that, all hell broke loose…..literally. Raheem Sterling put City ahead before Heung-min Son continued his incredible season by scoring two in quick succession and giving us a 3-1 aggregate lead. The miracle was on! Predictably, this lasted for a grand total of 60 seconds, before Bernardo Silva managed to pinball an effort off Danny Rose and beyond the stranded Hugo Lloris. Sterling then added a 3rd before the half time whistle and by the break, we had already witnessed more excitement and attacking intent than Manchester United fans had enjoyed in the entire three years under Jose Mourinho! The miracle was on hold. In the second half, Sergio Aguero extended Man City’s lead and it very much looked like our valiant efforts were to be in vain. The miracle was off…..or was it? Mauricio Pochettino still had one more trick up his sleeve, as he called upon VAR to warm up, before throwing him into the action for the final 20 minutes…..and to absolutely devastating effect! Firstly, everyone’s favourite inanimate object, Fernando Llorente, managed to bundle a corner over the line with a subtle yet nonetheless effective combination of his hip/elbow/thigh. The decision was turfed over to VAR and I think we all know where his loyalties truly lie. VAR Decision: Goal Awarded. We were now drawing 4-4 on aggregate and leading on the away goals rule. All we had to do was hold on for twenty more minutes and, assuming that UEFA officials didn’t decide to scrap the away goals rule in the meantime (only half joking), we would be playing Ajax in the Semi-Finals.
And somehow, we did hold out…..for 18 of those 20 minutes, at least. Right at the death, Raheem Sterling managed to scuff home a characteristically Raheem Sterling-esque goal and it looked like we had fallen at the final hurdle. Pep Guardiola sprinted down the touchline to celebrate and the Spurs players were dead on their feet. VAR Decision: Goal Disallowed. Not only were we seconds away from qualifying but Pep Guardiola, the man who has referred to us in the past as “The Harry Kane Team” and the “The Long Ball Team” was made to look like a total prick!!! But he is not alone, as I have it on good authority that many men his age suffer from premature celebration. And in all honesty, it is very hard to feel sorry for a football club that is funded by an entire, oil backed country…..especially when the country in question has such a horrendous track record of human rights abuse towards women, homosexuals and immigrants. Ironically, if Abu Dhabi were a football club, it would probably be Chelsea…..which is where most of Man City’s fans started out anyway. Circle of life and all that. As you can imagine, when the final whistle was eventually blown, Pochettino went bloody mental, as we all did. We had beaten the Premier League champions and progressed to our first ever Champions League Semi-Final……and we did it without Harry Kane or having to play that many long balls. In reality, the match had been less like a game of football and more like a Hollywood dramatisation of how the Americans would like football to be. All we needed was for Kyle Walker to get caught cheating with his wife’s sister and for Moussa Sissoko to be reunited with his long lost father and you’ve got yourselves the bones of a blockbuster movie….or at the very least, a half decent episode of Jeremy Kyle. Despite all of the drama and the emotion, we had managed to pull off our most famous victory of the modern era……even if we did lose 4-3. How delightfully Spursy of us! Don’t worry, I’m only kidding…..sort of.
Predictably, we then had to kick our heels in Manchester for another few days, as we had yet another date with City at the Etihad, this time in the league. Despite significantly rotating our squad, we gave a good account of ourselves but managed to lose 1-0 after squandering a whole host of first half chances. In all honesty, a draw would have been a fair result and we were denied a clear penalty in the second half as VAR, having played his heart out for us several days before, was unfortunately rested along with a number of first team regulars. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as the travelling Spurs fans were treated to an Easter miracle. Vincent Janssen was resurrected. He didn’t start or indeed feature at all but at least Poch has finally offered us proof of life. That should give his parents closure, at the very least. And it would seem that, despite that disappointing defeat and the months of dodgy decisions and poor refereeing, maybe our luck was starting to turn. Losing to City had subsequently opened the door for the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea to close the gap on us and potentially overtake us in the race for the Top 4. But amazingly, none of them did. Arsenal somehow managed to lose at home to Crystal Palace and having watched the highlights, I don’t think I have seen a Palace this ruthless on the road since Princess Diana was murdered! Meanwhile, Manchester United, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now seemingly intoxicated at the wheel, were smashed 4-0 away to Everton. But that is nothing to be embarrassed about, as Goodison Park is a very tough place to visit nowadays. When we went there in December, we were lucky to escape with a nervy 6-2 victory. And to top it all off, Chelsea scored yet another moral victory for “Sarriball” as they managed to cling on to a 2-2 draw at home to Burnley Rugby Football Club. So even though we may have lost the battle against City at the weekend, we have clearly won the war and after results elsewhere went in our favour, the fight for the Top Four and the Champions League Semi-Final is still very much in our hands. We cannot take anything away from our Dutch opponents though, as they have been excellent in cleaning up both Real Madrid and Juventus en-route to the Semi’s but you know what…...I really hope that we wipe the floor with Ajax! If you don’t get that gag, then your house probably isn’t as clean as it could be. But on a serious note, I think it’s fair to say that we will never have as good a chance to reach a Champions League Final as we do right now. What a time to be alive! And who knows, after being courted by Florentino Perez and his infamous Galacticos for the best part of two years now, maybe it is time to accept that Mauricio Pochettino may well be heading to Madrid after all……on the 1st of June. And his boys will be right there with him, every step of the way! COYS