Inter 4 Tottenham 1: Four lessons as Spurs edge into Europa League last-8
Inter 4 Tottenham 1: What lessons did we learn as Spurs strike in extra-time to book their place in the last-eight draw on Friday?
Tottenham full-backs struggle
Having watched Arsenal almost complete the impossible against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night, Tottenham Hotspur will have been keen to avoid a similarly uncomfortable second leg experience after a 3-0 win at White Hart Lane. There was a sense that Andre Villas-Boas’s side were eager to score a crucial away goal which would require Inter to net five. Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker both pushed forward past Mousa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the opening period, trying to offer width to an otherwise narrow looking Spurs side. It was leaving the visitors centre-half pairing exposed and Antonio Cassano and Fredy Guarín both came close to exploiting the space. Spurs failed to heed the warning signs and Inter punished the visitors, attacking down their right-hand side with Rodrigo Palacio guiding a cross onto Cassano’s forehead, with Walker stranded up the pitch. The England international was at fault for Inter’s third as his clumsy challenge on Javier Zanetti was penalised by the referee. Cassano’s resulting free-kick crept past Brad Friedel. Walker didn’t enjoy better luck in Inter’s third either after being harshly booked for simulation despite a seemingly late challenge by Juan.
Cassano torments Spurs
Cassano is one of the names most synonymous with Italian football but the Inter striker has never quite delivered on the European stage. The 30-year-old has featured for Roma, Real Madrid, Sampdoria, AC Milan and i Nerazzurri with a return of just 14 goals in 50 appearances before Thursday night. He Inter’s desperate charge for a place in the last eight, showcasing both the positive and negative sides of his game in the second leg against Spurs. The Italy international was unafraid to take a tumble at the slightest hint of contact from an opponent, throwing himself to the turf after an ill-advised tug on his shirt by William Gallas in the area. Cassano’s influence on the game was slowly growing and the forward was on hand to provide the finishing touch to a sweeping Inter move in the 20th minute. Cassano started to show some swagger against a Spurs side which looked decidedly sluggish. The Inter star lifted a delicious pass over the static Tottenham defence for Palacio, who guided his chipped attempt onto the crossbar. The devious playmaker continued to drop in the hole between Tottenham’s midfield and defence, aiming to cause as much havoc as possible. But Cassano’s next impact didn’t come from open play as his free-kick was deflected past Friedel to level the last-16 tie on aggregate. It was cruel reward for a sparkling display that Cassano was denied a match-winning impact after Adebayor’s winner. But the Italy international, who underwent heart surgery last year, showed no signs of tiring as he unleashed a speculative curling effort which needed a full-stretch save by Friedel before teeing up Ricardo Álvarez for Inter’s fourth to subject Spurs to an uncomfortable final 10 minutes of extra-time.
Adebayor finally rises to the occasion
With Tottenham struggling without their talisman Gareth Bale, Villas-Boas’s side looked toothless in attack as Adebayor and Defoe struggled to test Inter’s rearguard. The visitors only real clear cut chance in normal time fell to the Togo international just before the interval, but bizarrely, he decided to chip Samir Handanovic which proved fruitless. With Inter 3-0 up and extra-time fast approaching, Naughton tested the opposition goalkeeper with a swerving shot from outside the area which was parried narrowly wide. Villas-Boas undoubtedly delivered some choice words to his side at the break before the additional 30 minutes of extra-time and the manager’s message had the desired effect as Spurs started much livelier than Inter. Jan Vertonghen’s header drew another sharp save from Handanovic before Gallas fired wide despite being afforded a free header with Tottenham dominating from set-pieces. Finally, Spurs got their away strike as Dembele, freed up by the arrival of Lewis Holtby, sent a fizzing low shot which the Inter keeper could only parry into Adebayor’s path, and the African couldn’t miss from close range with Handanovic stranded. The former Arsenal striker has struggled to replicate his form from last season but his San Siro strike will go some way towards easing the frustrations of Spurs supporters.
Spurs miss Bale
Villas-Boas has fended off accusations his Tottenham side are merely a one-man team which relies on Bale. The Wales international has scored 10 goals in his last nine Spurs appearances in all competitions but was suspended for the return leg. Tottenham missed their talisman as the visitors struggled to really test an Inter defence which looked much more than comfortable dealing with Adebayor and Defoe. Tottenham’s four-man midfield struggled to gain a stranglehold on the last-16 tie as they were swamped by Mateo Kovacic, Guarín, Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Gargano and Cassano. With Cassano’s early strike spreading belief throughout the Inter side and among the club’s supporters in the half-empty San Siro stadium, Spurs were on the back foot for much of the second leg. Dembele, normally so assured in possession, was caught dwindling on the ball and an Inter swarmed around the Belgian, ruthlessly picking his pocket. Cambiasso strode away with the ball and picked out Palacio with a threaded pass – the Argentine made no mistake with his finish, tucking it past Tottenham’s veteran goalkeeper. Adebayor’s strike was sufficient to see Spurs into the last-eight draw but Villas-Boas will need to come up with an effective plan B should something happen to his star man Bale.