Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan faced off in a Europa League clash today in North London. In a match up of two sides with hopes of playing European football on Tuesdays and Wednesdays next season rather than Thursdays, it was only Spurs who looked Champions League worthy, cruising to a comfortable 3-0 win. In truth, the score line could have been much worse for Inter, if not for several big saves by the Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic.
Tottenham immediately took the game to their opponent, dominating possession from the get-go and creating dangerous chances. Gareth Bale continued to demonstrate why he should be considered among the best footballers in the world, rising to beat Esteban Cambiasso and head home a cross from Gylfi Sigurdsson in the sixth minute. It was Bale’s 14th goal in 14 games and his 50th in a Tottenham shirt. The Welshman has recently been the subject of high priced transfer rumors to Real Madrid, and today’s performance will do nothing to diminish the hype surrounding the 23-year-old. Bale started the match up front alongside Jermain Defoe, but roamed throughout the final third of the pitch, often dropping deep to collect the ball and run at the defense.
It wasn’t all smiles for Bale in the first half however, as he was booked for a dive in the 15th minute and will miss the return leg in Milan due to yellow card accumulation. The decision may have been a bit harsh, but the contact was minimal and Bale, who has developed a reputation for diving over the past few years, was not given the benefit of the doubt by the referee. Spurs fans will hope the 3-0 advantage will be enough to get them through without their star man in the second leg.
Tottenham showed little sign of missing American forward Clint Dempsey, who remains sidelined with a calf injury. Bale and Sigurdsson linked up well with fellow attackers Defoe, Mousa Dembele, and Aaron Lennon, as Spurs were on target 13 times over 90 minutes. Midfielder Scott Parker had an outstanding game, winning balls in the center of the field, controlling the tempo with smart passes, and charging forward to initiate attacks. Iceland international Sigurdsson also proved dangerous, sending crosses into the box, assisting on the first goal, and cleaning up the rebound off a Defoe shot for the second. This squad is clicking at the right time and should be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament after their domination of Inter Milan today.
The match also featured two of the oldest players still plying their trade at the highest level. 39-year-old Javier Zanetti anchored the defense for Inter, while American Brad Friedel, 41, manned the goal for Spurs. Friedel was barely tested all game, although halftime substitute Rodrigo Palacio forced him into an excellent kick save after latching onto a lovely ball played over the top of the Tottenham defense. Ricky Alvarez also had a one on one chance with the American keeper when a through ball from Antonio Cassano was deflected into his path, but he dragged the shot wide of the far post.
After blanking Arsenal in the first half of their match up this past weekend, Spurs again went into halftime up 2-0 against a red-shirted squad at White Hart Lane. Unlike Arsenal, however, Inter were not able to find a goal to keep the game interesting, and Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen effectively ended their chances in the 55th minute. Gareth Bale swung in a high ball off the corner kick and it found the Belgian, who coolly headed past Handanovic to increase Tottenham’s advantage. Cambiasso was again caught sleeping as the ball came into the box, and Inter was made to pay.
Spurs will now travel to the San Siro next Thursday to try and finish the tie off, although they will have to do it without Bale. Tottenham supporters will also hope that Aaron Lennon, who went off with a knock to the leg in the 82nd minute, will not have sustained a long term injury as they now look towards a key Premier League meeting against Liverpool at Anfield this weekend. Everything seems to be falling into place at the right time for Andre Villas-Boas’ side, which look deserving of a place among Europe’s elite in the Champions League next season.