A 3 all draw and top of the group so can it get much better – especially when Inter put out a weakened side and crash 3-0 in Germany? Having got into the Group stages qualifying was our major objective. After doing that in Match 5 this game was all about making sure that we did our best to keep the top spot we had.
How much Rafa’s magic assisted our cause is open to debate but his domestic league issues are clearly greater than our own. As a result of his sides capitulation last night we could have lost and still won the group.
So how did we do? Not that well if we’re honest but we did manage to score twice and take a gift for the first goal. It was unfortunate that we allowed our opponents to keep coming back at us and when the scores were level it looked possible that we might not get a result from the game.
As predicted by other bloggers Corluka and Kranjcar came into the side to allow Hutton and Lennon to rest and Jenas replaced the sick Modric. It was unfortunate that JJ pulled up with a recurrence of his calf injury and I cannot see him making the weekend game against Chelsea. I had hoped that he would link well with Wilson and shield our defence but his injury made that not possible.
Kranjcar and Corluka were somewhat different. Both played well last season but have not featured much this season. I would have therefore expected to see them staking a decent claim for a place in the side. How wrong I was. I thought both of them were poor.
When I see a side I want to know in my mind where everyone is playing. Niko was on the right as he was against Bolton but as in that game he failed to stick to his position and wandered around. Luka did this last year from the left as did Niko when he came into the team but then there was a full back willing to bomb past them to make a cross. Therefore, I cannot understand why he was drifting from the right as there were occasions when the ball was for right wing but with him absent and with Corluka behind him we had no pace to exploit the space.
The Jenas injury forced him to play inside but then he had to step up his tackling and I felt failed to do so. Not playing does not help him but his role in the team last night appeared confused. A hamstring injury has put paid to his chances for the bench against Chelsea and unfortunately another club seems to beckon.
Corluka improved a little when Lennon came on and the fact that Aaron stayed on the flank indicated that was how we were setting out the side. He did though seem to be too stand offish and certainly contributed to the second Twente goal by not closing down the attacker and preventing him from playing in a decent cross. I have to say that Hutton should not be too concerned about his place on Sunday.
At left back Ekotto had an in and out night. Firstly he turned his back on a fierce shot and in turning raised his arm and was hit on the elbow. If we appeal hard at The Emirates and then at home against Liverpool for penalties and get them awarded we have to accept that this was a fair decision. Taking one for the team is sometimes an essential part of the game and he maybe needs to think about this.
Then he also contributed towards the second goal by not making any attempt to jump with his man when the cross was delivered allowing a free header that was brilliantly despatched to the corner of our net. But it was not all bad. Benoit contributes well to the attack and tried hard to do so last night. I have noticed in the last two games that Bale has started to stand which means that Benoit cannot float a ball over for him to run onto. It’s as if Bale wants to beat men rather than out run men before putting in a cross and this is going to make it difficult for Benoit. It may be the number of markers being pushed out left but it has made Lennon’s opportunity greater and he is certainly taking advantage of this.
His game is certainly on the up and his intelligent pass to Defoe for our second goal exactly the type of link up play I’ve been seeking since JD retuned from injury. This bodes well for Sunday as does two goals for our main man. I’ve been receiving comments about his greediness in front of goal and I can understand this. Shoot on site has always been the Defoe policy and an early shot to settle him don always helps. In this game Wilson was greedy in shooting having won the ball well against the last defender and the resulting save broke into Defoe’s path for him to score it.
In fairness I felt Wilson saw a defender from the corner of his eye and viewed the pass as risky but it ended up in the net so let’s not get too concerned. Apart from that he spent time in the game being a little overrun as Twente gave it their best shot to give their fans a final victory. As Harry says we went for it but you have to look at two wingers and a midfielder not sharing his tackling duties as being a little too open away from home. Granted JJ’s injury pushed us into this situation and this has summed up our season so far.
As a consequence Gomes was called into action and made some decent saves during the match. I was also pleased to see Billy G being very disappointed to have conceded 3 goals during the game. That’s the sort of attitude we need to see and no disrespect to Bassong when Dawson gets back into the side hopefully this will stem the side somewhat.
So qualification as Group Champions and in a group with teams from recognised football countries is a fantastic start to our first campaign but now the hard work starts to protect this good work in the knockout phases. At home we’ll be difficult to stop but we must start lining up in a similar fashion away so that we help ourselves to a draw if we want to progress against some of the bigger boys.