7 April ~ Spurs charged at the Champions League like a drunk in a fight. We went in swinging and seemed blissfully unaware of any possible damage coming the other way, or, perhaps, were simply unable to defend ourselves. And Peter Crouch's sending off shouldn't mask the fact that we'd have been all but knocked out anyway. What we need to do is clear our heads and somehow get back in the race for fourth. This time last year we lost an FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth – a defeat that, in a very different way, was as traumatic as this week's. After that, however, we went on a bit of a run and then won at Eastlands.
The same again would be nice, starting on Saturday with Stoke. It's a decent fixture to face. If any team will bring you down to earth it's Stoke – ironic, really, considering how much time the ball spends in the air. The trouble is, Tuesday night wasn't just a tonking by a great side, it was also part of Spurs' ongoing malaise. We took the form that's brought us three points against Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham and Wigan into the Bernabéu. That was never going to end well.
Our striking problems are well documented and, statistically, scarcely credible. Our defence has been weakened through injury (apart from in Alan Hutton's case, where it's been strengthened through injury). Even our usually excellent midfield is jaded and misfiring. Gareth Bale looks caught in the headlights of his own fame, Aaron Lennon is ill or unfit and clearly pissed off with how his withdrawal from Tuesday's game was handled. Rafael van der Vaart is a shadow of the player that everyone initially regarded as the transfer coup of the year. Even our little genius, Luka Modric, is struggling to sparkle.
So unless we pick ourselves off the floor in the sort of comeback that would look far-fetched in a Rocky movie, we won't finish fourth. Which will make this summer and next season the most important period in our recent history. We are currently caught in a strange limbo between mediocrity and success. Too good for one, not quite able to grasp the other. And what we do in that time, from May 2011 to May 2012, will determine whether we fall back down to where we were, or somehow haul ourselves up to the next level.
Which, in turn, means that after next week's limp-looking second leg we will either never play Real Madrid again or next time we meet them it will be on (more) even terms. There will be no patronising from them and grateful excitement from us. We may even give them a bloody nose. Dave Roberts suchsmallportions.blogspot.com