Look down the fixture list of any football club (actually any sports team) and there are big games. The games against Portland and Vancouver stand out for the Sounders this year. I think the Houston games have a little extra bite to them.
These are the games you put a little asterisk against and make sure nothing else is going on that day.
Then there are the massive games, these are the ones matter to the fans of the game rather than just fans of the team. Titans clash and there is something on the line.
These you plan your entire week around, anticipate, think about, and obsess. These are the huge nights. This week there has been a couple of these massive games in the UEFA Champions League.
Last night was Tottenham in the San Siro. Before the game Spurs manager (and ex Sounders player and manager) Harry Redknapp engaged in a few mind games. He said “we will have a right go” and Harry was true to his word. They took the game to Milan from the first minute and at half time they were right to feel they had held their own against the reigning European and world club champions.
This performance and result was proof that this Spurs side not only belongs at this level but if they raise their game like this deserve to be regarded as genuine contenders. To provide a little perspective, this was the current champions (and Serie A leaders) and they were comprehensively beaten in their own stadium.
Tottenham came with a plan and executed wonderfully, but with a lot of discipline, especially at the back. They soaked up huge amounts of pressure and pressed forward quickly when given a break. As for the goal, it was made by Aaron Lennon’s wonderful run, the defender came out to stop him and Lennon made sure he missed. Crouch’s positioning was perfect, the keeper could not cover both players and the finish was made to look easy.
Harry Redknap knows the job is not done. They have to defend the lead at White Hart Lane, but Spurs have given themselves a wonderful chance to go through to the last eight, and there is no one they should be scared of.
Tonight was Barcelona playing Arsenal in London. Last year these teams met in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and we were treated to 30 minutes of Barcelona putting on a clinic, they played maybe the best football I’ve ever seen. I was in Guildford and watched the game sitting with dad. We both sat there in silence, just astounded by how good this team was.
I’ve watched Arsenal play a few times this year and they are a very attractive team to watch, they play a beautiful passing game and Arsene Wenger knows how to win games. This had the makings of a great game, two sides that play the game the way it’s supposed to be. And it delivered.
Before this match there were a lot of idea put around about how to beat this Barcelona side. Some said play a more physical game; others said play them tight and take away space. Last year in this fixture it did look like Arsenal gave Barcelona too much space and respect.
That never happened this time, they pressured every time Barcelona had the ball. It seemed to work for a time and there were times the Spanish leaders were forced to hoof the ball clear. Very uncharacteristic and a sign that Arsenals tactics were working.
Arsenals tactics did lead to the Barcelona goal, the midfield pushed up, was unable to close them down and gave David Villa the space to finish. As the first half wore on Barcelona did seem to play better and better, by the break Barcelona did look somewhat in control and were moving the ball around well.
Wenger did seem to change things a little at half time, they ran at them a little more and the defenders were caught high a couple of times.
The home side definitely had better chances as the game wore on, with a high back four when Barcelona were caught on the break they did look venerable to pace through the channels and a number of decent chances came to both sides, but as the game went on Arsenal looked the more composed side and adsorbed the pressure well.
Van Persie scored the equalizer. He did well to get onto a ball through played through the back four and did well to beat the keeper on the near post from a tight angle. The winner was a classic Arsenal end-to-end counter attack. The Barcelona attack broke down and the ball went from Nasri to Arshavin who hit a beautifully controlled shot past the keeper.
The game was as good as I’d hoped, both sides played their part and Arsenal found a way to press Barcelona and used their pace to get behind the defense. Barcelona had moments of dominance, but were unable to really break the defenders down constantly.
These games set up a pair of fascinating ties in three weeks time at the Camp Nou, and White Hart Lane, and that’s another two massive games for fans of the game.