I’ve been waiting to write this article for over two whole weeks, ever since the Champions League quarter-final draw. And while there’s no doubt that it gave us some very tantalizing match-ups, there was only one that I was really going to care about.
The match up? My own, personal Clásico: Tottenham Hotspur FC versus Real Madrid CF.
For anyone who has followed the blog for a while or is so unlucky to know me in person, I closely follow both the Lillywhites and los blancos. Yes, I’m well aware that it’s an odd combination of clubs to follow. But when you grew up in the States during the 90’s and the only true football you get to watch is during the World Cups, you tend to latch on to the players you like and — by extension — follow the clubs they played for at the time. Many thanks to Jürgen Klinsmann and Roberto Carlos.
Going into the draw, much like everyone else whose team is still in the competition, I was praying that both sides would avoid the 800 pound gorilla in the room that is Barcelona. And judging by pain on the faces of the Shakhtar Donetsk players when they saw they were partnered with the Catalonyans, I felt even more justified in feeling so inclined to avoid them in the draw.
Let’s be clear though: I’m not implying that drawing Madrid is a free ticket into the semis for Tottenham. If you want to discount los galacticos simply because it’s the first time in seven years that they’ve even made it this far in Europe, you’re an idiot. With Mourinho at the reigns and legitimate quality in the side this year, the club is vastly more dangerous than they’ve been in quite some time.
We also shouldn’t ignore the fact that while both Madrid and Spurs avoided Barça in this draw, barring natural disasters or a mysterious disease ravaging their locker room, they’ll likely have to face the juggernauts in the next round. A delayed punishment if you will.
Either way, seeing my two favorite clubs line up against each other has me all worked into a tizzy.
So why, exactly, am I so worked up? Have a look at all of the mouthwatering story lines to consider in this tie:
- Key injuries could be a factor: The latest word on the street is that the in-form Benzema will surely miss the first leg, and Ronaldo is a doubt. Though my guess is that Mourinho is playing a mind game regarding Ronnie’s fitness and he’ll likely start. Gareth Bale also faces a fitness race himself, and Spurs will also be without Alan Hutton who was just ruled out for the season (which may be a good thing) and Jonathan Woodgate (fffooorrreeevvveeerrr).
- Gareth Bale v. Sergio Ramos: Both are powerful, speedy, world class players, and this will be one of the marquee individual match-ups. I would imagine that Tottenham will try to exploit the Spanish international’s tendency to push high into the attack, assuming Mourinho doesn’t give him orders to strictly follow Bale or be banished beyond the capital city walls. I’m also fully expecting Sergio to earn at least a yellow for hacking down the Welshman at some point over the two legs.
- Van der Vaart is back: Making his return to the Bernebau so soon after being cast off, vdV has made no secret of his joy to face his former employers. He’s a fan favorite among the Madrid faithful and will most certainly be playing with a huge chip on his shoulder. It would also be foolish to think that the Dutchman won’t be cautioned at some point.
- David v. Goliath: Please forgive me for my use of the most overused sports analogy out there, but it’s an accurate description none the less. Nine-time European champions versus competition new boys*. Or maybe UConn versus Butler would work better for you? Regardless, I’m pretty sure either’s a good fit. Can Tottenham continue on their Cinderella run? Can Real shed their recent run of under achievement in Europe?
- It’s my two favorite teams!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet.
- Familiar foes: Tottenham will likely be facing up against some familiar faces in these ties, and that does not bode well for them. Spurs never fared very well against Mourinho during his time at Chelsea, with a damning record of 5 losses, 2 ties and a solitary victory when facing the Special One (a -6 goal differential isn’t glittering either). Also likely to be in frame to start the first leg is on loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor. The former Arsenal striker is sure to be showered with boos and whistles at White Hart Lane, in no small part due to his fine strike rate against his former North London foes with 8 goals in 9 games.
- The varying pressure of performance: Going into the first leg, Spurs still seem like wide-eyed 18 year-olds making their first trip to a strip club: elated just to be there, let alone landing a free lap dance or two. The pressure on Harry Redknapp is minimal at best, as his main focus is securing 4th in the league so they can try to get into the big dance again next year. Madrid on the other hand, are like the high-rolling regulars at the strip club: expecting to be given first dibs at the finest dancers. If Jose can’t deliver this round, it’s very likely that he’ll be (stupidly) dispatched of at the completion of the season.
- A “real” el Clásico awaits: I’m as optimistic as any Tottenham fan can be, but let’s be honest about this match: Spurs are not favorites in this one by a long stretch. And a mind-blowing match up could be awaiting real if they and Barcelona both progress as they should. As much as this shouldn’t be a focus before this round of ties is even settled, it will be a topic of discussion.
So aside from all of the excellent plot lines to follow, you might also be wondering what team I’m deciding throw my full support behind.
Without a doubt, it’s Spurs.
Being able to watch them on tv nearly every weekend for the last few years has helped to make Spurs the favorite team in my book. That’s not to mention how difficult it can be to support a team that is more or less the European equivalent of the Yankees.
If Tottenham somehow find a way to prevail over two legs, fantastic. Let the party continue and yids the world over can begin to dream of complete European glory. If they lose, no worries. We enjoyed the ride and can now fully focus on the league (which might even be the best result all around).
And if Madrid knock Spurs out, I can’t really feel too upset if they are felled by a team that cost over $690 million to construct. Then i can go on the rest of the tournament rooting for los merengues and I’ll be fine and content until they lose to Barcelona.
It’s a win-win for me really.
And regardless of how it turns out, I’m still taking a vacation day for the second leg to soak in my very own, personal Clásico that I never thought would ever happen. And I’ll probably never see it happen again, either.