Inter Milan 4-1 Spurs: 5 Things We Learned
Inter Milan fell just short of pulling off one of the most remarkable comebacks in European football history, as an Emmanuel Adebayor away goal helped Spurs progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
It was a lifeless performance by Andre Villas-Boas' team, who had clearly underestimated the task of finishing the job in the second leg.
But they are through to the next round, and now in with a great chance of winning the competition.
The Nerazzurri will have to turn attentions to their pursuit of third place in the league, in order to gain entry into the Champions League next season, as well as the semi-final of the Coppa Italia against Roma.
Here is what we learned from this engrossing encounter.
The Europa League's Stock Is as High as It Has Ever Been
The Europa League is often a competition that is treated with snobbery from those who support clubs usually competing in the Champions League.
But the tournament is really gathering momentum this season, and even the English and Italian sides—who have traditionally neglected the tournament—are treating it seriously.
Perhaps for Italian sides it is now going to be a case of the chance to qualify for the tournament again and collect some silverware in the process. It is going to be a more attractive proposition than slogging it out for a place in the top three, falling short, and just ending up with the Europa League anyway.
After all, it's the journey that will excite the fans, and with the strength in depth of teams from Russia and Ukraine, the tournament now offers great diversity, too.
It could even persuade sides to rest players in their league campaigns in order to be fresh for Thursday's games, which would be unheard of in seasons past.
Spurs Are Nothing Without Gareth Bale
Spurs are entering dangerous territory as the business end of the season approaches.
Tonight was a glimpse, if not a glaring example, that Spurs are a considerably weaker side without Gareth Bale.
That is to say, a Gareth Bale in scintillating form is sorely missed.
It is certainly possible that should their star man be injured or drastically lose form, Spurs could struggle to even make the top four, despite sitting in third and being one of the in-form sides in European football.
The dynamic of the side changed, and Andre Villas-Boas panicked somewhat, utilising a 4-4-2 in Bale's absence.
It is dangerous to assume that this heavy defeat to Inter is how Spurs would cope without Bale in the future, especially against the better sides in European football.
The Nerazzurri raised their game above anything they have shown us in Serie A this season, and Spurs' tactics were influenced by their significant lead.
However, without Bale, there was a lack of fluidity going forward, as Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor simply clogged up the attack.
Bale allows the front man to float into wide areas, drop deep and generally do as he pleases, as Bale enjoys darting into the gaps and exploiting that space in his newfound central role.
If nothing else, tonight was a warning for Villas-Boas, as he needs to be better prepared to cope without Bale.
Chivu Must Play as a Centre-Back for Inter Moving Forward
Cristian Chivu played at the heart of the Inter defence due to Andrea Ranocchia's minor injury, partnering Juan Jesus in what seemed to be a formidable partnership.
With Jesus' athleticism and physical prowess, Chivu complimented him much better than Ranocchia, reading the game superbly and exerting a calming influence on his young partner.
The Romanian marks his man physically, but his concentration levels far exceed Ranocchia's, meaning Jesus can drop off and sweep round as Chivu gets physical with the opposition's striker.
Inter's defence has been a mess this season, and Stramaccioni must realise that with a Champions League place at stake and a place in the Coppa Italia also up for grabs, Inter must go back to basics.
Chivu can give that no-nonsense approach that proved so successful for Inter when Walter Samuel and Lucio were the Nerazzurri's rock at the back.
Inter kept their first clean sheet over 90 minutes for the first time since the beginning of January against Pescara, aside from a pair of shutouts against Cluj in the previous round of the Europa League.
So despite Gareth Bale's omission, this was by far the toughest clean sheet that Inter have managed in recent months, and Chivu was integral to that.
Emmanuel Adebayor Is Finished at Spurs
Emmanuel Adebayor, despite his goal, again showed why his future at Spurs is coming to an end, and why he will probably be shipped out this summer.
I touched on this in the previous slide. Adebayor tended to clog up Spurs' attacking prowess—his heavy touches, poor movement and lack of composure hurt Spurs in the final third.
The chance that presented itself to the Togolese in the first half was typical of the way that he has played of late.
With plenty of time to pick his spot, Adebayor failed to even make Samir Handanovic work, attempting an audacious chip at a time in the game that could have completely killed the second half and the tie.
The fire is not there for Adebayor, and it is even more glaring against an Inter defence that has been shambolic at times this season.
Juan Jesus, in particular, has been shaky and nervous in possession, but Adebayor failed to pressure the Brazilian, allowing him to bring the ball out and build on the Nerazzurri's possession-based approach.
If nothing else, tonight proved that Villas-Boas should only use the player sparingly for the rest of the season, even if it means playing Bale as a lone striker.
Antonio Cassano's Magic Is Worth Maintaining for Next Season
Antonio Cassano showed just what a magician he can be. He was the outstanding player on the pitch on Thursday, and by a considerable distance, like Gareth Bale was in the first leg.
With silky touches, vision and the ability to manipulate the ball with angles that don't appear possible, Cassano can really be a difference-maker.
Cassano had a falling out with Andrea Stramaccioni a week or so ago, leading to the player being disciplined and dropped from the subsequent league match, and reports suggested that he could be leaving after just a year with the Nerazzurri.
But when he is buzzing like he was against Spurs, Cassano is a player worth building the side around.
With a tight budget, Massimo Moratti should be inclined to persuade the manager to invest the money that is available on other areas of the squad, as a smiling Cassano is a beautiful sight to behold.