Picture of Bojan Krkic via Corsarz’s Flickr stream.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was left with much to ponder after his side snatched a late draw with the reigning European Champion non-playing substitutes at Wembley last night. Only one actual starter from the Rome final, defensive midfielder Yaya Toure, made it into Barcelona’s Wembley Cup starting XI, though he was joined by lively winger Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma, or ‘Pedrito’, who graced the whole 93rd minute back in May, and all his six bench warming collleagues who also got a run out this time. In fact, the whole Barca matchday squad got exactly 45 minutes each as manager Pep Guardiola did a Sven and swapped the entire team over at the break, news greeted by the Tottenham fans with the kind of chuckle usually reserved for a headmaster’s joke.
Nevertheless, Spurs’s regulars, just as in last season’s League Cup final at the same venue, struggled to assert themselves against a makeshift team of talented youngsters. Harry, brimful of admiration afterwards for not only the passing, but also the movement, pressing and work rate of all of Barcelona’s senior and junior squads, as well as their apparent interchangeability, wished his own youth team had been there to witness what could be achieved by their peers as his first team, he felt, was simply not allowed to play in a fashion that they rarely encounter in the Premiership world of speed, size and sheer lung capacity.
Until Barcelona opened the scoring just after the half hour Redknapp could justifiably have claimed that his team looked as likely to break the deadlock, one Jermain Defoe run in particular only being thwarted by alert sweeping from goalkeeper Jorquera, but suddenly Toure set off from halfway, slaloming round a pair of sliding challenges until he was finally blocked in the area only for the ball to run straight to 18 year old Spanish international forward Bojan Krkic (above right), who makes a habit of this sort of thing as the England under 17s will tell you, who swept the loose ball crisply home. Two minutes later Pedrito conducted another in his own series of raids on the Spurs goal and was unlucky to have what looked like a perfectly legitimate second goal denied for offside.
For almost an hour Spurs seemed unable to solve Barcelona’s simultaneous equations until substitute winger Danny Rose provided the X factor. The former Leeds teenager demonstrated what his loan boss at Watford, Brendan Rodgers, has called his “good energy and real intelligence with the ball” by forcing a corner from a quick throw in as Barca’s youngsters momentarily went to sleep. The resulting set piece went to the precise and lively Benoit Assou-Ekotto who planted the ball deep into the area where 19 year old midfielder Jake Livermore, who only that morning had inked a new two year contract without ever having made a senior Spurs appearance, lost the still disoriented central defenders and dived to head past the advancing Pinto for the equaliser.
As well as the competition point that rescued, Redknapp also rightly treasured the tremendously assured second half debut from new England Under 21 right back, Kyle Naughton. If only he could unearth central defenders so easily, though Vedran Corluka and Tom Huddlestone, who was once called in Londonist’s hearing by one Norman Hunter ‘a young centre half who had it all’, formed an adequate partnership here and Pascal Chimbonda slotted in seamlessly, too. Sadly, long time Londonist favourite Aaron Lennon was back in his frustrating persona and only Luka Modric could muster a threat up front, hitting a post in the first half and the prone goalkeeper’s face from point blank range in the second. It emerged afterwards that Robbie Keane had only felt fit enough to offer thirty minutes while neither Darren Bent nor Roman Pavlyuchenko was able even to make the bench. Harry was keen to emphasise that Defoe’s lone toil was not a long term tactical plan.
Almost 60,000 watched at least one of the evening’s matches in the stadium, certainly justifying the size of the venue, and the Celtic fans that stayed behind at least forged some early season spirit amongst Spurs fans as they resoundingly drowned out the Bhoys boos for former Rangers right back Alan Hutton. Someone who could do with showing a bit less emotion would be 17 year old John Bostock whose few minutes on the pitch were notable for his overly stroppy remonstration with referee Mark Halsey and his subsequent jackpot rollover as a tough challenge gave him the chance to demonstrate just how hard done by he felt he’d been. If Harry gets his way and can prize popular White Hart Lane favourite Patrick Vieira from a reluctant Inter Milan he might be able to learn how to bridle his passion from a man who’s had to learn that lesson himself over the years.
Tickets are still available for Tottenham’s Sunday afternoon tussle with Celtic, not to mention a likely curtain raiser of three quarters of an hour of Lionel Messi feasting on the panicky remoulding of Al Ahly’s defence, as more or less promised by Mr Guardiola. Eidur Gudjohnsen, whom the manager hopes to persuade to stay, will probably feature again, though Guardiola specifically ruled out any showing from Thierry Henry who’s recuperating from a knee injury. In answer to a Google search that found our preview article, Samuel Eto’o is off to seek Patrick’s wisdom in Lombardia, while his replacement, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is rumoured to be surfacing in Catalonia only on Sunday or Monday. In answer to another we suspect that both Rufus Wainwright and Old Vic are in contention for a start up front alongside Defoe tomorrow, though Rufus might be ruled out if he insists on sporting Celtic’s dayglo away number.