Basel's High Pressure Wears Down Tottenham
By Marc Serber
Tottenham should be lauded for its heroic effort, but Basel ultimately deserved to go through. The Swiss outfit held its nerve from the spot to defeat the North London side 4-1 on PKs after an enthralling 4-4 aggregate draw.
Following the first 2-2 encounter at White Heart Lane, it took 20 minutes for the action to heat up at a rain soaked St. Jakob Park.
Spurs opened the scoring in the 23rd minute through Clint Dempsey following a through ball from Jan Vertonghen that Basel center-back Aleksander Dragovic failed to cut out.
Dempsey still had it all to do though as he took the pass in stride and waited for Basel keeper Yann Sommer to go down before rounding him and slotting the ball into the empty net.
The goal, in essence, was created though by Emmanuel Adebayor. The role of the lone striker in the modern game is no longer just to get the ball and hold it up to bring the midfield into the attack. Instead, it calls for quick runs out of the center to create a vacuum for midfielders to take the space.
Adebayor’s little run away from the top of the box took away the first center-back, leaving Dragovic to stretch in vein for Vertonghen’s through ball. Dempsey did so well to take the space with a diagonal run which took him behind the Swiss back-line.
The problem for Tottenham was that this was the only time Adebayor strayed from the center. Instead, remaining as an old fashioned target striker, the Togolese international barley strayed from his central position making it easy for Basel to defend.
Any central defender will tell you his favorite type of forward is a stagnant one. It takes out all of the guess work.
Without Gareth Bale to stretch the game and Aaron Lennon to provide the options on the wing, Tottenham needed the majority of its attacks to come through combinations, but Adebayor for the most part left Spurs without any open spaces or channels to attack.
In addition, Basel did so well to pressure and defend from the front. Serey Die in particular was very impressive, pressuring high in the midfield (almost along the attacking lines) denying Tottenham any comfortable build up play or the ability to play any unimpeded entry balls.
For these reasons Tottenham suffered, especially after conceding the equalizer and the balance of the tie (via the away goals rule) back to the home side just 4 minutes after going ahead.
Under the pressure, Mousa Dembele played a poor ball in midfield and the counter was on for Basel. A few quick passes through the middle third from side to side and the ball was laid out wide for Mohamed Salah to set himself up nicely with a good first touch before beating Brad Friedel at his near post.
Basel would retake the lead four minutes after half-time. A beautiful ball whipped in from a corner was well flicked on by Fabian Schar at the near post. Friedel could only palm the ball into the path of Dragovic who atoned for his earlier error to send St. Jakob Park into raptures.
While Basel now led 2-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate, not much changed. Tottenham still needed a second goal anyway and it only meant that a strike from the visitors would no longer win the tie, but rather send it to extra time.
The visitors pressed on, but sloppy passing and two compact banks of four aided by strong work from the forwards meant that an equalizer looked unlikely.
The high press gave up for just a few seconds in the 83rd minute, however, allowing Tom Huddlestone to send a delicious ball over the top of the Basle back line. Dempsey ghosted in behind the outside back, took the ball down on his chest, and fired past Sommer for the equalizer.
The tie was destined for extra-time, but Vertonghen shifted the balance of power back to the hard running Swiss. Despite being the last man, the Belgian lunged at Marco Streller when it looked like he had the angle to possibly get in front of the striker.
Out came the red card, and with it, any real prospect of Tottenham taking the tie in extra time.
An exhausted Tottenham side, down to ten men and with all three substitutions used, defended valiantly in the resulting 30 minutes.
Michael Dawson denied Alexander Frei a storybook ending to a glittering career with a last gasp block.
Even more desperate defending was required to make sure the tie was settled from the spot, but despite doing so well to get to penalties, Tottenham looked spent and devoid of confidence.
Huddlestone saw his shot saved by Sommer and Emmanuel Adebayor dismally skied his effort, opening the door for Marcelo Diaz to send Basel into the semis after just four rounds.
The same side that knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League last season, claimed another famous English scalp. Chelsea, Fenerbache, and Benfica should be aware. This is the team to pray you to avoid in the semifinals.