North London did itself proud this week with two monumental victories. But while Arsenal and Barcelona was by far the more entertaining match, the truly significant result was Milan losing on their own soil. Nothing can or should be taken away from Arsenal beating Barcelona and Djourou, Wilshire and Koscielny in particular were outstanding against the Golden Boys. The fact remains that Guardiola’s side are still freakishly good at the moment. Arsenal were superb but a 2-1 lead is precarious at best and going to the Nou Camp is daunting regardless of the lead. The deeper significance of this round of Champions League games was showing just how far Serie A still lags behind after Calciopoli. Inter pulling off the treble may have lulled fans into a false sense of security about the resurgent power of the Italian league.
This time round, Milan were beaten and deservedly so by a team fifth in their domestic league and unable to start two of their most vital players .Bale wasn’t in the squad and Modric only got half an hour on the pitch. Moreover, without giving in to the hysteria surrounding Gareth Bale this season, the obvious weakness in Allegri’s side was the frailty of the full-backs. Had Bale been available to terrorise Abate rather than the rather ineffective Pienaar, the damage inflicted on Milan would have been even worse.
Even as it stands, Spurs will welcome Ibrahimovic et al to White Hart Lane knowing that not only did they beat the current league leaders but very much deserved to do so as well. Milan may well be able to return Pirlo to the side who would have made a difference but will be without Gattuso after his headless chicken routine got out of hand. That is to say nothing of the utterly horrific challenge Flamini lunged into on Corluka, leaving him on crutches. Milan’s midfield was depleted but so was Spurs. Only one side let it show.
It is always important not to read too much into a single game, but Spurs victory was definitely no accident. Watching the match gave the impression that if this were replayed ten times, Spurs would certainly win more than Milan. Furthermore, Napoli, who are currently second in Serie A were beaten earlier this season by a Liverpool side that was in the relegation zone, shorn of confidence and in utter turmoil. Moving away from just English vs. Italian contests, Shakhtar went to Rome and after going one-nil down, came surging back to win 3-2. Add in the fact that not one Italian team managed to win their group and a picture of a country still recovering from scandal emerges.
Last season the UEFA coefficient was up for grabs as Germany nearly usurped the fourth spot from the Italian league. In the end it came down to the final. Each side was fighting for their country in addition to their own glory. The next midweek article will be the second part of this series, looking at the rematch and why Bayern look ready to exact revenge. Sufficed to say that Mourinho’s Inter offered false shoots of recovery for Italian football, a nation with serious domestic issues which are manifesting themselves on the European stage.