Tottenham Hotspur 3 Inter Milan 0 match report: Untouchable Gareth Bale keeps Spurs bandwagon rolling on but will miss the return leg after dive

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Tottenham 3 Inter Milan 0

White Hart Lane

Andre Villas-Boas has stripped Tottenham of their diffidence. For years Spurs have been overawed by bigger teams but the character of this old club is changing. Last night, for the second time in five days, Spurs contemptuously dispatched one of Europe’s biggest names at White Hart Lane.

On Sunday they beat Arsenal, forever their looming brothers, with a performance of focus and ruthlessness. Last night it was Internazionale, an ever bigger name but an even more flawed team. The three-times European champions were embarrassed by a furious Spurs display of relentless quality and drive, betraying not a touch of the apologetic respect that has crippled Tottenham teams of the past.

There is none of that now. Maybe it was purged when Andre Villas-Boas masterminded that famous victory at Old Trafford last September but the improvements in quality and confidence now seem to be more striking by the game. Since they overcame Lyons in the last 32 of this competition, their defeats of West Ham United, Arsenal and Inter have all been dramatic, surprising and fuelled by courage. Villas-Boas wanted his team to continue their derby display and so they did.

Of course, nothing is decided in March but there is an increasing sense of vindication regarding everything Spurs have done this year. They are third in the Premier League and, disaster notwithstanding, into the Europa League quarter-finals. The appointment of Villas-Boas is central to this but some of the summer buys – Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, both of whom scored, and Mousa Dembélé – were excellent too yesterday in Spurs’ best ensemble performance of the season.

Gareth Bale, it does not need to be said, shone the brightest. In November 2010 a far stronger Inter team could not deal with Bale, then merely a thrilling 21-year-old winger. This version – futuristically complete, implausibly decisive – proved far beyond them, tearing apart even the experienced players – Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Cristian Chivu – who had won trophies under Jose Mourinho and been here before.

It only took Bale six minutes to score, his 10th goal in the last eight astonishing games. Sigurdsson cut back inside Zanetti on the left wing and swung over a perfect right-footed cross. Bale leapt over Cambiasso and headed the ball in off the woodwork. Andrea Stramaccioni, the Inter coach, said that Bale had “exploited his physicality” but it would have been inconceivable for the original Bale to dominate a man like Cambiasso.

From that point onwards Bale was provider, as if he was reminding Inter that he could still hurt them from the wing too. His sharp cross to Jermain Defoe forced the first of Samir Handanovic’s many saves. And it was Bale’s delivery which put Spurs 3-0 up soon after the break. Three minutes into the second half Bale’s curled free-kick to the far post found Jan Vertonghen but the Belgian could not make enough contact.

With Chivu and Zanetti in defence you could expect lessons to be learned but they were not. So, four minutes later, they were punished again. Again Bale delivered, this time a corner from the right, and again Vertonghen met it, this time with his head, in the six-yard box. It flew past Handanovic and deservedly so, giving Spurs the 3-0 lead that they should have extended but did not.

The one disappointment was Bale’s booking for diving with Spurs 1-0 up. He fell over Walter Gargano’s tackle in the box, and received his sixth booking for simulation in the last 15 months. This was less harsh than some others Bale has received and it rules him out of the second leg in Milan on Thursday.

But while Bale was, yet again, Spurs’ best player he was not their only good one. Sigurdsson was excellent, playing from the left wing with spirit and precision. He made the first goal and scored the second, tapping in from close range after an excellent move – Dembélé passed to Aaron Lennon who crossed to Defoe whose shot was parried.

Almost every Spurs player would be worth mentioning but Dembélé does seem to have rediscovered his autumn form, starting attacks and moving powerfully through the middle. Scott Parker probably gave his best performance of the season, in defence and attack, nearly setting up a remarkable fourth goal for Lennon with a forward run and a reverse pass.

Spurs’ whole performance was of a team of utmost focus and desire, hassling Inter down for the ball and never giving them a second on the ball. Villas-Boas has made it very clear that this is not less of a priority than the Premier League and his team selection, with just three changes from the north London derby, one of them enforced, was testament to that.

Stramaccioni had admitted before the game that re-qualifying for the Champions League was his main concern and that attitude seemed to have been picked up by his players, with main attacking threats Fredy Guarin and Rodrigo Palacio starting on the bench. There were some good players in those slightly incongruous red shirts but they had none of Spurs’ defensive discipline or application without the ball.

It was too easy for Spurs to carve out chances and far too easy for them to win the ball in midfield. Inter, in fact, had opportunities at the end of the first half through Ricky Alvarez and at the end of the second half through Palacio but the first was missed and the second well saved by Brad Friedel.

Had Spurs won 3-1 or 3-2 it would have not reflected fairly on an excellent evening’s work. Only the poverty of Inter can caution the judgement that this was Spurs’ best performance under Villas-Boas. Now they go to Anfield on Sunday before  San Siro next Thursday, and there, even without Gareth Bale, they will not have to do too much to avoid elimination. A place in the quarter-finals awaits if Spurs are brave enough to seize it, and the evidence is building that they are.

Booked: Tottenham Bale. Internazionale Guarin, Pereira

Man of the match Bale. Match rating 7/10

Possession: Tottenham 57%. Internazionale 43%

Attempts on target: Tottenham 12. Internazionale 2

Referee A Lahoz.

Attendance 34,353

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links