Differing evenings for Tottenham and Swansea: Europa League Diary 21.02.14
Tottenham Hotspur’s trip to Ukraine did not end the way Tim Sherwood would have hoped as Juande Ramos’ Dnipro side ran out deserved 1-0 winners in Dnipropetrovsk however the other Premier League team in Europa League action last evening, Swansea, enjoyed a much better performance and result, holding Italian giants Napoli to a 0-0 draw the Liberty Stadium.
Tottenham struggled all evening long in Ukraine on what was admittedly a horrendous playing surface. Kyle Naughton playing at right-back in place of Kyle Walker was given the run-around all evening long by Liverpool target Yevhen Konoplyanka who showed he was every bit the top quality footballer who deserves to play for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. It was difficult for Spurs to keep possession, mainly due to the quality of the pitch which Tim Sherwood labelled a ‘disgrace’ in his post-match musings however the normally excellent Nabil Bentaleb did not enjoy a particularly impressive evening.
The visitors did have chances however with summer signing Roberto Soldado missing an open goal from just yards out after an excellent cross from Paulinho on the right hand side further continuing the Spaniards torrid season with the North London club. Paulinho was the main source of energy for Tim Sherwood’s side with the Brazilian likely to have played on such poor surfaces before in Brazil and also Poland. The former Corinthians midfielder was able to power through the host’s midfield with Ruslan Rotan a passenger for the majority of the evening. There just wasn’t enough energy up front for the visitors to really put Dnipro’s defence under sustained pressure.
Giuliano was a constant threat in the first half making surging runs in and around the penalty area and in the second half Matheus took the mantle from his fellow countryman. Zozulya was surprisingly energetic and probably should have won a penalty when he was brought down by Brad Friedel midway through the second half with the Spurs goalkeeper given the benefit of the doubt due to his body shape once he had gone to ground and the referees obstructed view following a goalmouth scramble.
Despite having not played for two months courtesy of Ukraine’s extended winter break, Dnipro’s energy levels were far higher than Tottenham’s heading into the later stages and when Matheus got goal side up against Vertonghen and with the Belgian left all at sea by his positioning he had little option but to bring the Brazilian down inside the box. Konoplyanka stepped up and converted the penalty with the aid of the right hand post to ensure Tottenham have it all to do at White Hart Lane in a weeks’ time.
Swansea hosted one of the club’s great European nights at the Liberty Stadium last night despite being unable to take a lead back to Naples although much of their play warranted a goal. This was by rights a Champions League team coming to Swansea and the hosts more than matched them, you could even argue Swansea outplayed Rafa Benitez’s side. Yes it is hard for teams coming down for a third place finish in the Champions League to be motivated for the Europa League but the quality in terms of individual talent in Napoli’s starting eleven far outweighed that of their Welsh opponents.
The first half was a very enthralling affair mainly due to the fact that both teams were so similar. With both teams preferring to take care of the ball and look to attack there were a lot of gaps forming in both defences, hence the unusually high amount of chances for the opening stages of a European tie. Callejon could have put Napoli ahead inside two minutes when his low strike fizzed past the right hand post and then just two minutes afterwards Marek Hamsik drove at the Swansea back four and unleashed a shot that was destined for the bottom corner only for Michel Vorm to tip it round the post.
After the initial scares Swansea had chances of their own with Nathan Dyer forcing an outstanding acrobatic save from Rafael Cabral following a curling effort from outside the area, Wilfried Bony then had an opportunity one on one with Rafael only for the Ivorian’s shot to hit the Brazilian goalkeeper square in the face before going out for a corner.
One of the finer details of the match in tactical terms was Swansea’s handling of Napoli’s right sided full-back Christian Maggio. Maggio is known for his marauding runs forward and like Manchester City did with Kolarov on Dani Alves in Tuesday night’s Champions League clash, Swansea employed double coverage on the Italian international. Everywhere Maggio went Wayne Routledge followed and it worked to even greater effect in the second half when Jose Callejon took it upon himself to move slightly infield, leaving Maggio to run against two men without any help whatsoever. The avenue was essentially closed for the majority of the second period and it is not at all surprising that Napoli’s slump in second half creativity came alongside that.
In what was a real match for the footballing purists among us Napoli dropped deeper and deeper as the second half progressed with the main source of Italian attack coming on the counter. It was as clear an indication as any that Napoli would be happy with a 0-0 draw to take back to San Paulo in a weeks time. Try as they might Swansea could not get the go ahead goal they craved with substitute Pepe Reina thwarting both Ashley Williams and Bony from close range.
Whilst a wonderful evening for Swansea supporters, illustrating just how far the club has come in recent years, the inability to take a lead back to Italy may come back to haunt Garry Monk’s side as you would almost certainly expect Napoli’s much higher amount of quality to come through for Rafa Benitez in the second leg.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4