What an introduction to the Champions League. On one hand it was hugely encouraging, while on the other it was a demonstration of just how tough this competition is.
The display during the first half was one of the best I can remember in recent seasons – and yet we still didn’t win. If you lead by two goals in any match and don’t emerge victorious, you’re bound to be frustrated, but we’d have all been happy with a point before the match and we have to look at it as a decent result.
The first half display was orchestrated by two sweet left feet. It’s strange to think now that not so long ago we were fielding right-footed left backs and left wingers and dying out for someone who was a natural on that flank. Gareth Bale was the answer to the problem and he had another great game against the admittedly leaden Clemens Fritz.
It was Bale’s ball in that Petri Pasanen could only turn into his own net as Crouch lurked. It was a perfect start and it got even better soon after, with another attack that came down the left.
Rafael van der Vaart looked like a class performer in his role just behind Crouch, until he limped off just after half-time. He put in a superb cross with his left, which Crouch met with an equally good header to make it 2-0.
Credit must also go to Jermaine Jenas for the beautiful volleyed pass across field, that found the Dutchman in space. It was a shock that he was preferred to Palacios, but overall I thought he justified his selection. Wilson’s had his problems with the simple act of passing the ball of late and Jenas’ inclusion gave us five men who were comfortable with the ball at their feet and we controlled possession accordingly.
It was so nearly a perfect first half and on a couple of occasions we came close to killing the game off at 3-0. It’s a tough call on him, as BAE had a good game going forward, but it was his errors just before the break, which allowed them back into the game.
First he sliced wildly at an attempted clearance, which saw the ball fly off the opposite side of the pitch and give Bremen possession. Sky’s commentator then gave us the kiss of death, when he pointed out that we really didn’t want to concede one before half-time. Cue perfect ball into the box for Almeida to head home and make it 2-1.
The replays showed that Assou-Ekotto probably should have done better defensively, though to my mind it was the initial clearance which was harder to explain. As I said, he had a good game and was the player who put a fine ball through to release Bale for the first goal. It just goes to show though that at this level, the smallest errors get punished.
It gave them a chance in a match where they’d been previously outclassed. Marko Marin had been growing in confidence as the first half wore on and he hit the equaliser early in the second half. Judging by Marin’s overall display, Bremen won’t be missing Mesut Ozil too much this season.
At 2-2 I think we did well to keep things solid and not collapse. Van der Vaart being substituted didn’t help, as we struggled to control the possesion as we did before the break. That said, there were second half chances to win the game, with Crouch going the nearest, just before the end.
If this is going to be the standard of the games that we play during this Champions League campaign, then sign me up for more. A draw away from home is always a decent result in Europe and we just have to forget the circumstances of Bremen’s comeback and remember that mostly magnificent first half.