Sandro and Bale key to Tottenham’s Champions League future

Just 24 hours after being drawn with Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Tottenham Hotspur hosted West Ham at White Hart Lane and after battling the Hammers’ hierarchy over the future of the Olympic Stadium, drew with the same opponents on the pitch in a game that gave plenty of hints about Spurs’ forthcoming European tie.

The return of Gareth Bale to Harry Redknapp’s starting XI provides the manager with a potent weapon to take to Spain, one that may cause Jose Mourinho concern as he prepares his side to face Spurs. Bale, already the tormentor-in-chief of Spurs’ European campaign, will come up against Sergio Ramos, the rampaging Spanish World Cup winner, one of the most attacking full-backs in Europe.

After bewildering Maicon – twice – the Welshman’s stock across the continent has never been higher and with a timely return to fitness has the opportunity to impress again, although having come up against the determined pair of Lars Jacobson and Wayne Bridge yesterday, will hope for more joy out of Ramos. The extra onus on Madrid to attack Spurs, especially in the home leg, could provide the gaps for Bale to exploit, as he did against both Milan sides. With Lennon on the opposite flank – and similarly crowded out for much of the game by Bridge and Jacobson – Spurs may have more success against an adventurous Madrid side than the resolute and relegation-threatened Hammers.

With Wilson Palacios still struggling to shake off a knee injury in time for the Madrid match, and Tom Huddlestone also missing lately through a foot injury, Brazilian youngster Sandro has increased in importance to this Spurs side and has entered the performances to match, even when suffering through illness as he was on Saturday, graphically illustrated at half-time. Either side of the break, however, Sandro was a dynamic presence, hard-working, tidy in possession and tough in the tackle – but fair, as a first-half sliding challenge that was expertly timed showed.

Not allowing Xabi Alonso time to settle and dictate possession will be key for Spurs’ hopes of progression, and Sandro was a leading force against West Ham, powering through the midfield in the first-half until the withdrawal of Rafael van der Vaart gave the visitors’ more space in the centre of the park. It may be a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a 22-year-old new to European football, but the early signs suggest Sandro is capable of stepping up after a man of the match award in the second-leg draw with Milan.

Defensively, and despite their clean sheet, Spurs were somewhat suspect against West Ham, most notably when Carlton Cole went clean through against Heurelho Gomes in the first-half, and if Cristiano Ronaldo is in that position in a few weeks time the outcome may be different. Spurs were delicate if not deadly, with 24 shots, 63% of possession and no goals, and it is that latter statistic that must change against Madrid to ensure their semi-final dream does not become a nightmare.

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