It would have taken a miracle for Tottenham to overcome their four goal deficit against Real Madrid and, despite enjoying a dominant opening forty-five minutes; it was a Cristiano Ronaldo effort, with a little help from Heurelho Gomes, which compounded Spurs exit from the Champions League. Claiming the scalps of both Milan giants along the way, and the disappointing result to Madrid notwithstanding, it should still be considered a successful maiden campaign for the North Londoners.
Written off thirty minutes, and 3-0 down, into the third round qualifier against Young Boys in Switzerland back in August, Harry Redknapp’s team continued to defy the odds as Spurs made the rest of Europe sit up and take notice that a sleeping giant was awakening at White Hart Lane. Finishing top of the ‘Group of Death’, the same group they were supposed to finish third at best in, led to plaudits from all quarters of the media. A famous 1-0 win against AC Milan at the San Siro led to many sceptics believing they could go all the way.
Yet Madrid was just a bridge too far. The gulf in class was there for all to see as Tottenham bought on substitutes Jermain Defoe and Niko Kranjcar, Europe’s most successful side had the ridiculous luxury of calling upon Karim Benzema and Kaka. While both Jermaine Jenas and Younes Kaboul were un-used subs for the Lilywhites, on the other side Argentinean duo Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria both made the trip simply to make up the Madrid numbers.
Is Champions League football still within the club’s grasp?
It would have been a remarkable feat had Spurs overcome the eventual five goal margin at White Hart Lane and gone on to the win the competition. Many lifelong Spurs fans never gave up hope that the team tend to win a trophy in years that end in 1. It would have been a fantastic three year achievement from Redknapp who will continue to flaunt the fact that when he took over, Spurs were rock bottom of the Premiership with two points from eight games.
Yet, with the path to glory now closed, a chance for Champions League qualification also seems to be slipping away. They have been less than impressive in the league this season garnering just three points from the twelve available, prior to the 3-2 win over Stoke City; their form has closely resembled relegation candidates rather than top four contenders. Granted the final push to the top four is still on but it will be a mammoth task for Tottenham. Three points behind rivals Manchester City with a game in hand, it will be touch and go as to whether they leapfrog the team they snatched the position away from last season.
Comparing the run-ins of the two teams, Spurs have been dealt a bad hand compared to City. Playing North London rivals Arsenal next week at White Hart Lane, they still have to travel to Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the City of Manchester stadium for a potential fourth spot showdown while still having to pick up maximum points when West Brom, Birmingham and Blackpool all travel to N17.
Changes need to be made
Naturally, Spurs have to reach the top four with theire current stock of personnel at the club which isn’t such a bad thing defensive wise. With Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, William Gallas and Younes Kaboul all aiding to plug a leaky Spurs defence, error prone Gomes or not, goals they would have conceded in the past are nothing but history. Creatively, Luka Modric, Tom Huddlestone, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are doing the business from the midfield whether it is aiding the back four or penetrating up front.
The problem lies with the strikers. 28 goals between the goal shy trio of Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Defoe is paltry to say the least. In comparison, Lionel Messi hit his 48th goal of the season in Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday evening. Redknapp needs to instil the confidence back into his forward line and it worked on Saturday against Stoke when Crouch netted twice while Pavlyuchenko set up two for his side. His loss was there for all to see against Madrid due to his lack of hold up play allowing the midfield to support the England man.
That win came from a change in formation. The club reached the Champions League playing a simple 4-4-2 game and it is no coincidence that the goals have dried up since Redknapp reverted to a 4-4-1-1 to accommodate Rafael Van der Vaart in the starting XI. When the Dutchman arrived in North London, he proved to be a revelation to fans and players, scoring freely and effectively. Yet, in recent months his contribution has decreased and his early season form has begun to elude him. Some might say his personality and attitude is starting to resemble Robbie Keane and everyone knows how that turned out.
Call me crazy but dropping Van der Vaart may be the only option for Redknapp if they are to make top four again. Granted, his goals have single handily won Spurs matches this season but he is dropping deeper in games than what he used to do thus clogging up an already full midfield all the while isolating the front man. On the other side of the coin, it will be difficult for Redknapp to drop his top scorer and, on his day, the Dutchman is not only a luxury player but also one that can change games.
The Europa League Isn’t The End Of The World
Following the Champions League exit, Bale, Dawson and Redknapp have all proclaimed their new found love for the competition and are all determined to rub shoulders with Europe’s elite again in 2011.
In the worst case scenario, should Spurs miss out on the top four this season, expect the tabloids to have a field day regarding Bale and Modric transfers to other clubs. Rumours are already circulating that the club are going to be forced to sell a number of star players in order to balance the accounts. These rumours were laughed off by Redknapp while Modric has come out and said none of the players are looking to leave the club no matter what competition they are in.
For all the club knows, not reaching the Champions League may be a blessing in disguise. Yes, it is a downgrade from the top competition but the Europa League is a competition that the club can win. The two major downsides will, of course, be the financial step down from Champions League to Europa League while the second is the range of players the club could fail to lure to White Hart Lane.
It’s no secret that Champions League football is a major player in the decisions of transfers and, without the competition to play in, the player pool suddenly becomes smaller. This could be a massive hindrance in the transfer market especially when the club needs a world class striker to lead the front line.
Chairman Daniel Levy reportedly failed with bids for Spanish based quintet Giuseppe Rossi, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente in the dying embers of the January transfer window which indicates he knows the front line is a problem that needs addressing.
Either way, failure to qualify for the Champions League won’t be the end of the world for Spurs but it will certainly be a blow to the hard work the players have put in over the season. However, with seven games to go and a Manchester City side without their captain Carlos Tevez for the next 3-4 weeks will certainly hamper their hopes of a top four finish. The position is definitely City’s to lose as much as it is Spurs’ to win. With a climatic few weeks set to ensue this weekend, in every essence of the phrase, each match is now a cup final to Tottenham Hotspur.
– Ben McAleer
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