Monday, April 13, 2009

Spurs On The Verge Of Europe As Harry Redknapp Works His Magic

Saying that this season at White Hart Lane has been a roller coaster would be a bit of an understatement.

Consecutive top five finishes, followed by a League Cup win, preceded the club's worst start to a season since 1912, leaving Spurs rooted to the bottom of the table in October.

Harry Redknapp was brought in to steady the ship and avoid relegation, and slowly but surely Spurs moved away from the mire. Unbelievably, Spurs are now actually on the verge of European qualification (if results still go their way)...

Seventh place in the English Premier League should be enough to qualify for next season's Europa League, the successor to the old UEFA Cup.

Because Manchester United won the Carling Cup, the team in sixth place now automatically qualify for the Europa League. With all four FA Cup semifinalists occupying the European positions, another space will be available for the team who finish seventh.

Spurs are currently ninth, three points behind West Ham in seventh. With Harry Redknapp's team enjoying a massive win over Gianfranco Zola's young Hammers at the weekend, Spurs are on the verge of European qualification after a season that could have been a disaster.

Redknapp's influence was immediate upon taking over in October, as Spurs took points from Bolton, came back from the dead against Arsenal and became the first team to beat Liverpool in the league this season.

However, his good run came to an abrupt end in November, when Spurs' small squad, injuries, and poor form all combined to drag them back into the bottom four.

The size of the squad and lack of options up front was rectified in January when Spurs snapped up Jermaine Defoe, Robbie Keane, Wison Palacios, and Carlo Cudicini.

Defoe had a brilliant start to his third stint under Redknapp and his second stint at Spurs. The hitman bagged a couple of vital goals before injury cruelly ruled him out for three months. With luck he may be back before the end of the season.

Wilson Palacios' and Robbie Keane's impact on the team cannot be underestimated. Palacios has added some real steel to the previously fragile midfield, while Keane has weighed in with some vital goals and assists, as Spurs climbed from the bottom of the table.

Last weekend's 1-0 win over West Ham was a massive step in the right direction for the club, and Harry Redknapp must take a great deal of credit for the turnaround.

Spurs now lie on the verge of Europe but they have a tough run in; Newcastle (H), Manchester United (A), West Brom (H), Everton (A), Manchester City (H), and Liverpool (A) on the final day of the season.

Spurs would hope to take at least 10, if not 11, points from those games, which could be good enough to finish seventh.

Newcastle are in turmoil, but Alan Shearer's arrival could spark a revival.

Manchester United are beginning to run out of steam after a history-chasing season.

West Brom are already relegated but Everton are always tough.

Manchester City's season is all but over but they can be a deadly force in the comfort of their own ground.

Finally, Liverpool seem to be finishing the season very strongly.

Points are there to be won...or lost.

Robbie Keane spoke about the club's aims after the decisive 1-0 win over West Ham.

"There's still a long way to go but if we do get to [Europe] it would be a great achievement for the club, probably one of the best for a long time because of the ­position that we were in a couple of months ago," he said.

"It's important that clubs like Tottenham are in these big competitions because it's a club that deserves that, and has the players to do that.

"We've done the hard bit. In the eight [Premier League] games since I've been here it's five wins, two draws and a loss. It's been incredible for the lads. Now we can look forward and Europe has to be our aim."

With Redknapp signalling that new arrivals will definitely come in during the summer, there is growing pressure on some of the players currently at White Hart Lane.

Just as Guus Hiddink is trying to talk Chelsea into buying Roman Pavlyuchenko, Redknapp signalled that he intends to build his team around him next season.

"His English is a problem, yes," said Redknapp. "We have his interpreter running around the training ground and, sometimes, when the ball is passed, he chases it and heads it into the back of the net. He runs alongside him all the time. I'm saying, 'who's that?' and 'what's he doing on the pitch?'"

The joke hides a truth, however, as so often with Redknapp, and he mixes his reservations with unbridled praise. "He's a home bird, he's a clean-cut lovely lad and he's settled alright here. It's the weather, isn't it, after Russia? And, technically, he is a top-class player.

"He can hold the ball, he can turn, make clever runs, make a pass and he is good in the air too. He scores good goals.

We just need more work from him, winning the ball back and doing things under pressure. He has to play "up top" as the front man because we have Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe, who play in the hole.

"But Pava likes to drop off and play around the box. He has a clever brain and he can play on the level and same wavelength as Modric. He is going to be some player."

At the moment Spurs' midfield looks fine. The main four of Modric, Lennon, Jenas, and Palacios are a formidable quartet, but the backup is just not there.

Players like Zokora and Jamie O'Hara are not good enough for a team with the ambitions of Tottenham, and look likely to be moved on in the summer as Harry looks to improve his squad.

The backline has also been performing well since January, and Ledley King's injury problems are an issue that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto has performed well this season at left-back, and the Cameroon international is easily the club's most improved player, but he is still a weak link at the highest level so there could be a move there too.

All in all, the fans must be happy with the progress that the club has made under Harry Redknapp, and as usual around this time of year, the Spurs faithful will be optimistic about their chances next year.

Top four? Probably not. But next season? You never know...

twitter / WillieGannon