Friday, November 27, 2009

Will Spurs Finish Above Manchester City and Liverpool to Finish Fourth?

As we head towards December, Spurs sit in the oxygen-thin heights of fourth, but will they last? 
Is Harry Redknapp the right man for the job? Where do Spurs need to improve if they are to stay in the Champions League positions? And what would be deemed a successful season at White Hart Lane?

Can Spurs Make the Top Four?
Both Spurs and Villa are in the same boat here, in that they will only make the Promised Land that is the Champions League if Liverpool and Manchester City continue to stumble.
While Spurs do have a healthy bank balance, unlike Liverpool, it is only pocket change compared to the resources that Mark Hughes can command in Manchester. It is also worth noting that even though Liverpool’s squad is not of title winning ability, they still possess two players that would be welcome in any team in the world, and that gives them a huge advantage over their three main rivals.
Where Do Spurs Need To Improve?
Spurs will not only have to rely on other teams continuing to stumble, but Harry will also have to continue his wise buying policy. Tottenham have always been the nearly-man team of the EPL, and that has not changed since Redknapp took over. However, there has been a massive change in attitude at White Hart Lane.
Having a good attitude is half the battle for any manager, and the other half is based on whom he brings in. So far, all of Redknapp’s signings have had a positive affect on the team, but the progress is far from being enough.
The two fullback positions remain problem areas. While Benoit Assou-Ekotto must be one of the most improved players in the EPL, he is still far from being the ideal. You only have to look at the likes of Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole, Gael Clichy, and Kieran Gibbs to see the height that is expected of a top four left full.
While Vedran Corluka may be hailed as “the best full back in the world” by Slaven Bilic, his international team manager, he is far from being the finished product.
It is no wonder that Spurs have signed both Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton for these two positions, but they are young and it is hard to see them impacting upon the team over the next two years.
Assou-Ekotto may be kept for the time being, but Corluka’s days would appear to be numbered as Spurs ramp up their interest in Manchester City’s wayward Micah Richards.
Central midfield is another area that Tottenham lack quality and competitive edge. Wilson Palacios had undoubtedly bolstered what was a very tame, soft centred team. His strength and drive make Palacios one of the standout midfielders in the EPL today, but all too often he is fighting a lone battle.
Palacios' main partners are Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas, but in truth neither have the class of ability or character to bring Spurs to the next level. For all of Huddlestone’s improvements over the last year, he is still very immobile, while Jenas has never lived up to the potential that he threatened to deliver when he first burst onto the scene with Nottingham Forest.
Over the last couple of weeks, Tottenham have been heavily linked with a £15 million move for Brazil’s Sandro. The highly combative midfielder from Internacional has burst onto the domestic scene this season after a series of eye catching displays, so much so that Dunga has fast-tracked him into the National team for consideration as he picks his best 23 for South Africa next year.
There are, of course other areas that will need to be changed if Spurs progress any further, but these are the key areas for Tottenham regarding their challenge to the top four; obviously it will still depend on keeping the likes of Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon at White Hart Lane too.
Is Harry Redknapp the Right Manager?
At this stage of his tenure you would have to say yes.
As mentioned before, Spurs' progress has been dramatic.
While they may have always been regarded as outside contenders for a Champions League position challenge, they are now considered as being one of the main contenders to the old monopoly.
That can all be traced to one place, Harry Redknapp. He has taken on the task of changing a culture of under-achievement at Spurs, and without getting carried away; the results are there far all to see.
His simple style has been embraced by almost everyone at the club, and those who have decided to resist the culture change are being moved on.
When any manager takes over any team or organisation, the first item he must establish is the mood through out. At Spurs this was a relatively simple task for the veteran manager, but the next item on his agenda was in striving to change that mood, into one of wanting to achieve excellence.
Easier said than done in any organisation, but especially in football, where every manager is measured on the results he brings to the club, particularly when those measurements are revised every seven days, sometimes less.
Since starting his career with Bournemouth in 1984, Redknapp has shown an uncanny knack in judging player ability, but his real talent is in seeing potential.
This is probably where Daniel Levy, Tottenham’s Chairman, will want Redknapp and the club to really succeed. Harry has already gone on record as saying that the Spurs post will be his last in football, and having managed for over 1,000 games over 25 years, he has earned the right to retire a happy man.
However, his drive to accomplish that which no Spurs manager has achieved since before the Premier League’s advent in 1992 is evident to all. He also readily acknowledges that which he achieves at Spurs will set the foundations for whoever inherits his squad.
Do Spurs Have a Strong Squad?
Simply put, yes.
While many may point to Tottenham’s capitulation to the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea, they are missing the point entirely.
Spurs first XI does not even come near the first teams of their illustrious rivals, but while those teams are severely weakened by missing key players, Spurs have, on paper at least, a very similar standard squad should players be lost to injury or suspension.
In other terms, Arsenal’s, United’s, and Chelsea’s first team all boast players that are of an extremely high level. If they are out they are replaced by inferior players.
At Spurs, their squad is built around many players of a similar level. There are no outstanding players on their books, so if one player is out, he is immediately replaced by another of similar quality.
This is where Tottenham’s challenge to the top four will flourish or fail.
At the moment, Spurs have a team that cannot match the first XI of any top four team when they are playing well, but they do possess a team and a squad that can expose any team outside the Champions League spaces.
Unlike most teams in the EPL, Spurs can now boast at least two players for every position in their starting lineup, so in theory, substitutions do not weaken them significantly.
The best example is the recent mini injury crisis that Spurs went through. They were missing Lennon, Modric, King, and Woodgate through injury, and Defoe was suspended. During that period, Spurs beat Everton and Sunderland but lost against Arsenal and Stoke, who were completely dominated during the game and managed only one shot on target.
Of course, spin can be attributed in any fashion, but looking at these results in the cold light of day, Spurs won two and lost two, one of which they were never going to win in the first place, and the other was a match where they were beaten by a late sucker punch after they failed to convert the abundance of chances they created.
What Would Be a Success for Spurs This Season?
These are always tough questions to ask, Spurs are in the beginning of a culture change (again) and it is easier to answer what would be considered failure.
Spurs must finish in the European positions. Anything less and progress will not have been made on last season, and it would almost be a case of having to go back to the drawing board.
There is an outside chance of another cup final, and Redknapp will fancy his chances when Tottenham travel to Old Trafford to take on what is expected to be a young Manchester United side in the Carling Cup.
But looking at the eight remaining teams in the “second” cup, it will be no easy task for any team to win. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa, and Manchester City will all also be looking at this cup as being a “kicking off” point for their futures, while Blackburn and Portsmouth might not be fancied, but will be tough to beat.
The FA Cup is always somewhat of a lottery for teams outside the top four, and this year will be no different, so as usual, Spurs will be hoping for a home tie should they face one of the favourites.
One huge advantage that Spurs have, but don’t want, is no European football.
With no added distractions, Spurs will play a minimum of 10 fewer games this year, and won’t have to contend with having to travel around Europe for an extra game in between two crucial Premiership ties.
One item that is worth noting is Tottenham’s run in to the seasons end.
In Spurs’ final six games they take on: Sunderland (a), Arsenal (h), Chelsea (h), Manchester United (a), Bolton (h), and Burnley (a).
So conceivably, Spurs might only take three points from their last 18 available. Such a run of form would be catastrophic at such an important part of the season, so Spurs will have to factor that in now, and be prepared for such an eventuality.
The advantage of playing such heavyweights so close together and so late is that Spurs will only have to face Liverpool away between now and then, a game that Redknapp would have reckoned as a defeat when he studied the fixtures at the beginning of the season.
So all in all, Spurs face a destiny-shaping season. The manager is the right man at the right time, the club has resources available, there is a new stadium on the horizon, despite some Arsenal fans being mischievous, and their main rivals are struggling.
If Spurs don’t take advantage of all of these factors and reach Europe while showing progression, they will only have themselves to blame.

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