Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tottenham Fight to Save Their Season After Real Madrid Hammering

Tottenham Hotspur's season stands on a knife edge following their 4-0 hammering away to Real Madrid in the Champions League midweek. Qualifying to the Semi-Finals of the Champions League is an impossible task but finishing in the top four is still within their grasp...

When the season started few would have thought that Spurs would qualify for the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League let alone progress further than their North London rivals, Arsenal. However, like their near neighbours their progress was also halted by a team from Spain in a devastating way.

Despite winning the first leg of their Last-16 tie against Barcelona on February 16, the manner of the victory seemed to sap Arsenal of some of their confidence. La Blaugrana basically destroyed the North Londoner’s for 70 minutes in the Emirates that night with a scintillating display of football at its best.

With the match seemingly won, Pep Guardiola's side then made a cardinal error and took their foot off the pedal. Thus allowing Arsenal back into the game through two late goals from Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie.

The victory fooled some, but it did not fool Arsene Wenger or his players who knew that they had just got out of jail and that they faced a mammoth task in the return leg.

The very thoughts of having to face that kind of onslaught again made the Gunners take their eyes off the ball and their confidence simply seeped away before the ever took the pitch in the Camp Nou.

Since that fateful day in February Arsenal has only won two games from nine and one of those was against lowly Leyton Orient in the FA Cup. Their season has now imploded from a position where had they shown real character they would have won the league and possibly the Carling Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur are now in the exact same position as the Gunners except that they only have seven games to rectify their season and that means there is no room to manoeuvre, whereas Arsenal have slumped but still have some chance to get their season back on track.

In a run reminiscent of their rivals, Spurs have also only won twice since the middle of February but have crucially only lost twice as well.

Their problems over the last month are little more than a microcosm of the aggravation they have suffered from all season. Namely scoring goals.

Spurs currently occupy fifth in the Premier League with a miserable goal difference of just +7 having only scored 41 goals all season with 50 points to show for it.

Contrast this with this time last season and you see that after 30 games Spurs had scored 77 goals, had a goal difference of +26, and were five points better off with 55.

While there is only a difference of five points, the real leveller is goal difference. Last season's tally shows a team scoring for fun while this season they are struggling to make the break through.

There can be little doubt that Rafael van der Vaart's inclusion and Redknapp changing his tactical set-up to include the mesmeric Dutchman has had something to do with the lack of goals this year.

While van der Vaart has contributed handsomely with 10 goals from 21 games his style of play dictates that Tottenham never play on the counter attack and that his movement does not compliment the wingers that Redknapp enjoys to use so much.

Another factor, just like last season, is Tottenham's midfield, barring Gareth Bale, who has once again failed to contribute with goals.

Their strikers have contributed even less.

Jermaine Defoe scored 18 last season while Peter Crouch managed eight and both have only managed to score two each this season.

Now with just eight games to go for Spurs, Harry Redknapp has to find a way to turn things around.

Easier said than done.

In going 4-4-1-1 for the vast majority of the season Redknapp has all but alienated Jermaine Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Niko Krancjar, Wilson Palacios, and Robbie Keane.

His constant substitution of Rafael van der Vaart means that the Dutchman has only played the full 90 eight times from 21 games since joining. This despite the ex-Real Madrid man being the clubs top scorer with ten goals.

The collapse in form of Wilson Palacios has given Spurs a softer under belly although the young Brazilian Sandro has done his best to replace the Honduran of late.

While Aaron Lennon's inconsistency has meant that the bulk of the creative work has had to come from one channel, Bale, and has in effect made Spurs easier to neutralise for deep lying defences.

So where does Harry go from here with a team not playing well and having suffered terribly at the hands of a rampant Real Madrid side?

For a start, he needs to go back to basics and just pick the best players in their best positions. Hardly sounds like rocket science but you would be amazed by the amount of managers who play players out of position because of "tactical necessities."

The team virtually picks itself, Gomes, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Gallas, Dawson, Pienaar, Bale, Modric, Sandro, van der Vaart, and Crouch.

All things considered Harry Redknapp should be telling his team that they were unlucky against Real Madrid, that the sending off and that shot in a million were what beat them in the Bernabeu. Basically he should be rebuilding their fragile confidence by using any means necessary.

But as Arsene Wenger will tell you, that's easier said than done.

Taking the Champions League return match as little more than an exercise in retaining ones pride, Spurs face eight tough opponents for the rest of the season.

First up are Stoke (H), then Arsenal (H), West Brom (H), Chelsea (A), Blackpool (H), Manchester City (A), Liverpool (A), and Birmingham (H).

Given that Spurs are six points behind City with a game in hand and have yet to play them this season could still take a few turns yet. And goal difference may yet come in to play...

Looking at the fixtures 4th place is still there to play for. In their way are Arsenal -59pts, Manchester City -56pts and Chelsea -55pts.

To be brutally honest, finishing in the top four will only happen if one of Manchester City, Chelsea, or Arsenal suffer a collapse of biblical proportions.

Currently, you would have to point your finger at the Gunners and probably say that they are in the worst form. However, Spurs are nine points off their rivals and need them to lose at least four matches from eight while they go unbeaten for the rest of the season. That simply is not going to happen.

Chelsea lack creativity and should they be knocked out of the Champions League to Manchester United their season might take a turn for the worse. But once again, Spurs are completely relying upon snookers.

Manchester City are newcomers to the top four but their rivalry with United and their date with destiny in the FA Cup Semi Final on April 16 mean that the Citizens will be focused on the prize at the end of the season. Just like Spurs were last year.

When all is said and done Spurs have learned a valuable lesson in that they took their eye off the EPL prize as soon as the Quarter Final draw against Real Madrid was made. They should have taken each and every game as a separate entity and only concentrated on the immediate match in hand.

This is something the very best of players always do. So playing in the Champions League has provided a valuable lesson for all involved.

Redknapp has now been able to see how his players react in the white hot heat of European battle and he will have gauged who has the right character to help the club progress further.

Because given the amount of highly paid Spurs players who shrank in the face of adversity this year he will have learnt a lot. He will know his team better than ever, will know exactly where to strengthen, and who to sell, and if he has paid enough attention to the right areas then there is no reason as to why Spurs cannot finish in the top four again next season.

twitter / WillieGannon