If the season was six games old, Tottenham would be hovering just two places above the relegation zone. Wolverhampton Wanderers would remain bottom, 19th would be occupied by Liverpool and the two teams below Spurs, sharing the same six points, would be Aston Villa and Stoke City. That’s right; goal difference is what puts Harry Redknapp’s side out of the bottom three over the last six games.
Since the 5-2 mauling at the hands of North London rivals Arsenal back in February, Spurs have picked up a monumental total of six points in eight games, one of which came courtesy of a last minute Rafael Van der Vaart equaliser at home to Stoke City, one of the teams Spurs would, theoretically, be battling to stave off the threat of the drop to the lower leagues.
Going into the North London derby, the talk was of a shift in power between the two sides. Spurs, almighty underachievers for the best part of 20-years, were finally going to oust Arsenal and reclaim, what many believe to be, their rightful place as the kings of North London. Talk of a 13-point gap being opened between the two sides was rife and many believed that it would’ve been the case, come the evening of the 26th of February.
However, despite rushing into a 2-0 lead at the Emirates Stadium, Spurs capitulated beyond cataclysmic belief. Bacary Sagna, Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and a Theo Walcott brace put the Lilywhites back four to the sword on an afternoon that would forever change the fortunes of the sides for the season. Whereas Spurs have won just once in eight games, Arsenal have lost just once in seven. The poor run of form has seen many fans around N17 ponder; where has my 2011 Tottenham gone?
The Harry Redknapp conundrum
Before the turn of the year, Spurs were the talk of the town. Picking up points, both comfortably and with the grit and determination that turns teams into champions, many had labelled them perennial title contenders with pundits up and down the country quick to praise the work of Redknapp and his ability to improve the fortunes at White Hart Lane. With Euro 2012 looming, many had tipped the veteran tactician to succeed Italian Fabio Capello when he was, supposedly, set to leave his post following the tournament’s conclusion.
Yet, the 8th of February saw Redknapp instilled almost instantaneously as the man to guide England to the Euro’s for two different reasons. Having been acquitted from all tax evasion charges on that afternoon, a chance to see through the season with Spurs was on the headlines. However, just hours after the innocent plea was read out, Capello opted to resign from his role as England manager with immediate effect. The nation quickly turned to Redknapp as the man to replace him and despite disputing the media attention has affected his ability to manage Spurs, the form of the team contradicts this otherwise.
Prior to the 5-0 thumping of Newcastle United, the first game following Redknapp’s return from the dock to the dugout, Spurs have lost four games in relatively quick succession. Compare this to the time prior to the resignation by Capello and, including the two games against Wigan Athletic and Liverpool, the same side had lost just four games all season, including the two opening bouts with both Manchester clubs.
The dip in form is coincidental to say the least. Something isn’t right at White Hart Lane and either Redknapp knows he has the role already and simply can’t be bothered to continue the final surge to Champions League or the player’s know something is up and have given up the effort for the final stretch knowing full well their manager will be leaving come May.
The Ledley King conundrum
Oh Ledley, Ledley. He’s only got one knee. He’s better than John Terry. Oh Ledley, Ledley. The song should now be sung, ‘Oh Ledley….what happened?’ Many are of the opinion that King is untouchable and while he had been in the past, the cracks are beginning to show in that other working knee of his.
Since the 3-2 defeat to Manchester City back in January, King has looked a shadow of his former self. The penalty conceded in the final minute of injury time by himself on Mario Balotelli, who had been lucky to still be on the pitch at this point, appears to have sapped him of all confidence in his natural ability.
The 5-2 defeat to Arsenal was one where he was shown up compressively by Van Persie and co. and the performances have dipped since then. Unable to handle Grant Holt during Monday’s shock defeat to Norwich City, many are now tipping the (former) England international to quietly be shown the exit door at White Hart Lane.
King has just four more games to play to reach the 20-game quota Redknapp set out for him at the beginning of the season and with six, maybe seven, games to play in all competitions this season, the 31-year-old still has every opportunity to fulfil the needs in order to secure a fresh contract with the club.
An injury to Younes Kaboul, and a nasty looking landing at that which resulted in his knee jarring, could see King step in as the Frenchman’s replacement for the remainder of the season. Certainly ahead of Ryan Nelsen in the pecking order, and with Michael Dawson ruled out for the remainder of the season, you can expect to see King offered fresh terms this summer.
However, with Steven Caulker ready to return for the new season, and Redknapp admitting he expects big things of the on-loan defender next year, King will see his opportunities limited. It doesn’t mean he should be shown the exit door with nothing more than a pat on the back and thanks for his service to the club. A senior, coaching role to improve the likes of Caulker especially has been earned for his 16+ years of service to the club. So, as much as King is adored at White Hart Lane, perhaps the end is nigh for the much loved defender.
What to expect ahead of the Chelsea game
At the beginning of the season, a top four place to play for and an FA Cup semi-final encounter with Chelsea would’ve been snapped off ones hands quicker than the offside flag going up against Jermain Defoe. However, it is that matter of the way that Spurs surrendered a 12-point gap between themselves and Arsenal that has really got the gears of the Lilywhites faithful grinding.
Both teams aren’t in scintillating form ahead of Sunday’s Wembley showdown, but it is the Blues who find themselves better placed to really have a go for a place in the final against either Everton or Liverpool. Regardless of a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona taking place just three days after the encounter, any fan would be a fool to discount the West Londoners credentials ahead of the game.
Not playing superbly under Roberto Di Matteo, but certainly better than they were under Andre Villas-Boas, on recent performances, it is Spurs who would be entering the fixtures as the underdogs. If the North London side line-up like they did against Norwich, in an unbelievably open 4-4-2 compared to the narrow 4-2-3-1 that Chelsea often revert to, then it will be the latter who come out victorious.
However, it will also be the third time that the two sides have met this season, with the previous encounters ending in stalemates, and the second in less than three weeks meaning Redknapp will know how to line-up against the Blues, with Di Matteo undoubtedly the same. Having come off the back of poor results, Spurs’ loss to Norwich and the 1-1 draw with Fulham for Chelsea on Monday, like any cup semi-final, fans can expect this to be a tight, compact affair.
Much the way Spurs played at Stamford Bridge last month, in what had been considered their best performance for six games after the defeat at the Emirates stadium, they will have to line-up again if they are to cement their place in the final of the prestigious competition. It’ll mean sacrificing Aaron Lennon for either Sandro or Jake Livermore to part Scott Parker and Luke Modric in the in the middle of the park, but his explosive pace will become essential in the latter stages of the encounter when both team’s start to tire. Either way, Spurs must remain compact all over the pitch if they are to sweep aside their West London rivals and secure a second spot at Wembley next month.