This is it. I never thought that, at the beginning of the season, an away day at Loftus Road would be pinpointed as Tottenham Hotspur’s biggest game of the year. Once 2012 rolled around, Spurs were flying high and sitting pretty in third and looking dead certs to achieve their highest league finish in the Premiership since its 1992 inception.
Four months ago, if you had told any Spurs fan they would be scrapping with Newcastle United and Chelsea in order to finish in the top four, chances are you would’ve been the butt of all jokes at the time. Yet, it is this predicament that the North Londoners currently find themselves after a cataclysmic fall from grace in the latter half of the season.
Just one Premier League win since the shambolic North London derby performance back in February means Harry Redknapp’s side are in real danger of finishing outside the UEFA Champions League places with a fifth or sixth place finish now a distinct possibility. With every team around Tottenham picking up their performances in the business end of the season, Saturday is now the time for the Lilywhites to shake themselves out of the rut and get the season back on track.
What to expect against QPR
Mark Hughes’ side are no pushover at home and have picked up three wins out of four at Loftus Road recently, including memorable wins over Liverpool and Arsenal. Their home form doesn’t reflect their current position in the table as they fight to secure their Premiership status for another season at least.
In contrast, on the road in recent months, Spurs haven’t pick up an away win in 2012, with their last coming against Norwich City at Carrow Road back in December. QPR will most likely be looking to exploit this and will pressure the players from the off. It is pivotal that Redknapp instils confidence in the team prior to the Saturday evening kick off and gets them playing a possession game from the first whistle.
Naturally, following the debacle at Wembley at the weekend, morale is likely to be low in the Spurs camp. Many were hoping a decent run in the FA Cup would pave over the cracks that have begun to emerge at the Lodge in recent months. But despite a dodgy goal being given, the North London side looked tired and devoid of any real creative imagination, bar Gareth Bale’s goal of course.
Redknapp said today that the player’s did ‘a lot of work on shape’ and that the quality of play was ‘top class’ which gives the impression the team is still capable of playing some decent football away from the pitch, but can they transfer the quality that the Spurs boss is talking up to Loftus Road?
The aftermath of the FA Cup
Fortunately for Spurs, this isn’t the first time they have been in a similar scenario. Back in 2010, and seemingly out of form and looking like surrendering their place in the top four, the club travelled to Wembley for a semi-final encounter with Portsmouth. Despite heading into the fixture as overwhelming favourites, a lacklustre performance against the south coast club saw Spurs crash out of the competition 2-0 after extra time.
Fans believed the season was over after that game, especially with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City all to play in the run. However, the player’s dusted themselves down and picked up wins against the two London clubs, secure a 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers and a 1-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium saw Spurs secure Champions League football.
A similar response from the player’s over the next five games is absolutely vital and with the run-in including games against the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa, it isn’t impossible to pick up 15 points from the available 15. But, being Spurs, they will make it difficult for themselves and really struggle against the teams they should be beating ala Norwich City.
Team to expect
Redknapp on Friday admitted he is waiting on the fitness of ‘four or five’ players ahead of the difficult trip to QPR. Whether he is playing mind games or not, it is unclear and speculating on the players unavailable, one has to guess Bale, Scott Parker and Ledley King will all be part of the contingent. Younes Kaboul and Niko Kranjcar both remain sidelined along with David Bentley, despite vicious rumours he was going to play some part last weekend, Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson.
As for the team, expect Brad Friedel to reclaim his place in goal with a back four of Kyle Walker, Ryan Nelsen, even if King were fit, William Gallas and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. In the midfield, Bale, Parker, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon and up front, Emmanuel Adebayor with Rafael Van der Vaart supporting to Togolese international.
How to win
It is important Spurs hold on to possession early on and make QPR work for it. Yes, the player’s may have played more games than their Premier League counterparts, but they aren’t exactly rookies when it comes to the rigours of the English game. Make the R’s work for it early on and look to pressure their defence, who have conceded 57 league goals this season, an average of 1.67 per game, and take the chances that are presented.
As I earlier mentioned, QPR are no pushovers, especially at home in recent weeks, which means possession football early on is pivotal. They still have players that can do damage going forward, most notably Djibril Cisse and former Spur Adel Taarabt, so it’s important for the back four to remain vigilant when they look to press forwards and, at times, soak up the pressure before hitting the opposition on the counter-attack.