Tottenham Hotspur Facing Familiar Uphill Battle on Way to Top-4 Finish

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Tottenham Hotspur Facing Familiar Uphill Battle on Way to Top-4 Finish
Clive Rose/Getty Images
André Villas-Boas will hope Gareth Bale remains fit.

Just under a year ago, Tottenham Hotspur were about to hit Newcastle United with the perfect storm.

The home side won 5-0, but it could easily have been 10. “The all-round team performance was top class,” Harry Redknapp told the BBC after the Spurs fans had sung his name.

Louis Saha had just arrived from Everton. Emmanuel Adebayor was unstoppable; he was involved in all four first-half goals. Saha scored twice and terrorised the away defence with his strike partner.

Not only that, but the win arrived with bonuses included; Redknapp was able to leave out Aaron Lennon who came on after 67 minutes to give Gareth Bale a rest.   

The result left them fourth, 10 points ahead of both Arsenal and Chelsea. The talk wasn’t just about qualifying for the Champions League. Just five points off Manchester United at the top of the table, they were talking about a title challenge.

The next league win, however, wouldn’t arrive until April’s Fool’s Day.   

The late collapse was blamed on confusion over Redknapp’s links to the England job, but there was more to it than that. The fixture list was unkind at a time when Arsenal were just about remaining in touch; Spurs’ next fixture was at their North London rivals where they’d won only once in 20 seasons. That was followed by the visit of Manchester United who hadn’t lost at White Hart Lane since a meaningless end-of-season game in 2001.

To put that dire run in the context of this season, those corresponding fixtures (against Arsenal, United, Everton and Stoke City) this term have yielded just four points.

It should also be pointed out that, even though there was late-season dip, the club still matched their best-ever finish in the Premier League by finishing fourth for the second time in three years.  

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Spurs hammered Newcastle last season but lost 2-1 on the opening day.

And this weekend, Newcastle visit North London almost a year to the day since Spurs hit that slump.

This time, things are a little calmer. The manager has not just avoided going to jail, and there are no rumours of him about to quit to take over an international side.

This season, though, a transfer window passed, and Spurs fans were baffled by the inactivity when it seemed obvious a striker was desperately needed. Daniel Levy seemed to fixate on trying to buy one player, Leandro Damiao, as if there were no other alternatives. It might have been a PR stunt to placate fans, similar to the one in 1997 when Alan Sugar had a bid for Juninho accepted by Middlesbrough when everyone knew he had no intention of joining Spurs. It turns out, neither did Damiao.

One would like to have seen the expression on Levy’s face when Defoe went off against West Brom. Even before he went over on his ankle, it was obvious he was struggling with a pelvic injury. He’s without a goal since the Dec 9th rout of Aston Villa, and the clever movement evident earlier in the season has disappeared.

Adebayor is on his way back to England, and if reports are to be believed, he’s arriving in a sulk. Following Togo’s elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations, he blamed coach Didier Six for their defeat to Burkina Faso (from Stamford Advocate). It’s not exactly the injection of positivity a club would wish for.

André Villas-Boas suggested at the weekend that Spurs might have to “do a Spain” and play with no focal point up front. “We create a lot in terms of attacking football, and there was a team who were world champions that play without a striker” (from the Standard).

Playing without a striker because that’s how you want your team to play is one thing; playing without a striker because of injury and a failure to sign reinforcements is quite another.

Pointing to the example of one of the best teams of all time is a lofty template, and one would imagine that it depends heavily on Bale being able to re-enact what he did at the Hawthorns week after week.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Bale was outstanding against West Brom.

The Welsh forward rarely shows signs that it weighs heavily on him. In fact, against West Brom, he was reminiscent of the kid on the playground who hogs the ball, because he thinks there’s no one else good enough to give it to. Physically, he has few equals in the Premier League, and he is getting more comfortable playing through the middle.

It would be a surprise if Adebayor is suddenly reinvigorated on his return. And with Defoe out for three weeks, there is no need to guess where the attacking burden will fall. Without Bale’s goals, Spurs would have nine fewer points this season. Quite simply, their Champions League hopes hinge on him remaining fit.

Lewis Holtby looks like a classy addition. His first touch, movement and eagerness to get involved has improved Spurs in the last two games. The German midfielder, along with Clint Dempsey and Aaron Lennon, needs to provide a quality support network if indeed Bale is to be deployed up front.  

Newcastle have improved lately but, with Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea to play in the coming weeks, the sense of déjà vu for Spurs fans might not be far away.

Follow John Kelly on Twitter @JKelly1882

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