Do Tottenham Hotspur Have the Nerve to Challenge at the Top?
Tottenham Hotspur were flying. They had brushed aside Liverpool, destroyed Hull, and were scoring goals for fun. Then they played Manchester United.
Last weekend's 3-1 home defeat to the defending champions has checked the momentum that the North Londoners had built up with five consecutive wins, and in doing so, abruptly unveiled a harsh truth to many expectant fans that perhaps their team is not mentally prepared for an assault on the upper echelons of the Premier League.
After Jermain Defoe rocked the stadium with a spectacular first-minute goal, Spurs were unable to turn the pressure they exerted on Man Utd's goal into an even greater advantage. And how they were made to pay.
Ryan Giggs' inch-perfect free-kick, and further goals from Anderson and an excellent Wayne Rooney, highlighted the difference between the two sides.
Man Utd always find ways to win football matches; Spurs have yet to master that art. That comes with experience and mentality.
While Tottenham missed Luka Modric's creativity and intelligence in an advanced midfield role, Wayne Rooney and - more relevantly in this case - Darren Fletcher stood head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the pitch.
For all of the stars that the Red Devils have in their squad, it is players such as Fletcher, Anderson, John O'Shea and Ji-Sung Park, who, through perseverance, reliability, and ingenuity, often lifted the side when other higher profile players momentarily lose their spark.
Tottenham have players with these capabilities, notably Tom Huddlestone, Giovani Dos Santos and Roman Pavlyuchenko. But these players do not perform consistently enough on the big stage, and do not inspire the same confidence in Harry Redknapp as United's squad players do in Ferguson.
With this defeat in the past, it is important that Tottenham move forward and perform well at Chelsea and leave Stamford Bridge with a point.
London derbies usually bring out the best in Tottenham - they were top of the London 'league table' last season - and they will know that they will need to be more compact as a side against Carlo Ancelotti's high flyers.
Players such as Modric, currently injured, Defoe, and Lennon cannot always be relied upon to win matches, and other players need to contribute with match-winning tackles, saves, assists, and goals.
Harry Redknapp's Plan A has worked well to date. Tottenham fans will be hoping it his not his only trick. He will find that he needs to rotate his squad and change his tactics from time to time, and he will hope that his fringe players repay his faith in them in times of need.
While White Hart Lane has always been a stronghold, it is important that Tottenham travel with confidence and aggression. It is equally important that they learn to break down sides visiting White Hart Lane with a view to 'frustrate and hit on the break'.
The fact that they are not involved in the Europa League will help, as will increased competition in their squad as the World Cup looms large.
This is especially true in defence, where Ledley King, Michael Dawson, and Johnathon Woodgate can all make late pushes for Capello's World Cup squad once they return from injury.
Tottenham have yet to record a clean sheet in the Premier League. With crucial defenders returning to the fray, this should soon not be an issue. If Tottenham really want to make a statement, keeping Chelsea out on Sunday is a start.
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