The most important week in Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League journey commences tomorrow with the team's last home game of the season against Bolton Wanderers.
If Spurs overcome Owen Coyle's team, they will travel to Eastlands to face Manchester City on Wednesday in a showdown for fourth position, and a first ever crack at the Champions League.
Many times this season, the Londoners have looked set to stretch away from their rivals: City, Liverpool, and Aston Villa. Many times in the past they have lost their nerve and failed to win relatively easy home matches.
For example, they conceded a late goal against Stoke and were held to a goalless draw by Hull in January. And Mick McCarthy should order Harry Redknapp a bottle of wine after Spurs were outplayed twice by a more hungry pack of Wolves, the six points seeming crucial to their league survival.
In all of these games, Tottenham played against teams which were willing to sit back in two solid banks of four or five players, defend with organization, and look to counter-attack with pace and purpose. For all of Tottenham's expensively assembled talent, the team failed to break down less skillful opponents.
This led to many critics observing that perhaps Redknapp had no Plan B. But what is Plan A?
Well, much of Tottenham's recent success seems to have been generated in midfield, particularly in the wide areas. Gareth Bale—named today as Premier League Player of the Month for April—in particular, has seen a lot of the ball, while David Bentley, Niko Kranjcar, Luka Modric, and Danny Rose have also enjoyed memorable moments.
In the centre, Wilson, Palacios, and Tom Huddlestone seem to have outmuscled and outharried big-name players and have used the ball with some efficiency.
Earlier in the season, the team relied heavily on Aaron Lennon's trickery and Jermain Defoe's sharp finishing to build up a head of steam.
But recently, rarely have the midfielders and attackers combined form to as devastating an effect as in the early season maulings of Wigan Athletic and Hull City.
So have Tottenham relied too heavily on the likes of Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe to fire them to glory?
Statistics would suggest no. After all, 20 players have found the net this season.
However, on closer inspection, you will notice that Tottenham's midfielders have contributed only 19 goals between them. In contrast, Chelsea have scored 43 league goals from midfield, Man Utd have scored 24, and Arsenal's midfielders have contributed 46 league goals to their campaign.
You will also notice that Aaron Lennon, missing for more than half of the season, still has the most goal assists in Tottenham's squad.
When under pressure from better teams (Aston Villa's goalkeeper Brad Friedel and Stoke City players have suggested) that Spurs like to lump the ball forward aerially for beanpole Crouch to flick on to the likes of Defoe and Lennon. They may have a valid point.
In a survey commissioned for the Daliy Mail in January, it was shown that Spurs play more long balls than nine other teams in the Premier League, including Portsmouth and West Ham. They chose the aerial route once in every six passes.
Recently, with Lennon and Krancjar injured, the squad has constantly looked to Gareth Bale tearing down the left wing to pull the ball back to onrushing strikers. In central midfield, it is rare to see either Huddlestone or Palacios breaking their stride to get into the box. It is even rarer to see any strikers drop off into midfield to find some space.
Tomorrow afternoon, manager Redknapp will desperately hope that his side can show more of the invention and guile which many remaining squad members showed in the days of Berbatov and Keane, whilst maintaining the efficiency and defensive resolve of this season's line-up.
Too often this season, Tottenham players have taken their foot off the pedal at home and paid a dear price. They should have learned their lesson by now, and will be urged by the fans to throw caution to the wind, spray the ball about, and look to get at Bolton from the minute the referee's whistle starts proceeding.
A win is a must—and a clinical victory is important not only for the team's confidence following a disappointing display at Old Trafford, and in the run-up to an even more important return to the Northwest, but also to boost a goal difference which is now inferior to both City and Liverpool's.
So, will Tottenham be found out again tomorrow, or will the fans who watch the game in their local in 3D HD get value for their money? It's now or never for Tottenham to bring their Plan A, B, and C to the table.
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