UEFA Champions League 2010: ''Swinging'' Spurs Out To Enjoy Debut
Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp knows that his team must perform considerably better than in their two qualifying matches against Young Boys Bern to progress into the knockout stages of the competition—despite bookmakers generally making Spurs 4/5 favourites to secure second place in Group A of this season's UEFA Champions League.
But Redknapp has suggested that the best way to combat the Londoners' lack of experience in Europe's premier club competition is to play with fearless menace. To ''come out swinging,'' as Redknapp stated in a recent interview with English tabloid newspaper The Mirror.
While Tottenham spectacularly came undone against Arsenal and Manchester United last year in the league playing with a similar gay abandon and profited from a more resolute defensive line, it is clear that the team is more comfortable and savvy in attack than in defence.
With Michael Dawson, Ledley King, and Johnathan Woodgate all suffering a history of serious injuries and William Gallas as the only defensive player who can call upon considerable experience of playing in the Champions League, it is no wonder that Redknapp is relying on the goals of Peter Crouch, pace of Aaron Lennon, and quality of Gareth Bale to see Spurs past FC Twente and Werder Bremen.
The team's hopes of achieving this feat will be boosted by last week's news that chairman Daniel Levy has managed to persuade Dutch midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart to bring his immense experience and skill in midfield to White Hart Lane. The former Real Madrid player should form a talented midfield trio alongside England international playmaker Tom Huddlestone and Croatian Luka Modric. Flanked by Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, it should be the best midfield Tottenham has had since the days of Glen Hoddle and Chris Waddle and beyond.
This will leave Peter Crouch, the most likely starter, to fight it out with Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, and Roman Pavlyuchenko competing for just one forward berth.
Although Redknapp—concerned that his midfield might leave the forwards isolated when in possession—is likely to prefer this less rigid 4-2-3-1 formation away from home, he may well revert to his accustomed, traditional 4-4-2 at White Hart Lane, pairing the lanky Crouch together with the speed of Defoe.
For all the versatility and goals which these players offer in attack, there are still key weaknesses which opposition managers will look to exploit.
Tottenham has yet to find a world-class holding midfielder who exudes authority and imposes himself on the game. Tom Huddlestone, a brilliant passer of the ball, was not born to play the role. Wilson Palacios does not possess the quality in the tackle or the intelligence without the ball to make the position his own. Cordeiro Ranieri, a £7 million ($10 million) summer signing from Copa Libertadores winners Internacional, will need time to adapt to his new surroundings and fit into the team.
At the back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto's deficiencies on the left side of the pitch were ruthlessly exposed by both Denmark and The Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup. Heurelho Gomes has improved in goal to the extent that he travelled to South Africa as third-choice goalkeeper for Brazil, but he still lacks composure when under pressure and is prone to errors.
Hugo Almeida and Claudio Pizzarro for Werder Bremen and Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito for Internazionale have the ability and experience to brutally punish any lapses of concentration or individual errors which Tottenham's defenders may make.
In retrospect, many in the footballing world are bemused by Tottenham's apparently lackadaisical attempts to add more players with a history of achievement in European football to the squad before the transfer window shut last week in England.
Therefore, it is crucial that William Gallas, an astute free signing by Tottenham, calls on his experience to rally the team together when their goal is under siege.
It is also essential that Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale can become critical pressure relief valves and learn to use their qualities to punish teams like Internazionale on the break.
Tottenham's adventure starts a week tomorrow with a trip to Germany and the team finishes its fixtures for this month when FC Twente visits White Hart Lane on Wednesday 29 September. Four points and the fans will start to believe that this is only the beginning. Anything less will leave more questions unanswered—and the trip to the San Siro stadium will become even more daunting than it already is.
Tottenham's players have earned the right to play in the Champions League thanks to their attacking instincts. If they expend too much energy stopping their group opponents from playing football, they will lose their saving grace—an ability and desire to entertain and score goals.
Let them swing to their own beat, Harry—there really is nothing to lose!
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