Tottenham Hotspur: Top 10 Highlights of 2011
What kind of year has it been? For Tottenham Hotspur, all in all, 2011 has been a pretty good one.
Bettering the notable derby victories, fourth-place finish and subsequent early round Champions League adventures of 2010 was never going to be easy, and in truth they weren't.
Spurs' strong Premier League form fizzled out in early spring and the lost momentum in the hunt for a return to Champions League football coincided with an anti-climactic exit from the competition to Real Madrid.
Still, the latter half of 2010/11 was not without its enjoyable moments, and the beginning of the new season has provided numerous more as Tottenham endeavour to maintain serious signs of progression.
As 2011 comes to a close, what better time to look back and pick out 10 of the best moments of Tottenham's year.
Do you agree with the selections? Should one of be higher or lower? Or is there a certain player performance, goal or great match you believe too deserves recognition?
10. Pavlyuchenko Scores Twice To Finish 2010/11 on a High
Tottenham's loss of form in the spring of 2011 saw their Champions League campaign and hopes of a return to the competition the following season fall away in dispiriting fashion.
It looked like Spurs might fall away completely and miss out on fifth spot and European competition altogether. Instead of letting their heads drop, they went about restoring some pride.
After the 2-0 win at Liverpool (more on that later), Birmingham City visited White Hart Lane on the final day of the campaign, themselves needing a positive result and help elsewhere to remain in the Premier League.
Unfortunately for the Blues, such last-day miracles were found wanting, with Tottenham winning 2-1 to seal fifth place.
The man responsible for ending Birmingham's hopes was Roman Pavlyuchenko, a player who had been linked with Spurs' opponents at various points in the previous year.
Instead of helping them stay up, the Russian forward relegated them with two beautifully taken long-range efforts either side of Craig Gardner's strike for Birmingham.
9. Spurs Play Some of Their Best Football of 2011 as They Beat QPR 3-1
In between the derby clashes, European ties and any other big games you care to think of there are a whole bunch of matches from 2011 to look back on, and depending on your personal viewpoint, classify as a highlight of the year.
The 3-1 home win over Queens Park Rangers may well be the pick of this bunch though, as it was one of the best and most entertaining performances put in by Tottenham in 2011.
Some of the football Spurs played on the day was exquisite, and if there have been and will be more testing opponents, it does not lessen the quality of the display that day.
Gareth Bale's two goals demonstrated this most aptly, as he and Aaron Lennon combined to superb effect. In the midfield Joey Barton was so mesmerised by the quality of Luka Modric he went so far as to call him the "best in the league by a mile."
8. Youth Players Making Their Impact in the Europa League
A poor 20 minutes at home to PAOK effectively ended Tottenham's hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Europa League. The failure to get something out of that game meant even a 4-0 win away at Shamrock Rovers a few weeks later was not enough to see Spurs through.
Had Spurs fielded their best possible team in each game, rather than experiment with some of the club's younger players, they may well have ensured qualification. However, even fielding less-experienced sides they had gotten very close, and the benefits of giving match time to most notably Jake Livermore, Tom Carroll, Andros Townsend and Harry Kane will prove beneficial.
All had been on loan in the lower divisions at some point, but first-team football for Tottenham had been harder to come by. Now in part thanks to the Europa League experience, all have given a better idea of what they're about.
Livermore has been used at Premier League level too, performing solidly while becoming a regular part of the match-day squad. A regular first-team spot may be a little way off yet, but he has made things interesting for when Tom Huddlestone returns from injury.
Least was probably known about Carroll, but he has shown himself to be a tidy midfielder with good passing ability and a comfort on the ball. Townsend too looks a confident performer. Blessed with good pace, he is not afraid either to take opponents on. His delivery needs work, but his goal against Shamrock shows there is definitely quality there.
Kane's goal-scoring form at youth levels and on loan has seen a decent level of expectation placed on his shoulders. The luck wasn't with him at senior level until he got into a good position to score against Shamrock. But he too looks to have some confidence about him and, given the work, has the physical attributes to perhaps develop into a Premier League goal-scoring threat.
7. Tottenham Restore Some Pride by Beating Liverpool at Anfield
Tottenham's attempts at earning a second straight season of Champions League football had been ended the previous week by Manchester City. It would have been easy to give up after that but instead Spurs responded in the best way possible, and picked up their first win at Anfield since 1993.
Admittedly this wasn't Liverpool's strongest side, but after the return of Kenny Dalglish in January the previously stuttering club had been galvanised and looked a different team.
Tottenham made them look more like the side that had started the season so averagely.
Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric (penalty) scored either side of halftime while the game saw Ledley King return to the side after a lengthy lay-off.
King was in typically classy form and his return alongside Michael Dawson helped restore a sense of solidity at the back that had been lacking for a couple of months.
6. Spurs Resist Chelsea's Advances and Keep Luka Modric
The relationship between a club's supporters and its chairman/owners is never going to always be smooth sailing, and that between Tottenham fans and Daniel Levy has certainly been through its ups and downs.
What cannot be questioned is Levy's commitment to planning. When he has had a vision for his club, he has worked hard to ensure it has all it needs to succeed, even if success has not always been the ultimate outcome.
The summer of 2011 saw Levy stand firm in resisting the tempting advances of Chelsea for his club's star midfielder Luka Modric. The Croatian stated his desire to move for what would have been considerably more money and the story was never far from the media for the remainder of the summer.
In the past Levy notably sold Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United for good money. The difference then was both had less time left on their contracts, and certainly in the case of Berbatov, Spurs were not looking like a team capable of challenging with the Premier League's best.
Levy knew Modric was key to these plans, and while understandably Harry Redknapp wavered a little when it looked like his midfielder's heart was not in it anymore, his chairman was stubborn enough to hold on.
There will likely be further tests of Tottenham's resolve in the coming months, but for now they are enjoying watching Modric play a big role in a good 2011/12 campaign so far.
5. Sandro's Superb Performance Seals the Deal Against AC Milan
Tottenham's 0-0 draw at home to AC Milan was, following the heroics of the San Siro, another superb team effort. The likes of Alexandre Pato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and former Spur Kevin Prince-Boateng were unable to find their way through Spurs in a tense and memorable encounter.
Their were several strong Spurs performances on the night. William Gallas should in particular be applauded for a performance that came straight out of the Frenchman's prime.
But the star was undoubtedly Brazilian midfielder Sandro, putting in a display that deserves the worthy hyperbole of being described as up there with the very best in the history of Tottenham Hotspur.
On the defensive side of proceedings, Sandro was nearly everywhere as he constantly looked to close down Milan as they pressed into the Tottenham half. He won important tackles and made crucial interceptions as the Rossoneri threatened to break through.
Not just a defensive stopper, Sandro's contributions were just as helpful in the opposition half. After getting hold of the ball in the first place, he kept hold of the ball with runs forward that bought time for his teammates.
Truthfully, it is hard to do Sandro's efforts justice with words. But if anyone ever finds themselves getting the urge to re-watch this 0-0 draw, you will be reminded of one heck of a performance.
4. Kyle Walker Scores a Stunner as Spurs Beat Arsenal 2-1
Tottenham have enjoyed pretty good form in the North London derby since defeating Arsenal in the 2008 Carling Cup semifinal. Even with the wins stacking up against their rivals, Spurs fans won't be getting complacent anytime soon.
Their October meeting this year was a relatively tight affair. Spurs went up 1-0 through Rafael van der Vaart's controversial (but let it be said, definitely not a handball assisted) opener before Aaron Ramsey equalised not long in the second half.
Arsenal's midfield enjoyed good spells of possession but did not look especially threatening, with Spurs containing them comfortably. With that said, it felt like a game that needed something special to happen to break the deadlock, and that something special certainly arrived.
Kyle Walker had joined Spurs in 2009 but it took until 2011 for him to get a crack at first-team football. Having made himself a regular in the team, the right-back chose the North London derby to introduce himself formally with a powerfully hit long-range effort that got the better of Wojciech Szczesny. Tottenham 2, Arsenal 1.
Fired by the prolific Robin van Persie, the Gunners have enjoyed a tremendous run of form since the derby defeat. Should both them and Spurs sustain their good runs until the 26 February meeting, it should make for a particularly interesting encounter.
3. Ledley King's Fitness so Far in 2011/12
Everyone knows about the chronic knee problems that have made it so Ledley King cannot train as frequently as a normal professional, and that if things feel good on average he can play one game a week.
King's absence through the first few months of 2011 was not caused so much by this, but through the unfortunate groin injury he had suffered. While a further groin worry came about in the October 2-2 draw at Newcastle, it was not as bad as first feared, and King thus far has been a fairly regular presence in the Tottenham team this season.
Starting (and, crucially, lasting most of) 10 of Spurs' first 15 Premier League games, King has once more proved his importance to the club's cause in their strong start to the campaign.
It is natural with most defenders that there can be chemistry and balance issues depending on certain styles of play. When King is playing that is not a concern for Tottenham, such is his quality that he can bring the best out of whoever he partners.
Right now he is halfway to the supposed target of 20 games he needs to play to earn a new contract. Fingers crossed, touch wood and any other superstitious fail-safe you can think of, King will continue to enjoy relative fitness.
2. Tottenham 4 Liverpool 0: Enough Said!
After a Manchester mauling from United and City in August, Tottenham got going properly in September with a 4-0 thrashing of Liverpool at White Hart Lane.
Late-transfer-window signings Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker had impressed in their debut the previous week, a 2-0 win at Wolves. Making their home bows they played well again as Spurs declared a show of intent for the season.
Luka Modric put the Chelsea controversy of the summer behind him with a superbly struck opener. While Liverpool felt the two dismissals that followed contributed to what followed, Spurs were already looking very dangerous and much the better team.
Jermain Defoe made it 2-0 in the second half before Adebayor scored two of his own to seal the win. As had been the case at Anfield in May, Ledley King's return to the side had coincided with another Spurs clean sheet.
Despite it being so early in the season, the game deserves such a high place on this list for the fact that it is not that often you beat Liverpool 4-0, if at all.
1. Tottenham Beat AC Milan 1-0 in the San Siro
In 1972 Alan Mullery scored for Tottenham Hotspur in a 1-1 draw against AC Milan at the San Siro. After winning 2-1 in the first leg at home, it was enough to send Bill Nicholson's side into the final of the UEFA Cup where they would defeat fellow English side Wolves to win the club's second major European trophy.
Thirty-nine years later Tottenham would return once more to take on the Rossoneri, and like so many years earlier, enjoy one of the greatest nights in the club's history.
The 1-0 victory would not seal the deal on this occasion, there was of course a second leg to follow. But Spurs put in a performance worthy of standing side by side with the greatest glory, glory nights in the club's proud past.
Manager Harry Redknapp got things pitch-perfect tactically. Steven Pienaar came in for Niko Kranjcar, adding a touch more steel in left midfield. While most significantly he teamed Wilson Palacios and Sandro together in central midfield, the duo dominating their more experienced counterparts with an impeccable display combining defensive solidity and a comfortable enough outlet to help Spurs alleviate the pressure of Milan's sustained periods of attack.
Sandro was the instigator of the move that led to Tottenham's goal. The Brazilian fed the ball to Aaron Lennon who took the counterattack to Milan in thrilling fashion. The winger sped into Milan's half before skipping past a helpless Mario Yepes and squaring the ball to Peter Crouch to guide the ball home.
The goal came on 80 minutes, and that Spurs remained in contention before and after then was in big part thanks to the strong efforts of the defence (and just a little bit of luck too!).
The back line of Assou-Ekotto, Gallas, Dawson and Corluka (injured and then replaced by Woodgate) were on their game all night, displaying all the determination, awareness and concentration necessary to stop Milan's star-filled attack. Behind them Heurelho Gomes proved what he was capable of at his best, producing several brilliant saves to keep Spurs in it.
Unlike 1972, a trophy would not follow the heroics of Milan. But that should not detract from the efforts of the night of 15 February, and the reminder of what Tottenham Hotspur can be capable of when they get it together.