Spurs Flying High
The last time Tottenham finished the season in third place, the position they currently occupy in the Premiership, it was 1990 and their manager was Terry Venables – a Londoner who was widely touted as the next England manager and could have led the club on to bigger and better things, but ended up being dismissed over financial irregularities in his business dealings. The man currently in the dugout for Spurs is Harry Redknapp – the English tabloids favourite to replace Fabio Capello next summer, but who faces a court case in January over tax evasion from his time at Portsmouth. On the pitch, there has been little to complain about for Spurs fans, since the team was anchored to the bottom of the table after a couple of defeats against the Manchester teams in their first two games of the season. The record for Tottenham after those results reads: Played 9, Won 8, Drawn 1, Lost 0 – vaulting them up the table and leading the “best of the rest” league, behind City and United.
However, supporters of the club have seen us start campaigns well, only for everything to drop off around Christmas, meaning there is tempered excitement about this current squad of players. With a first eleven that has been playing together regularly, without too much fluctuation in personnel, there is reason for optimism that this time the progress may be built upon. Scott Parker was a great signing for the midfield – his tough tackling and high work ethic have added the grit that has been missing over previous seasons. The other two signings from the summer – Brad Friedel in goal and Emmanuel Adebayor up front – have established themselves as first choice players and improved the solidity of the team by adding stability in areas Spurs were struggling last year. Both Rafael Van der Vaart and Jermain Defoe have proved to be good partners for Adebayor when they have linked up with him in attack – in particular the Dutchman, Van der Vaart, who scored in five consecutive league games in September/October. Tottenham have also had their best defender, Ledley King, available on a more consistent basis this year – the centre back having been afflicted with chronic knee problems for many years now – and with the best pairing of full-backs in the Premiership (Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto)
Spurs fans have a habit of looking at the upcoming fixtures with optimism and imagining the position we could be in if we win those games – a practice which almost always backfires when the team underperform and lose at home to Wolves or Wigan. Having said that, with a game against Chelsea on December 22nd on the horizon, the matches before then are crucial for Tottenham to take points from – away to West Brom and Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton at the Lane. As Chelsea have lost three of their last four games, and there are now questions over whether their manager, Villas-Boas, will be in his job for much longer, Spurs must exploit this opportunity to open a gap between themselves and the Stamford Bridge outfit.
Three other teams are in the race for a top four place and a Champions League berth for next season. With City and United seemingly assured of two of those, Spurs and Chelsea will be competing with Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle for the remaining spots. Arsenal have been on a great run of form, having won all four of their league games since their defeat in the North London Derby, as well as being the only English side thus far through to the next stage of this year’s Champions League. While Newcastle lost for just the first time this year, against Manchester City last week, Liverpool have been the model of inconsistency. Kenny Dalglish’s men beat Chelsea last week, adding to their impressive victory away to Arsenal and a home draw with Manchester United earlier in the season – but they could only draw at Anfield against Swansea, Sunderland and Norwich. Since they played both Arsenal and Chelsea at times when those teams were on a run of poor form, their 4-0 thrashing at White Hart Lane against Spurs, albeit a game they finished with just 9 men, may be more indicative of their chances against the upper echelons of the Premier League. Considering all the contenders, I can see the two North London clubs joining the two Manchester teams in next seasons more prestigious European club competition.
Boring, Boring United
Sir Alex Ferguson is nothing if not pragmatic – he has been so successful for so long by adapting his Manchester United team to the circumstances in order to be competitive in an ever-changing league. In 2008/2009 he unleashed the attacking flair of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez on the Premiership – 10 years prior to that he used a consistent midfield of Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs to take the Red Devils to a treble, winning the League, Cup and Champions League. This season, since the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of their local rivals, Manchester City, Ferguson has gone back to basics and had his team grind out three consecutive one-nil victories. While it may not be as entertaining as when they put eight goals past Arsenal, it has helped them remain in second place and in prime position to capitalise should City falter. As Mancini’s men have to play Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal within the next month, there is plenty of chances of their unbeaten start coming to the end. If it does, Ferguson will make sure that he can regain the upper hand in the Manchester-centric race for this year’s league title.
Last week, 3-7; season, 47-42
Stoke vs Blackburn – Draw
Bolton vs Everton – Home win
Chelsea vs Wolves – Draw
Manchester United vs Newcastle – Home win
Norwich vs QPR – Draw
Sunderland vs Wigan – Home win
West Brom vs Tottenham – Away win
Arsenal vs Fulham – Home win
Swansea vs Aston Villa – Draw
Liverpool vs Manchester City – Home win