Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tottenham Hotspur in Europa League

Tottenham’s Europa Game to Raise More Questions Than Answers

With Spurs about to make a belated start to their season against Hearts at Tynecastle in the Europa League, it had been hoped that this match might have provided answers to some of the questions that have surrounded the club for much of the summer.  However, the closer the game gets the more the Tottenham waters seem to become cloudier.

How Seriously will Tottenham take the Europa League?

For a club steeped in European and Cup winning traditions, it seems a strange question to   ask but manager Harry Redknapp has made it clear on many occasions that Cup competitions and the Europa League are not high on his list of priorities.  In his first season the manager found the Europa League a distraction in his bid to secure the club’s future in the Premier League.  A worthy motive but a club of Tottenham’s standing with experienced, motivated players with any professional pride, should have able to perform credibly in more than one competition.  In subsequent years the supporters have witnessed less than whole-hearted commitment from teams in both the Carling Cup and the FA Cup.  Last season’s performance against Fulham is just one of  a number of instances where the manager has aired numerous complaints about these competitions, providing the players with an excuse for the disappointing results. 

Earlier in the summer Redknapp made headlines with comments that the Europa League is a ‘killer.’  Quoted before the draw he said, “Thursday and Sunday every week, you’ve got no chance in the Premier League with that.  It kills you off.  It’s a nightmare.  You go to crazy places but we’ll give it our best shot and just give it a go.  The young lads will get plenty of games in the Europa League because, otherwise, it’s a killer, to be frank.”

Having experienced the rich pickings of the Champions league table last year, the Europa league is obviously not as tasty a morsel for Harry Redknapp.

With the postponement of last Saturday’s game against Everton due to the aftermath of the riots in Tottenham the previous week, the manager now has a dilemma.  His senior players are lacking match sharpness ahead of their opening League game at Old Trafford so will he use them in Edinburgh rather than the younger players that he had advocated in his earlier statements? 

In addition, the draw has not been as kind as might have been expected with an added injection of Anglo-Scottish rivalry to increase the competitiveness of this tie.  While many English supporters routinely dismiss Scottish clubs, Hearts will not be a pushover and there will be that added element of wanting to get one over the ’Auld Enemy” and Tynecastle will be a daunting, passionate ground on Thursday evening which will require experienced players with a cool head.  Hearts finished third behind Rangers and Celtic last year, running them close until the final weeks of the season.  The two Glasgow clubs have performed well in recent years when facing English teams in the European competitions.  So Tottenham have been warned and they can not be too casual in their approach and team selection for this game or Harry Redknapp may get his wish earlier than he expected.

Will Luka Modric be a Tottenham player come the end of the Transfer Window?

He won the Player of the Season Award in May but comments appeared in the media that indicated that he wanted to go to Chelsea.  Daniel Levy immediately made a statement that Luka Modric was not for sale at any price as he tried to prevent a repeat of the Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov transfers where Spurs accepted a huge offer later in the summer.  It all seemed clear but not to Chelsea and their media friends who have constantly stirred this simmering pot. 

Comments from Kevin Bond and Redknapp himself haven’t helped where it has been suggested that a ‘big’ offer might be acceptable.  So throughout the summer, this saga has rumbled on and it is now reaching its critical time.  Modric captained the side in South Africa and played against Atletico Bilbao with his usual commitment and application displaying the skills that are vital to Spurs. 

If he were to play against Hearts it would be a sign that he could be staying at the club but it now seems unlikely that he will be in the team in Edinburgh - he has picked up a ‘convenient’ injury.  A few days ago, according to Redknapp, Modric was the only midfield player who was fit - Sandro, Huddleston, Palacios and Jenas all out injured.  Now, apparently Modric has joined that list or is it just an injury of convenience so that he is available for Champions League football later in the season at his ‘new’ club?

Who will be No. 1?

Heurelho Gomes finished last season out of the team.  Brad Friedel signed in July with the intention of being first choice goalkeeper at Tottenham and extending his Premier League record of 275 consecutive games.  Gomes, Friedel and Cudicini shared the goalkeeping duties during pre-season and now a decision has to be made but will the player selected on Thursday evening be the manager’s number one choice?  Friedel has vast experience and is a very reliable keeper but will age suddenly catch up with him or does he have a few more seasons in him?  Gomes needs re-assurance and to be high in confidence to produce of his best but will this competition for the number 1 shirt inspire him or crush him?  At times last season Redknapp appeared to have lost patience with Gomes and seemed to yearn for a good reliable goalkeeper rather that one who interspersed flashes of sheer brilliance with moments that made every supporter despair.  If those feelings have remained with Redknapp through the summer, it might be Friedel who gets first crack in goal.

Will our strikers score this season?

For the third consecutive transfer window Spurs have been trying to acquire the signature of a striker who will consistently finish off the chances created by the wing play of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale.  Throughout the summer, possibly signings have been identified in the media and indications are that significant signings may be nearing completion.

However, at the moment we will have to rely on the best of last year’s crop.  Robbie Keane has finally gone.  There is the thought that surely three international strikers couldn’t repeat their ineptitude in front of goal for another season but then we thought that last January when we considered their lack of goals during the first half of the season but there was no improvement.

Who will play against Hearts?  Peter Crouch who so often found his goalscoring touch in Europe last year would have seemed to be a likely starter but he now appears to be injured.  Could that be something to do with rumours of a possible transfer?  Roman Pavlyuchenko scored twice n the final game against Birmingham but so often looks disinterested and unable to link up with those around him.  It has been reported that Jermain Defoe has prepared well during the summer and the choice may depend on the formation that is decided upon and who can play best with Rafael Van der Vaart.

Two interesting games lie ahead in the Europa League alongside the double header with the Manchester clubs.  The decisions which are taken in the coming fortnight could shape Tottenham’s season for good or bad but a positive result in Edinburgh would help to lift some of the gloom that has descended upon Tottenham in the past week and lift supporters spirits after a summer when there has been so much talking but very little action in comparison to other clubs causing some Spurs fans to feel less than enthusiastic about the new season.


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