Did Spurs blow their chance at top 4?

Spurs have struggled all season with the label of pretender vs. contender for a top 4 spot. After jumping out to a great start, Spurs plagued by injuries suffered defeats to United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Then they rallied, trudged on and won games they were supposed to win, placing them in the top four picture. However, their last three games have to raise questions, whether this is really the Spurs of old – a quality, yet fragile side prone to dropping points unnecessarily. Spurs had an opportunity to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the pack over their last three games. Instead, Spurs dropped 7 gettable points and dropped out of the top 4 – raising the question, have they blown it?

In their last three premier leagues games Spurs drew against Villa away, drew against Everton, and lost to Wolves. The draw away at Villa was not a case of Spurs “blowing” it, but Martin O’Neil did note after the game that Villa were “lucky” to get a draw an to not take advantage was doubly bad since Villa is a top 4 competitor. Against Everton, Spurs blew a two goal lead in the final third of the game and squandered a late penalty. This was definitely 2 points lost. And finally they lost at home against a team penned in by most to go down. Spurs now sit at 27 points, two points back of Villa for 4th.

This is a bad run of form – but is it catastrophic? It isn’t, Spurs are still on pace for a top four slot, but only just. The last three results now give them little margin for error over the next few games to stay on pace. A few points to consider:
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Spurs, Redknapp, blow it

Tottenham looked like the Spurs of old against Everton yesterday. Two-goals up and totally cruising Spurs became wasteful in front of goal and lacked the solidity to hold onto the lead. The game was there to be put away and instead Spurs slipped on that banana-peel of a lead. While Everton showed great spirit, poor defending from substitute Gareth Bale, as well as great attacking play by newbie Everton right back Seamus Coleman Enabled Everton to level. After all that, however, Defoe had the chance to put Spurs into third in the league, yet his tepid penalty in extra time – lets hope Howard’s save is an omen for the US – condemned Spurs to what felt like a defeat. Spurs blew a huge opportunity against a weakened Everton. This was definitely two huge points lost for Tottenham.

Some takeaways from the game:

Redknapp was tactically indecisive and botched his substitutions. Harry Redknapp has not gotten much criticism at Spurs and for good reason. He has totally turned the club around. But in this case he was tactically indecisive and that ended up costing Tottenham. While Gareth Bale demonstrated his fragility defensively, Redknapp I think made a fairly wise move taking off Assou-Ekotto at half time. Having received a yellow and scuffling with Tim Cahill, Ekotto could have easily gotten a second yellow. Additionally Bale adds more offensively and Spurs had failed to hit the back of the net at that point.
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Heavy December schedule likely to take toll on some Premier League pretenders

Can Tevez save City during brutal December?; photo by Dull Hunk

It’s far too early to give the title to Chelsea, but their remarkably simple win over Arsenal on Sunday certainly puts them in the driver’s seat. But it’s a few notches down the table where the race for the last few Champions League places is getting very tight that could see the most turnover in the packed holiday fixture list. Just four points separates currently third-placed Tottenham from seventh Manchester City, and it seems likely that at least one Premier League pretender will be exposed by the time the calendar reaches 2010.

Five straight wins, including two over big rivals Man U and Arsenal, have opened up some space at the top of the table for Chelsea. The Blues lead Man U by five and it’s a further five points down to third place Spurs. Chelsea appear hard to beat at the moment (although they have fallen to Villa and Wigan), but champions aren’t crowned in November. Man U were seven points adrift of Liverpool at this time last year and still won the title by four. Chelsea are sure to go through a rough patch, the question is whether any of their pursuers will be in position to pounce. Continue reading

Spurs-Villa breakdown

This was a solid outing for Spurs, playing away in a tough environment against a very good club, they came away with a point and were unfortunate not to take all three. They showed themselves to be a top 4 caliber club against Villa.

Spurs started out a little disjointed in the first half and Villa put them under pressure. While Villa had corner after corner, one resulting in a scramble of a goal, Spurs had some very good chances as well. Spurs had trouble hanging on to the ball and while Wilson Palacios did his typical yeoman work in the center of the midfield he was very wasteful with the ball. Spurs in general weren’t connecting well with Crouch and Defoe. Villa did a very good job containing Aaron Lennon and Spurs did a poor job getting him the ball. It looked like this was going to end as a very frustrating day until unlikely hero Michael Dawson leveled on an amazing strike. Defensively, the back line was very solid for Spurs and the Dawson – Bassong pairing looked sturdy and youthful. Continue reading

EPL rewind

The EPL was back in action and it looks increasingly like a two team race for the title, while the other two top four positions looks like it could be a mad scramble.

What we learned – title down to two, but top four a real scrum. Man U and Chelsea created some separation from the pack this weekend. Both had solid wins and with the Arsenal loss and draws between Liverpool and Man City – there is growing separation. The loss of Van Persie left Arsenal looking toothless. They are now in danger of falling into what looks like a wide open scrum for the top four. Spurs with a monstrous win are now even with Arsenal on points (Arsenal has a game in hand). Pool and City are in sixth and seventh, with Villa in fourth. While your money might be on Arsenal and Pool to maintain those spots, it is certainly wide open right now.

Spurs send a message to top 4.
Who would have thought Spurs would outscore the Cowboys and the Redskins this weekend. A 9-1 demolition of Wigan sent a signal to the league that Spurs are a legitimate threat. Still without Luka Modric, Spurs got Aaron Lennon back after a being out a month injured. The difference was night and day. Despite Jermaine Defoe’s 4 goals, Lennon was the man of the match. Lennon played a role in most of the goals, putting in balls on a tee for the Spurs strikers.
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Spurs still on track for top 4

If you were to tell Spurs’ fans that they would be in sole possession of fourth place and just 3 points off second place after one third of the season – they would have been ecstatic. When you factor in the injury challenges – the loss of their best player Modric and defensive injuries – Spurs have to feel even better about where they stand.

The international break has also arrived at the at a perfect time time for Spurs. Their form has started to slip a bit, due to mounting injuries. Luka Modric has played just four league games and Aaron Lennon has been out for the last two. Both are expected to be back when the international break concludes in a couple weeks. Spurs have also been suffering with injuries in the back. Bassong was the latest to go down with a hamstring. But although Woodgate and Dawson have recovered a few weeks more of training will allow them to improve their fitness and their sharpness. The pairing of King of Woodgate looked a bit off the pace against Sunderland and the break should allow Harry to reassess his back line.
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Spurs should reduce its reliance on Ledley King

ledleyking_468x702Tottenham legend Ledley King had a horror of a game against Arsenal. While the three goals weren’t “his fault,” King was involved in each of them and looked rusty. And his prefomance raises the question should King’s place in the starting 11 be so automatic?

King has been at Spurs his entire 11 year career and has over 200 appearances and is rightly adored by fans and the team. But over the last few years chronic knee problems – he has no cartilage in his knees – prevents him from playing more that once a week – either in midweek games or in training. What has been so remarkable about King over the last year is how sharp he has looked, despite not participating in training. Harry Redknapp even called him a “freak,” for looking so sharp without any training. He has played so well that Fabio Cappello tried to call him up for England, leading to protestations from Redknapp last year.

But with no time on the training ground is King really as sharp as he once was?
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David Bentley – the biggest flop since Sheva

There was a lot of head scratching when Damien Comolli – the former director at Spurs who finally got the boot when Ramos was sacked – brought in David Bentley for 16 million pounds. After all Spurs already had the next England right midfielder in Aaron Lennon. But Bentley was seen as the “next David Beckham” and it was seen around the league as quite a coup for Spurs to sign a player of his promise.

He has without a doubt been the biggest flop of the last few years – on par with Shevchenko (After all in terms of resources, 16 million pounds for Spurs is probably proportionate in value to 30 for Chelsea – if that makes any sense). I haven’t felt this strongly about a Spurs player since Paul Robinson. It is time for Bentley to go.

The summer when Bentley arrived I was promised by a Blackburn-loving friend that Bentley was “class” and that his tricks with the ball and his ability to put in Beckham-like crosses made him a great signing. When Spurs imploded at the start last season, Bentley really failed to impress. But maybe that was simply due to Ramos’ incompetence and that with a new manager Bentley would thrive, or so the optimistic thinking went. In came Harry Redknapp, who after giving Bentley a run in a number of games eventually relegated him to the bench. He came off last year in an away game, to shouts from Spurs traveling supporters “what a waste of money.” Sometimes fans have it wrong, this time they had it right.
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Short-handed Spurs botch expectations game

In the most hyped match of the weekend Spurs sputtered and Arsenal took advantage. Que the predictable stories mocking Spurs as second rate to Arsenal and far off the top four. Scorelines write the headline, even when they shouldn’t. Arsenal won and thoroughly deserved to, but a 3-0 scoreline does not tell the whole story.

However, Robbie Keane deserves to be mocked. Keane would have done well to keep his mouth shut. Instead of hyping the game and antagonizing Arsenal by saying Spurs were deeper than the Gunners, Keane should have aggressively downplayed the game’s significance for Spurs and talked up its significance for Arsenal. There should have been NO pressure on Spurs to win, or even draw this game. After all Tottenham were missing there three best attacking players (Modric, Lennon, Defoe), in addition to wunderkind Gio Dos Santos – whose pace and ability to run with the ball could have certainly made a difference. In addition, the game was at Arsenal.

Spurs simply couldn’t play like a top four side, due to too many key players missing. I am shocked that in the aftermath of this game how little was made of Tottenham missing critical components. The ESPN announcers even tried to belittle this point, saying Arsenal were missing Walcott and Denilson. Please. Those are good players, but no team is going to be able to cope well missing their best offensive players. Luka Modric is as important to Spurs as Fabregas is to Arsenal (sure not as good as Cesc, but he is world class), Lennon is Spurs’ Arshavin, and Defoe the Van Persie. Arsenal missing Fabregas, Arshavin, and Van Persie, is a much much different animal. Still very good, but not nearly as dangerous.

It is therefore no wonder that Spurs approached this game like a bottom table side – since they simply lacked the weapons to go after Arsenal. In the first 42 minutes of the game Tottenham put on a clinic for bottom half sides on how to get a result against Arsenal. Continue reading

Arsenal-Spurs Preview

SOCCER Arsenal 12

Will Spurs be partying like its 1999?

This weekend at 8:30am on ESPN the north London derby will be front and center – and this year it certainly feels different. The shit talking has already started, with Keane, saying Spurs squad is deeper than Arsenal’s (unfortunately for Spurs they will see if he is right since Modric, Defoe, and Lennon are all out). This quickly led British commentators to predict a Spurs drubbing this weekend, after all Tottenham have not beat Arsenal in the league in a decade and away from home in 16 years! Sure every year Spurs fans approach the first Arsenal game with dreams of top 4, but too often Spurs have already stumbled out of the gates and sit well back of the top and of Arsenal. This year Spurs and Arsenal both have 19 points and Spurs ambitions doesn’t seem quite as fanciful.

What’s on the line:

While I argued that the Man U and Chelsea games were not as important to Spurs’ top 4 ambitions as was made out to be – for Tottenham it is about getting results against the bottom half of the table something they failed to do in previous years – this game is different. Realistically, for Spurs to break through into the top four it will need either Arsenal or Liverpool to fall off. Therefore, getting points from both those teams – Spurs already beat Liverpool – is critical. But it is also important psychologically. A Spurs win at Arsenal would raise Tottenham’s confidence and belief to perhaps an inappropriate level. Having not beat Arsenal in the league in a decade, a victory would certainly get the proverbial monkey off their backs.

For Arsenal, they have at times looked like title contending world beaters, but have also looked woobly at others (see Fulham and West Ham games). A win would not just further confirm their dominance in north London, it would also go some ways to discrediting the view that this Arsenal team is weaker and thinner than ones in the past. However, a loss would certainly raise more questions about Arsenal’s sturdiness, renew criticism of Wenger’s limited transfer policy and could increase the din of rumors surrounding Fabregas.
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