On 10th February, Ledley King had an interview with Sport360 following Spurs’ 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield. Back then, the draw was seen as two points lost in the title race. “The way the rest of the season has gone, bringing in the players we have and getting the results that we have been we quite soon realised that the league is within our grasps and that’s the way we’ve been playing throughout the season so far, we’re playing to win every game and believing that the league’s up there for grabs.”
After 25 games into the season, Spurs were sitting pretty. 16 wins, five draws and four defeats. What made this run all the more remarkable was that Spurs lost their first two games against City and United in convincing fashion. So in 23 games, Spurs won 16, drew five and lost only twice. They amassed 53 points in a possible 69. Extrapolated over an entire season this is 87 points and Championship winning form.
However, Capello threw a spanner in the works and due to Spurs’ form, the obvious candidate as successor was Harry Redknapp. It seemed a foregone conclusion. Would it derail Spurs’ season many asked? Well, not immediately. Spurs played Newcastle at an emotional White Hart Lane on a Saturday evening and thumped them 5-0, amongst the cries of “We want you to stay.” What has happened since then is somewhat perplexing.
Spurs have amassed six points in the last eight games. Hardly mid-table form, let alone title-winning or Champions League qualifying form. Defeats against Arsenal and Man Utd were hard to swallow but understandable. Defeat to Everton equalled Spurs worst run under Redknapp and left everyone at N.17 looking over their shoulder. Spurs arrested the slump with an injury-time equaliser at the Lane against Stoke. A win followed against Swansea and then a clean sheet stalemate at Sunderland. Five points from a possible nine tended to suggest that things were back on track on the assumption that the Lillywhites were going to pick up the three points against the Canaries.
The writing was on the wall before kick-off. Van Der Vaart and Adebayor were dropped to the bench. Scott Parker and William Gallas, who was magnificent against Sunderland, were injured. Jake Livermore took Parker’s spot which relegated Brazilian Sandro to the bench. Norwich were underestimated, a glaring error on Redknapp’s part. This is a team who, two season ago, were in League One. Following two back to back promotions, they are back amongst the ‘big time’ and even more impressively, had hit the magical 40 point barrier before Monday’s game. From the offset, Norwich were hungrier. Ledley King had a torrid first half against Grant Holt, who as an aside, has been brilliant all season.
Apart from the excellent Luka Modric, Spurs looked lost. They were defensively weak and despite an attacking line up containing Defoe, Saha, Bale, Lennon and Modric, it was the East Anglian outfit who looked more menacing every time they attacked. Redknapp claims that “Spurs were too open” but the decision to start Livermore ahead of Sandro was laughable. A Brazilian international kept the bench warm ahead of a Spurs academy player who is not yet good enough to make the grade and will likely be pushed out of the Club within two seasons. Livermore, admittedly, did supply the pass for Defoe to equalise but given his role in the team is defensive midfielder, he was found wanting for Norwich’s winner as he practically gave Elliott Bennett a personal invitation to shoot, which he did, sending the travelling Norwich fans wild.
So then what’s the problem at Spurs? Should the FA put everyone out of their misery? Is ‘Arry off? Has this affected the players? Gareth Bale, for all of his marvellous attacking talent, remains a passenger for the majority games. This is not good enough for a player who is considered, by many, to be world-class. Bale has spoken about his future in that he could never turn down a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid in the same breath that Redknapp would not be able to turn down England. Then there’s Modric. After last summer’s debacle what is he thinking? Also, there’s the Adebayor issue. The players and management want him to stay but they cannot afford him. Lots of questions to ponder in North London.
The FA must be watching White Hart Lane with interest. Assuming Redknapp has always been the number one candidate, do they still rate ‘Arry? The whole reason Redknapp’s been touted as England manager is because of his excellent man management skills, yet at a time when Spurs desperately need some motivation, the players look distinctly uninterested. Redknapp was understandably in demanding mood after the loss, “We have got to look to win all five games really. Now it is a case of the team which has the best last five games and we have to make sure it’s us.”
Newcastle’s win at home to Bolton moved them level with Spurs, with Chelsea two points behind. Whilst the two London Clubs have stumbled recently in the league akin to Rocky Balbao and Ivan Drago in the fifteenth round in Moscow, Newcastle have been in blistering form. Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse amongst others have been excellent. According to manager, Alan Pardew, Ben Arfa has “magic in his feet” and should be going with France to Euro 2012. A claim which is hard to argue against. Meanwhile, Cisse scored Newcastle’s second goal against Bolton taking him to 10 goals in nine games.
Newcastle have won their last five games, scoring 10 goals and conceeding just once. With three consecutive 2-0 wins, the momentum is with the Geordies.
Now that the title seems to be heading to Old Trafford for a record, 20th time, the entertainment is firmly focused on the race for third and fourth place. Should Arsenal beat Wolves at Molineux on Wednesday their ticket in next season’s Champions League is as good as guaranteed.
For Spurs though, Redknapp’s motivational qualities will have to be at their absolute peak if they are to finish in the top four. Make no mistake, Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea is pivotal for the rest of their season.
PREMIER LEAGUE RUN-IN
3rd placed Arsenal (61 points): Wolves (A); Wigan (H); Chelsea (H); Stoke (A); Norwich (H); West Brom (A)
4th placed Tottenham (59 points): QPR (A); Blackburn (H); Bolton (A); Aston Villa (A); Fulham (H)
5th placed Newcastle (59 points): Stoke (H); Wigan (A); Chelsea (A); Man City (H); Everton (A).
6th placed Chelsea (57 points): Arsenal (A); QPR (H); Newcastle (H); Liverpool (A); Blackburn (H)
– After surrendering their title challenge against Arsenal, Spurs fans fear what the future holds for Ledley King
– Surprise package Newcastle United threaten to spoil to Champions League party
– Its game on as the battle for the title and Champions League places hots up
I’ve got to say I’ve never understood it when the media have blamed slumps on boardroom machinations or on managerial unrest. Ok, I can believe that perhaps these things enter the mind of a footballer once or twice during the week when they have pretty much nothing else to think about anyway (barring how to spend their latest ridiculous pay cheque) but during the game? I don’t think so. When you have 30,000+ fans chanting & singing and a game going on around you you’re not likely to be stood there wondering if the manager is off to take the England job. At least that’s my take on it. It’s been very surprising to see Spurs’ sudden slide from grace and, even as a United fan, I’d love to see them get back to their winning ways…they’re good to watch. But I don’t think the slump is down to the rumours surrounding Harry, that’s just too much of a cop out – perhaps as the season’s gone on some players have been found wanting as other teams have had time to give them a proper look over and figured out ways to nullify their stengths?
It is a convenient excuse without a doubt. The very players who threaten to leave, if the Club cant match their Champions League aspirations, are the very same who are currently under-performing. Redknapp and Spurs would have been in spotlight regardless in the summer due to Capello initially expected to leave the England post after the Euros. In all honesty, it’s clear that Spurs have run out of puff and what people forget is that the slump commenced at a time when they did have a tough run of fixtures – Man U at home, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all away. Confidence has been dented massively, evident in the loss at home to Norwich plus the semi-final hammering by Chelsea. The next five games will seperate the men from the boys. For Redknapp, as a man-manager, this is his sternest test. Spurs can reduce the deficit with 3rd placed Arsenal to two points if they win their game in hand. On the flip side, 5th and 6th placed Newcastle and Chelsea, have hit form at the right time. Whoever doesn’t make it into the top four potentially faces severe ramifications this summer. For the neutral – it’s very exciting stuff!