Premier league

Spurs Offer Biggest Challenge to Manchester Machine


With 25 points from their last 9 games Spurs are in a rich vein of form. But this is no Newcastle. This is no ‘surprise package’ that we should expect to fall away at any time. This is a club who has been stockpiling players for some time now, under the brilliant guidance of Harry Redknapp. It was great to see him back on the touchline last night, after minor heart surgery, and his side gave him little scope for concern with a 2-0 scoreline that didn’t accurately reflect the superiority of his side.

Tottenham spent most of the summer trying to hold on to Luka Modric. At the same time, the back pages were regularly bloated with Harry bemoaning a dearth of available talent on the market. For a time, one actually shared his sense of apparent hopelessness. For if Harry Redknapp couldn’t rustle up a gem from somewhere then what hope would the rest have?

As it turned out, Harry not only held on to his prized asset, but also made two of the best signings of the summer. Two players who have finally given Tottenham the appearance of a squad capable of challenging right to the end of the season, rather than one that might fall away in the spring due to injuries.

The amazing thing about Redknapp is that he rarely, if ever, buys unknowns. The players that he purchases are household names. They are there in the shop window for everyone to see. But they obviously don’t look as appealing to most managers as they do to Harry. One by one, he transforms players from tired looking journeymen into world beaters. Van Der Vaart and Adebayor looked as if they may have had one injury or one club too many. Parker had been great at West Ham but, at 31, could he really be as important to Tottenham as he was to West Ham? All of these doubts have been resoundingly quashed. Redknapp not only has an eagle eye for a good player, he also knows how to motivate them. Gareth Bale, now one of the best left wingers in the world, and publicly coveted by Real Madrid last week, was a left full-back flailing in the reserves when Harry came to the club. The only thing that Bale was famous for, at that time, was never having been on the winning side for Tottenham in 30-odd games.

I suppose that the biggest surprise of all is that Mr.Redknapp has taken so long to manage a really big club. But now that he is in charge of a side that has the resources to challenge, he is realising his vast potential. He has to be regarded as the best English manager in the game by some distance.

But can his side really challenge this year? Is this squad finally big enough and good enough to cope with the inevitable injuries that the team will suffer through the winter? In my opinion, Tottenham will provide the biggest obstacle to the Manchester clubs this season. Chelsea are a club in flux. Liverpool are in terminal transition. Arsenal have improved markedly, but if Van Persie gets injured they are largely blunted as an attacking force. Then you look at Tottenham.

In attack they have a strength in depth. Until last night Adebayor hadn’t scored since September 18 but his benefit to the team is obvious. He’s got an impeccable touch for a big lad and holds the ball up brilliantly. Add to this a deadly finish and you have an all-round footballer who seems to have finally found a home. Defoe would be welcome in most squads. Then there is Van Der Vaart, who perhaps rates as Redknapp’s best ever signing. Elusively drifting between midfield and attack and scoring plenty of goals with that sublime left foot – how many top managers are now scratching their heads thinking ‘how did I miss that one?’ In my opinion, he’d certainly get a game at United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Meanwhile, Roman Pavlyuchenko isn’t to everyone’s taste but he does know where the goal is and could prove a useful squad member later in the season.

The midfield is Tottenham’s strongest department and perhaps second only to that of Manchester City. In Bale, Modric and Parker Tottenham have the perfect blend of craft and graft, grit and guile. Add to that the speed of Lennon down the flank and most opposition will struggle to contain them. With back up options such as Huddlestone, Kranjcar, Pienaar, Sandro and Giovani Dos Santos, Tottenham are particualy well equipped in this area.

It is in the defence where Redknapp has to hope for a little fortune with injuries. A back line, starting with another brilliant signing in Brad Friedel and including King, Gallas and the excellent Kyle Walker should cope with most offences, but they still crave a top left-sided defender and injuries to the centre backs regularly blights their season. Perhaps it is in defence that Harry might look to strengthen in the winter window.

But, overall, you have to look at Tottenham now as credible challengers. If you took Manchester City out of the equation they might already be favourites with some. It does look like the Manchester clubs will be first in line for domestic honours come May but Harry is building something special in North London and all of his strategic investment looks like it might soon pay off. The biggest fear for Tottenham fans should not be losing Modric to Chelsea but losing Redknapp to England and the dubious challenge of coaching a perennially ailing national team.

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