So, dearest reader, here we are. The end of another season and for the second year on the spin May 19th goes down as a miserable day in the diary for those connected with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. In any other context, in any other footballing universe, apart- rather inconveniently- from the one we find ourselves a part of, this would be a time for triumphant celebration; having just recorded our best ever points total in the Premier League and highest number of wins. Instead we look back on an otherwise tremendous campaign with a modicum of regret that we couldn’t squeeze out another bloody point from somewhere, somehow. Everton away, Fulham at home, QPR away. Don’t even torture yourself.
In the end I was quite thankful the final day wasn’t cast in some dreadful Spurs-brand melodrama or that we weren’t socked by some heartbreaking thump of irony. Apart from the phantom goal at St James’ (seen only by Alan Sugar) things ran as you might have expected. Andre Marriner’s exotic interpretation of the rules of football was infuriating but not ultimately to our cost (although you could suggest it would’ve ratcheted up the pressure on Arsenal had they’d known we were winning). There was no ex-Spurs keeper throwing the ball into an empty net (Ben Alnwick’s brother stayed on the bench) and no Tottenham players bent double in the penalty area trying to hold in the contents of their bowels. We did everything that was asked of us: it’s just the team above did likewise and we came up short by the slenderest of margins.
I’m largely delighted with Andre Villas-Boas’ work as a coach. The injuries and summer departures have been well covered, but it shouldn’t be underestimated what the Immense Dimensioned One achieved in his first year at the club without seven- eight, you could argue- of the players who were so vital for Spurs last season. In one guise or another Kaboul, King, BAE, Parker, Sandro, Modric, Van der Vaart have either left or been sidelined for considerable stretches of the year. You could probably throw Adebayor into the group too, who, up until about a month ago, was either injured, in a different continent or just being straight-up appalling at football. And, while new players have been recruited and in some cases been improvements- Lloris, Vertonghen- that’s still a sizeable turnaround of clientele and not a lot of time to make it work. But work he has made it.
The summer we’ll be treated to another exhausting transfer odyssey, pertaining to the multi-award-winning Gareth Bale. Rumours of a new contract won’t do much to p*ss on the fires of speculation but in my loins, I’ve a feeling he’ll stay on for another year at least. While we might not be able to offer the platform of Champions League football to exhibit his astonishing talents, he does seem to enjoy himself at Tottenham and in Villas-Boas he has a coach who’ll get the very best out of him. If Wing Commander Levy can club together all his Nectar points in the warmer months and buy a word-beater or two, then the decision might be made even easier. Hey, things are looking up already. COYS.
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This is it, then. The last hurrah. Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that the midweek game at Stamford Bridge is rather an important encounter, but the bleak reality for Tottenham is that if we decide to lay a steamed pudding in our trousers tomorrow afternoon and results elsewhere go awry, then the jig is up and Wednesday will be nothing more than a showpiece for the hopeless and socially abhorrent. Particularly if John Terry is within racializing distance.
Southampton will be without creative fulcrum Gastón Ramírez for the game; who’s carrying out a three-match suspension after Shane Long entertained the frightful business of socking his cheek into the Uruguayan’s elbow. As an aside, did you also know that Ramírez was born in Fray Bentos? Which, if nothing else, reminds me of a highly lucrative pastry and cigarette company I’d like you all to invest in. It’s called, wait for it: ‘Pie, Fags ‘R’ Us.‘
You know, like, Pythag… oh I give up.
Elsewhere Danny Fox is also suspended after he tried to atomise Steven Reid’s leg(s)/arm(s)/entire body.
For us the only doubt- apart from those clawing, soul-tugging fears that we’ll not qualify for the Champions League and all of our squad and manager will leave before White Hart Lane is swallowed up into a fiery, blazing sinkhole and the club is lost forever- is Moussa Dembélé, who picked up a hamstring tweak against Wigan. Adebayor is apparently fit. So there you go.
Here’s how Southampton might line-up:
Ahoy there, web-slingers!
Barely have we had a minute to disentangle our underpants from the neighbour’s satellite dish after a quite astonishing come-from-behind victory against the former Champions, the radar bleeps and twinkles again with the incoming of Roberto Martinez and Atletico Wigan. Who, as required to do so in their perilous situation, are fighting for their Premiership Lives.
Now, the usual protocol for Spurs following a hard-fought and unlikely triumph is to make an utter pig’s tit of the next, apparently weaker opponents. For every glorious evening under the lights beating Inter Milan you can bet your grandmother’s heating allowance that the next game at The Reebok or some such will be a miserable disappointment.
But these, as they say, are mysterious times and this, sir, is a different beast altogether.
If there’s one thing to admire about Andre Villas-Boas and his brief occupancy at Tottenham, it’s that he doesn’t appear to embrace the oh-mother-of-mercy-why-us brand fatalism that it’s easy to adopt every now and again as a fan. Early days, of course, but rather than play the victim card or feel hard-done by the inexplicable force of the footballing cosmos, the young Portuguese buck deals rather in the business of identifying problems and, get this, fixing them.
Conceding late goals? Use the training ground to work on specific defensive routines. Losing at half-time? Re-shuffle, tinker, make one or two cunning substitutions. Rubbish at penalties… well, early days, as we’ve said. To the chalkboard!
By the time the single-term Champions arrive at The Lane tomorrow it’ll have been a whole ten days since our semi-tragic parp-parp-whoops exit from the Europa League. In that period, Arsenal and Everton will have played thrice and Chelsea and City on two occasions. These things rarely boil down to the machinations of a diary, of course, but with just five points betwixt 6th and 3rd even the smallest scheduling advantage could be crucial for the teams involved. It’s all about the little things, as I’m often told by the good lady- with no regard for my self-esteem whatsoever.
As well as giving a rest to the world-weary lambs who were put through the extra-time ringer in Switzerland last week, the enforced sabbatical has allowed a sizable hunk of downtime for the recuperating trio of Defoe, Lennon and multi-award nominee, Gareth Bale. While risking all three from the start would be a dick move in the extreme, the noise from the camps is that all are in contention. Here’s some of that noise now, in the form of words:
“All of them are in with a chance of making selection.”
“Gazza has been training for the last two days with the team and on his own since the beginning of the week.”
“He has made good progress from the beginning of the week to training with the team, so definitely will be up for selection.”
“We recognise the impact he has had for us. With the run that he is on it can have that factor.
“It is good having key players around and players who have been decisive, especially in this last part of the season is always inspirational for everyone. It’s good to have him back”
Phew! Well this team picks itself:
We did a fine job of underestimating Swiss opponents in the Champions League qualifiers back in 2010 so let me be the first to declare that we should absolutely vaporise this lot within minutes of referee’s threep. In fact, with the weather unseasonably brisk, I’m not sure why they’ve even bothered making the trip- such is our superiority, might and standard of haircut.
FC Basel are, of course, crack Euro campaginers and presuming we’re going to walk this would be misguided at best. Top of the Swiss Super League and recent conquerors of United, Bayern Munich and Zenit in the last twelve months, Murat Yakin’s side are anything but small-time chancers fumbling their way to a final.
Sure the history books will tell you Bayern scraped through their Champions League tie last year on away goals (then went and robbed their best player, Xherdan Shaqiri) and Zenit are massive racists, but the numbers add up to a difficult fixture and one we’d be doing well to take a something-to-zero lead from tonight.
The latest Big Injury Concern is Jermain Defoe who was declared kaput for up to three weeks yesterday; meaning he’ll miss both legs of the quarter-final and Saturday’s crucial meeting with Everton. It wouldn’t be over-egging it to suppose that Adebayor might want to start being good again soon. Not over-egging it at all. 2-0 Spurs.
Welcome back, web-slingers. I hope the trauma of Please Don’t Get Broken week hasn’t withered your spirits too much. In the name of fun it might be handy for Tottenham if Swansea took the same casual, post-cup-winning attitude to the rest of the season as King, Jenas & Co. did back in 2008. That is: this football lark is all very well, chief, but it does rather get in the way of me tanking cava in an up-market discothèque while speculating whether flip-flips or sandals might be the way to go this summer. Not so much foot off the gas as parked up on the hard-shoulder and whipping out the egg sandwiches.
Indeed, Birmingham City took the whoopla a step further in 2011 and got themselves relegated- which is a bit over the top if you ask me.
Whether they’ve mentally signed off for the day or not- two losses out of three since Wembley- the Welsh have been magnificent this campaign. An imminently likeable bunch whose sharp-as-a-tack passing game has gained them many an admirer and steamrollered many an opponent. Heck, this blogger- perhaps hypnotized by the exotic Eurosexy charisma of Michael Laudrup- went as far as to suggest they could be regarded as Champions League contenders: before they inconveniently got pulverized by Liverpool and there the harebrained theory was taken out back and shot.
Good old fashioned winning is the name of the game for Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas this weekend. Chelsea and Arsenal are treated to a decent but beatable Southampton and a flat-lining Nigel Adkins’ side respectively- so anything but maximum points could see us slip into 5th before the day is through. The trick to beating this lot- something we’ve managed twice in three games since their promotion- is squeezing the blighters like John Goodman squeezes frogs. Allowing the Mighty Swans time on the ball is an explicit negatron and, as such, the line-up should reflect a willingness to close down and hassle the home side’s ball-hogging stars. Plenty of energy and legs, then. Lewis Holtby, a fresh Scott Parker, Sigurdsson perhaps even Tom Carroll should be chewed over and considered for selection. Here’s how I’d line the chaps up. But what say you?
The international break has arrived at an ideal time for Spurs; although break is perhaps misleading as twelve of our senior players will be dispatched across the globe this weekend to turn out for their respective Motherlands- and, judging by the performance on Sunday, what some of these chaps need is a breather in its more traditional guises. One which involves being marooned on a floating lilo somewhere with a virgin pina-colada; rather than jetting off to Macedonia for a sticky World Cup qualifier. Alas, the struggles of the modern footballer.
The Big Fear at the moment is that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating itself for the Mighty Hotspur. Not without form in conceding supposedly unsurpassable leads, it was about this time last year that the ship’s wheel was beginning to twirl out of control while the Captain dreamt of England and a better life. Similar to last season, too- and it’s perhaps symptomatic of our very DNA- the minute someone from the outside world starts sounding the I-can’t-see-Spurs-finishing-outside-the-Top-Four klaxon, the underpants find their way atop the head and the inmates begin to panic. It’s happening again, boss!
While there might be a good deal of truth attached to this, you’d have to imagine the Fulham result was somewhat of an anomaly. A rotten day at the office. European hangover is a tired old chestnut but for the two-hours of aimless ball-chasing and slapstick defending in Milan on Thursday night, it can only have been a physically and mentally taxing experience for all involved. The effort it took to play that badly must have been tremendous. Indeed, Vertonghen and Dembélé looked exhausted against BMJ’s men and Scott Parker, at times, genuinely appeared to have turned to stone. But it’s not his fault he’s been required to play every game to its bitter end.
The question now is, whether you have faith in André Villas-Boas to ignore the hyperbole surrounding this mini-wobble and focus on the task in hand: sayin’ nu-uh to the haters and guiding us to the Champions League Party. Personally, I think AVB’s just the man for the job; a serious operator for whom focus and calm comes as naturally as a gravelled voice and a shiny, auburn pelt. If you remember all the Spurs in Turmoil tommyrot being pedalled in the media in August, it was Ol’ Twinkle Eyes who kept an aura of Fonzie cool around the club when the odd result went astray and the players duly responded. Even going to the trouble of beating United at Old Trafford just to prove things were under control. No big deal. There’s no denying that the run-in is a certifiable stinker but you get the impression that Villas-Boas and the players are more than up to it. So don’t despair just yet.
**To say ‘thank you’ to football fans’ amazing support throughout the Capital One Cup’s first season, Capital One is going to turn 1,000 fans into mini football figures check the app out here: http://bit.ly/Xlppk2
Not for the first time in recent memory this weekend’s North London Derby is being heralded as the Most Important North London Derby For Literally Ages. To be honest, most of them feel pretty significant these days. Ever since the Footballing Gods hauled Spurs out of their mid-nineties/early-naughties funk and brain-fiddled the Wenger Drone into thinking Fourth Place was something you could polish and put in your trophy cabinet, the games have become exciting, goal-mental and above all, competitive. The equilibrium in the Capital has been tweaked and the Derby has flourished as a result.
Indeed, in each of the last three seasons there’s been at least one NLD you could hang your hat on and say: Holy Mackeral, that’s a spicy meatball! Confusing your culinary-themed exclamations while you were at it.
In 09/10 it was Gomes, Bale and Danny SH*T DID YOU SEE THAT?! Rose who baked Arsenal at White Lane Lane, in a crucial end-of-season encounter; the result of which (hilariously) ended any title hopes the Gunners may’ve entertained while going a great way to helping Spurs toward Big Euro Sexy Cup qualification.
The following year a six-goal even-spread in the identical fixture was damaging for both clubs, as it gave the Sky Blue EuroMillions winners a chance to get a throttlehold on 3rd and pushed us further down the cack heap. And, just last season, at the Emirates, what should’ve been a procession in tying up the loose-ends of a top-three finish, turned into a mummy, will I ever feel happy again 5-2 defeat and the beginning of the end for us and Harold James Redknapp. All pivotal games, all season-defining.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Gareth? Just Ignore Him
And just what will this latest epochal meeting bring? Well, if you’ve listened to Arséne Wenger this week, what shan’t be brought to the party is any semblance of a plan for sojourning the flight of one Gareth Bale:
‘We don’t plan for anybody. It is always the same – focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent.’
Yep, solid advice there. Might I also suggest that you give him loads of room? In fact, whenever he’s in possession, just run as far away from the ball as possible. He hates that.
Agent Parker, Come In- Your Time Is Now!
I’ve talked about the renewed importance of Scott Parker elsewhere, but for Spurs what might be useful is if the Brother From Another Decade had something close to the game of his life- if it’s not too much trouble. Failing that, a performance with some degree of tactical discipline would be just dandy.
If Arsenal’s midfield trio of Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere are treated to vast avenues of space as a by-product of the England man trying to put out fires in every corner of the pitch, there may be trouble ahead. Scott Parker has remarkable strengths as a player but sadly one of those isn’t the awareness of his own limitations. And if that’s not straight from the Little Red Book of Brendan Rodgers, I don’t know what is. To the teams:
There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about Scott Parker as a footballer; the unflappable side-parting, the perma-grass-stained knees, the affection for bone-shuddering challenges. If you want a midfielder to fight tooth and nail for the cause; want them to exude a plucky wartime spirit that’ll mean they’ll bomb eighty-yards to prevent a throw-in or just put the whizzers up some Young Harry Flash, then Private Parker is without question your man…
Despair! Like the lilywhite dove flattened in a spring-loaded cage by the plotting Alfred Borden, Spurs fell quarry to some old-fashioned magic this weekend- and they were not alone. With some of the biggest names from the Planet’s Bestest League (and Liverpool) all labouring to overcome significantly modest opponents, you’ll be happy to learn that the F.A Cup is not a complete stiff yet. Huzzah!
Leeds deserved their win. Yes, the pitch might’ve looked as if Time Team had been in residence for the afternoon, but a few divots here and there doesn’t excuse defending like prats. Colin’s United took the chances when they fell and were only a curmudgeonly premature whistle away from scoring a third. Europa League it is, then?
Talking of all things premature (steady) Lewis Holtby was handed over from Schalke this week- and a whole three days before the window closes, too. I was beginning to think Levy was rather pushing his luck with the parsimonious low-balling of the German club. But, as it was pitched by the esteemed Longwell last week:
“Either they take what Levy’s willing to offer in the next week or so, or Holtby comes in the summer and they get nothing and like it.
The question is how much is fourth months’ of Holtby’s services worth to Schalke?”
About £1.5 million it would appear. Anyway, here he is with AVB and the shirt- he’s been given the number 23. And, if you’re into that sort of thing, here’s Alan Hutton being unveiled at Mallorca. How odd.
Canaries away tomorrow.