Leave it to Harry Redknapp to find an unconventional route to the Champions League (Tottenham still has to get by Young Boys to move into the Champions League proper). Part of the secret behind Spurs’ unlikely fourth place finish was a weaker league, but you would still think that for Tottenham to finish as high as they did, they would have to have an injury-free campaign where Redknapp got consistent play by a core group of players.
It was kind of a fly-by-night operation for much of the season for Spurs, which saw players like Robbie Keane, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Tom Huddlestone, and Roman Pavlyuchenko take turns being goal-scoring heroes. While it was Peter Crouch which eventually put Tottenham into the Champions League with a winner at Manchester City, the biggest goal of the season (and Goal of the Year in the Premier League) was scored by then 19-year-old Danny Rose, a thunderbolt that led to a win over Arsenal. Fittingly, it was also Rose’s only Premier League appearance of the season.
Who was the most consistent performer for bizarro Tottenham? Why goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, whose remarkable turnaround mirrored his club’s.
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Unable to bring in too many players, it’s pretty much status quo for Redknapp, and that might not be quite enough to return to the Champions League:
5) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
2009-10 standing: 4th
Gaffer: Harry Redknapp (3rd season)
Best new signing: Sandro – This seems like more of a long-term move for Spurs than one that will really help them this year, but you never know. The 21-year-old Brazilian does have a full cap and has been a standout for Internacional. Unfortunately for Tottenham, his club has qualified for the finals of the Copa Libertadoras (against Chivas), so it will be a few more weeks before he comes to England. As I said in the open, though, last season it was a variety of people that eventually contributed, and maybe Sandro will be one.
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Biggest loss: Eidur Gudjohnsen – He’s getting to the end of his career, but our favorite Icelandic player did make 11 key appearances while on loan from Monaco last season. But I’m sure Harry will dig up someone from the rubble (maybe even Giovanni Dos Santos) to take his minutes and get a key goal when he needs it.
Key player: Gareth Bale – I really wanted to say Jermaine Jenas here, just so I could put this in here, arguably the funniest five minutes of video I saw all summer (warning: explicit language), and he might be second after Bale. But, quite simply, Bale has been unstoppable in the preseason, and he was at the end of last season as well, as he showed with his goal in a win over Chelsea. But he must stay healthy, he was only able to make 23 appearances last season, and that’s not going to get it done for Spurs this time around.
Random fact: The only player to appear in every league game last season was Peter Crouch, who inexplicably to me, seems like he might be on his way back to Liverpool (Jermaine Defoe was second with 34). What was interesting about Crouch is that in 17 of the 38 league games, he came on as a substitute. Crouch was second on the team in both goals (8) and assists (6).
Was it a little Harry Redknapp magic last season, or is Tottenham really that talented? With the Champions League expected, the fixture list will be much more crowded, and without the roster to deal with that, Spurs may be in some trouble. Redknapp really never found someone to consistently pair with Defoe, and although the rotating worked – and didn’t seem to affect Defoe (18 goals) – it would help to have another guy up front they trust.
Jenas can be a liability, and if Redknapp wants to play Huddlestone as a holding midfielder (and it appears he does), is there room for Jenas, Niko Krancjar, David Bentley, Luka Modric, and Aaron Lennon? Can Ledley King (among others) stay healthy? Spurs could improve their road form as well.
Despite the fact Redknapp hasn’t brought anyone in, Tottenham hasn’t lost anyone (although Crouch may be soon to go), and it’s a squad that worked very well together last season. There’s no reason to think that Defoe will trail off, Bale should be a force this season, and Aaron Lennon gave much better service last season (team-leading 9 assists), which allowed Spurs to be so dangerous going forward.
Spurs dropped only 11 points at White Hart Lane last season, and – maybe more impressively – conceded only 12 goals at home. They would like that kind of form away from home as well, though.
It’s really status quo for Spurs this season, and that seems to be a little concerning, even to Redknapp. There are some scary teams in the Premiership, and Tottenham’s depth doesn’t come anywhere close to the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas, and Manchester Citys of the world. That might be a lot of trouble as Tottenham faces a Champions League campaign they at least want to take seriously.
But, it’s not exactly time to panic in Spurs Nation. Most of the team is back from last season, and you have to think – Ledley King aside – that the team might even be a little healthier this time around. Bale didn’t play for a relatively long period of time, Bentley only made 15 appearances, Pavlyuchenko 16, and even Kranjcar was only able to start 19 times in the league.
So I think Tottenham is slightly better than last season, but unfortunately for them, the league is also better, and they’ll come up just short in the race for a return to the Champions League.