Harry's sorry Spurs
What a few months for Tottenham. Monday's shock 2-1 defeat at home to Norwich stretched Spurs' wretched run to one win in eight league games - hardly the sort of form worthy of a European spot.
There has been a lot made of the speculation over Harry Redknapp’s future, with many pundits suggesting the uncertainty surrounding whether he’ll be in the White Hart Lane dugout next season has led to the poor results. I don’t buy that.
Sure, it may have a slight effect, but that’s no excuse for how the players perform on the pitch. Perhaps initially, when Fabio Capello resigned from the England job in February, it would have been a concern, but that should have been put to the back of their minds.
For me, the real reason behind the slump is their
overstretched squad. Spurs have an unbelievable first XI - arguably the best to watch in the country - but outside that they’re not as strong as the two Manchester clubs, as well as Arsenal and Chelsea.
Injuries to key men throughout the season have seriously hampered them: Aaron Lennon, Rafael van der Vaart, Emmanuel Adebayor, their entire central defence. And it seems to have finally caught up with them.
But let’s not forget, every team goes through a dip at some point during the season, Spurs have just been unlucky theirs happened to be now, right at the business end. I do still see them making the Champions League.
A run-in that features QPR, Bolton, Blackburn, Aston Villa and Fulham suggests Spurs will nab fourth spot. Granted, those first three teams are fighting for their lives, but Redknapp will view each one as winnable.
And what’s to say Spurs won’t finish with the FA Cup in the trophy cabinet and a place in next year’s Champions League? Not a bad return for a season’s work! They’ll be gutted, though, to again finish below north London rivals Arsenal. The Gunners were 10 points behind Gareth Bale and Co heading into the derby in February, but romped to a remarkable 5-2 victory and haven’t looked back since.
Credit must go to experienced boss Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman endured his most difficult summer when he lost star duo Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, and Arsenal suffered badly at first as headlines told of a full-blown crisis at the Emirates Stadium.
However, it’s amazing how they’ve bounced back. Every critic, including myself, said they lacked a decent goalkeeper and centre-back, but Wojciech Szczesny has been brilliant and Thomas Vermaelen’s return from injury has been integral to their turnaround.
So that’s how I see the race for the Champions League spots finishing: Arsenal third and Spurs a close fourth. Surprise package Newcastle, level on points with Redknapp’s side, and Chelsea, in sixth, may have something to say about it, but the north London duo will get that Euro bonus.
CUP IN NEED OF SOME GLAMOUR
This weekend sees the semi-finals of the FA Cup take place at Wembley and I’m reminded of what used to be the day in the football calendar that I looked forward to the most: the FA Cup final. My first memory of it was probably the 1979 clash between Manchester United and Arsenal, and throughout the years I always enjoyed the whole build-up. The coverage would start with players interviewed on the pitch in their best suits (Liverpool 1996 the exception!), re-runs of famous games, the teams’ road to Wembley and then you’d have the sides being led out by their managers.
Unfortunately, though, the excitement it generates these days simply doesn’t compare. With the success of the Champions League and the Premier League, the FA Cup is no longer the most sought-after cup competition in football. Teams prioritise the league now, understandable as the financial implications for dropping out of England’s top-flight are such that survival must be put before silverware. It’s difficult to see how that will change, but this weekend should help with Everton against Liverpool and Tottenham v Chelsea. It’s a Reds/Spurs final for me.
Norwich City v. Manchester City - 0-2
Sunderland v. Wolverhampton Wanderers - 3-0
Swansea City v. Blackburn Rovers - 1-2
West Bromwich Albion v. QPR - 2-0
Manchester United v. Aston Villa - 2-0
Arsenal v. Wigan Athletic - 2-0