Saturday 24 February 2018

How far can Harry's plan of attack take Spurs?

What's the story, glory glory?

As a club, Tottenham have always prided themselves on playing what the captain of their 1961 double-winning team Danny Blanchflower called the glory game with a certain style, and the surviving members of that squad must be impressed with the current run.

From being 3-0 down in their first qualifying match back in mid-August, they have scored 24 goals in eight games to finish top of a group containing the European champions Internazionale.

As the manager Harry Redknapp, who used to watch the Blanchflower team with his father, put it: "We attack, we score goals, we go for it every game, we look to win."

So they can score against anyone?

The aggregate scores against Young Boys, Werder Bremen, FC Twente and Inter have been 6-3, 5-2, 7-4 and 6-5. Having at one stage thought it would be prudent to play away games with five men in midfield and gone 4-0 down by half-time at the San Siro, Redknapp had his hand forced by Rafael van der Vaart's absence and went back to two strikers in Enschede on Tuesday.

Spurs reaped the benefit with two goals from Jermain Defoe, abetted by Roman Pavlyuchenko. That was without Peter Crouch, who has six goals in the European campaign but was only a late substitute, while Robbie Keane finished up in a debilitated midfield.

Any chance of that defence of theirs tightening up?

Why spoil the fun? Michael Dawson, who was injured on his full England debut in September, has been an unused substitute twice in the past week and scored the winning goal in a practice match against MK Dons yesterday.

With Younes Kaboul struggling with a hip injury, Dawson could return against Chelsea at the weekend and with William Gallas using his experience to good effect now he has settled in, the centre of the defence would be potentially stronger than at any time this season.

Full-back can still be a weakness and with Tom Huddlestone out for some time, Wilson Palacios bears a heavy responsibility in protecting the back four from midfield.

Who would they like next?

Having seen off Young Boys to make the competition proper, the next step was just to qualify for the knockout stage but beating Inter on a head-to-head basis offered the possibility of winning the group.

That was duly achieved on Tuesday, helped in part by Rafa Benitez's odd decision to field a weakened Inter team in Bremen, and means that Tottenham cannot meet the fancied Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, as well as any other English teams. Jesper Gronkjaer's FC Copenhagen, the first Danish team to reach the last 16, look the weakest runners-up, and Milan the strongest; best to avoid another trip to the San Siro.

"I'm not saying we are going to win the Champions League," said Redknapp, "but whoever we draw it will be an interesting game and we have a chance."

How far can they go?

Much obviously depends on the draw tomorrow week. Either of the French clubs, Lyon and Marseilles, would look beatable, as well as Copenhagen, Roma and perhaps Valencia.

So, given a favourable tie, a place in the last eight could well be achieved. Then things become more problematic in a completely open quarter-final draw. Van der Vaart will be fit again, all being well, for the next round in mid to late February, although Jermaine Jenas' silly yellow card for time-wasting when injured in Enschede means he will miss the first leg of that tie.

Huddlestone, who had an operation on an ankle a fortnight ago, would not necessarily be back either.

What about the league, meanwhile?

Sitting in fifth position, within striking distance of the teams above them, Spurs will hope to take advantage of Chelsea's current low ebb on Sunday and repeat last April's home victory over the champions.

As Defoe says, the players now feel more confident about taking on supposedly bigger teams: "We've beaten Arsenal and Liverpool, so we look forward to every game and believe that it doesn't matter who we play against, we can get three points."

Niko Kranjcar, an impressive performer against Twente until sustaining a hamstring injury, will be missing, as will Jenas, but Luka Modric should have recovered from a virus to provide the creative impetus.

After that, Blackpool, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Fulham and Everton is a favourable run of games while the top four are all likely to take points off each other.

Irish Independent

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