Tottenham Hotspur have an excellent chance to finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League this term, providing they can plug the gap at the centre of their defence, writes Robin Scott.
Spurs fans must have been watching Sundays match between Arsenal and Manchester City with mixed feelings as their closest local rivals easily defeated the side they overcame in the final game of last season to secure the all-important fourth UEFA Champions League slot in the league.
The result, as well as the current underachievement of the other two big North-Western clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool, highlights well just how open the battle for those top places is once again this term.
Few of the league’s “big four” (now arguably a “Super Six”) teams have added great strength to their squads – except City, who flashed the cash on still more high profile signings in the summer – and Spurs, with their young, talented squad now possess an experienced set of capable players.
As Gareth Bale has shown, Tottenham now enjoy real pace and directness down the left flank to match that which they already had on the right-hand side in Aaron Lennon. This is matched by the finishing abilities of Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and the currently sidelined Jermain Defoe.
Tottenham, in Assuo Ekotto and Alan Hutton are quite capable on either side of defence – and they are backed by not one, but two, extremely effective goalkeepers.
If they have a problem, it is in the centre of defence. In particular, Spurs must worry that three of their best players are central defenders, and that all of them are currently injured. Jonathan Woodgate’s long term injury status continues, while Michael Dawson, injured during England action last month, looks set to miss more games than originally hoped.
Ledley King’s training status remains the same, too: the player is sure to miss out on more than his fair share of matches as the state of his knees precludes any football training whatsoever.
Tottenham today announced the signing of Bongani Khumalo from SuperSport United of South Africa for £1.5million, in a deal which, subject to work permit being granted, shall go through when the January transfer window opens. Their management and fans must hope that, by then, there is a fit partner ready and performing, and that they have not dropped too many points in the intervening 7-8 weeks prior to that.
In the San Siro, playing Champions League football against Milan, the feeling that they need to be more robust in the middle of defence once more surfaced, as Spurs were cut open time and again en route to giving away four goals. As if to highlight the “yin” to this defensive “yang” Gareth Bale then proceeded to slot the ball into the bottom corner three times to create a somewhat flattering 4-3 final scoreline and grab himself the morning headlines in the process.
Before January, Tottenham must face Manchester United (this weekend), Inter Milan, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. At present, they will need to continue their great goalscoring form if they are to overcome their apparent defensive mini-crisis and get to the transfer window unscathed.
As we saw last mid-week, however, they are quite capable of that.
However, if Spurs are to reach – or even surpass – last season’s dizzy heights in the league, it will be with a strong central defensive pairing at the heart of their team. Harry Redknapp must be hoping that this is to become available in January, at the very latest.