Friday, February 22, 2008

Review of the UEFA Cup; preview of the Carling Cup

All Tottenham fans knew that after the Derby game we were facing a crucial fortnight. Despite last night’s less than encouraging performance, it’s safe to say that it’s so far so good. We’ve overcome Slavia Prague and we’re now into the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. OK we have a tough tie ahead against PSV, but last night’s draw was just enough to set that up.

Before we can focus on Europe once again or indeed the league, we have the final big hurdle of the fortnight… a certain trip to Wembley. We might not be the favourites but I’m pretty pleased with how preparations have gone and really believe we can win on Sunday.

If we’d have trounced Slavia Prague last night I’d have been worried about the effect it would have on the build up to Sunday. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way, but I genuinely believe that since Spurs can so often be so inconsistent, I’m glad we toiled away, made mistakes and basically made heavy weather of progressing in the UEFA Cup!

We’re only human. Virtually all of our players showed more tension and nerves than normal. Not because they were worried about last night’s match, but because minds were elsewhere. Only eleven players can start on Sunday and there were plenty of guys out there playing to get the nod from Ramos.

I was delighted to see the return of Robbo and I thought he had a good game. I also think he’s done enough (as did Cerny last week in Prague!) to start against Chelski. Despite a number of decent performances from Tainio this season, I can’t help but feel he’ll miss out and will have to make do with a place on the bench (as Hutton will surely be selected as right back). There won’t be too many surprises when Kaboul inevitably misses out in favour of Ledders I would think. And with Daws’ injury it prevents the coaching staff having to make the difficult decision of choosing two from Ledders, Daws and Woody.

In midfield I was delighted to see O’Hara score his first goal for the club. He was clearly so excited and it affected the rest of his game (not necessarily in a good way). He tried so hard, pulled off some great passes but also lost the ball too many times. He doesn’t quite have the maturity to cope with the extreme elation he experienced through scoring… but I’m glad he’s got that over with and hopefully we’ll see a confident but controlled player in the coming weeks.

Despite the revelation he’s been in the last two months or so, I do feel that he will have to warm the bench on Sunday. With Zokora back from international duty I would be shocked if Ramos doesn’t opt for Lennon, Jenas, Zokora and Malbranque. Like O’Hara, Huddlestone is also a great young player with bags of potential. But last night he wasn’t able to pull off the Jenas role. He is better as a defensive midfielder or centre back and therefore I feel he’s too low down the pecking order to make Sunday’s starting eleven.

Up front it’s a no-brainer. Keane and Berbatov will start and so much of our hopes will be pinned on the two of them.

Regardless of whom Chelski start with, and to be honest I couldn’t care less what role Terry and Lampard are asked to play, on our day I don’t fear anyone. We have a potent strike force and a rapidly improving defence. The key to whether we win our first piece of silverware (excluding the Peace Cup!) for nine years is our midfield.

As I explained between the two recent ManUre matches, we need to switch from defence to attack intelligently. Chelski will put us under pressure. We will need to clear our lines. But hoofing the ball forward will inevitably put us under more pressure seconds later. If we can defend cleverly and counter-attack with pace and verve, our midfielders can all be heroes. They need to take the pressure off the defenders and complement the attackers.

If our players are all on form I have every faith in our ability to win. Ramos is a cup expert and I really believe he can get his first season off to a terrific start by qualifying for Europe before we even reach March.

Personally I can’t wait. I’ve been to Wembley (old and new) a number of times. But I haven’t yet seen Spurs play there (only in Cardiff in 2002). Win or lose Sunday is going to be a memorable day. I hope it’s one I look back on fondly and I’m confident that we can do what’s necessary to record another famous cup final victory.


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