By: Mike Newell
With Tuesday night’s entertaining 3-3 draw against Holland’s FC Twente, Tottenham Hotspur took top spot in their Champions’ League group. They avoid a potential round of 16 match up with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. While no knock stage tie is a given some would really like Spurs chances on advancing to Europe’s elite 8….but what are realistic chances that Spurs make it that far?
Of course a lot depends on who they draw next Friday. When looking at the other clubs that could potentially be drawn against Tottenham you quickly develop the sense that good things could soon be in store for the North London club, provided they can carry over their European form to February when the knock out stages begin
Under Harry Redknapp the club has been transformed from a nearly there club to a solid outfit that can hang with the best in Europe, if you don’t believe me ask defending European champs Inter Milan after their two matches with them in the early group stages. The team combine both pace on the wings with a ever improving back line. The club has been especially lifted by the displays of the recently added Rafael Van Der Vaart and the maturing world class talent of Gareth Bale. It’s crazy to think that just as little as a year and a half ago Bale with on the transfer block, and Van Der Vaart couldn’t get a game at Real Madrid. Now both players have become crucial to Spurs as they travel uncharted waters. Also you have to consider by the time the knock out stages starts the club should be getting healthy again, and barring any major setback, could have a full squad to pick from. However the question around Spurs has really never been the talent, but more the mental makeup of the team, Can this team handle both a gruelling Premier League schedule and the high pressure demands of the Champions League?[picappgallerysingle id=”10318537″]
So far the answer is yes, but the knock out stage is a different beast.
If Spurs run into a experienced club, like a Milan or…wait for it….possibly Arsenal. The mistakes that may not have been magnified as much in the group stage become worldwide fodder for the press in an instant. The experienced campaigners know how to handle it, it’s why you seem them in the final 8 or semis year after year. In the past this type of scrutiny has buried inexperienced teams Ex: Roma in 07 against Manchester United at Old Trafford or Stuttgart v Barcelona last year. I feel Spurs can avoid being completely blown of out the water in the round of 16, but they will have to be more tactically sound then they were in the first 15 minutes against Inter at the San Siro or tonight against Twente. I watched that game against Inter in Milan and for that entire first half, Spurs looked completely out of their depth. They had no answer for Eto’o as he carved up the back four, and tactically they were outmatched. Granted they were saved blushes by the first of two outstanding performances by Gareth Bale that took the world by storm, however there must be some concern about how more astute clubs could pick this team apart especially down the middle of the park.
With all that said the thing that gives me hope for Spurs is their drive and determination. When I watch them in Europe I see a team that’s looking to prove that they belong in this tournament. Which is a bit odd, as at times they lack this drive in their domestic games (aside from the North London derby with Arsenal). It reminds me of Bordeaux last year, a club that were going all out in Europe but lacked something domestically. Spurs will want to avoid Bordeaux’s mistake of solely focusing on Champions League as although they made the quarter finals, they failed to qualify for the tournament this year with a disappointing French league campaign.
Along with the drive, Spurs need their defence to step up, especially with Younes Kaboul out. William Gallas will need to lead this defensive core as he has the experience of big European matches. If they can play like they did against Inter at White Hart lane Spurs are in with a shout, if not them they could be in trouble. Also the unsung right back Alan Hutton will have to shut down whatever winger is coming down that left hand side of the pitch. It will be crucial that the defence play well in the first leg as Spurs will want to win the first leg in order to control their own destiny in the second.
As my World Cup form showed this summer predictions are pretty useless in football, but if Tottenham get a favourable draw for the knock outs this team could be playing European football well into the spring.