Few clues ahead of season opener
HARRY Redknapp's management style is effective but simple, and his team selection against Liverpool will speak volumes about his plans for the whole campaign. While the manager is well aware of the need for a competitive squad...
By Ben Pearce
HARRY Redknapp's management style is effective but simple, and his team selection against Liverpool will speak volumes about his plans for the whole campaign.
While the manager is well aware of the need for a competitive squad, he isn't a fan of swapping players in and out of his line-up unless changes are enforced by injury, suspension or a serious drop in form.
For that reason his players will be anxiously awaiting this weekend's teamsheet, because Redknapp's starting 11 will almost certainly be the manager's favourites in each position.
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The boss' starting line-ups are likely to become predictable this season, but he was certainly protecting his secret formula on Sunday in the 3-0 friendly victory over Olympiakos.
Redknapp admits he "has a strike force in mind" and, given that he has spent a total of �40million to unite Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe at both Portsmouth and Tottenham over the past 19 months, they would seem to be the favourite long-term pairing.
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However, Redknapp refused to rule out a role for Robbie Keane, suggesting that the three could play together in some way.
Whatever happens, little was revealed in the final pre-season friendly, when Keane and Crouch started in a basic 4-4-2 set-up, before being replaced by Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko at half-time.
Ironically, Tottenham were infinitely more dangerous in the second half, without recent �9m signing Crouch .
It is hardly a new trend, but the 6ft 7ins striker was an immediate target for a constant stream of long balls, none of which came to anything in a dull, goalless first half.
When the inviting target man was withdrawn, and when Luka Modric was introduced, Spurs reverted to the rapid passing football that took them up the league in the latter stages of last season.
Interestingly, Pavlyuchenko performed Crouch's task even better than the England international had done, showing exquisite chest control and touches of real class in advanced positions, and opening the scoring 20 minutes after his arrival.
As the manager says, it is a good problem to have, and there are also decisions to make in midfield. Redknapp admits that Modric has to be involved - the question is where?
The Croatian looks best in the centre, but Spurs still lack a genuine left-sided player and he fulfilled the role well last season.
In the centre, Wilson Palacios is certain to start, but his midfield partner is less obvious. Jermaine Jenas was clearly Redknapp's preferred choice in the second half of last season, but he has been absent recently.
The official explanation is a succession of injuries - he is expected to shake off a calf strain in time for Sunday - but conspiracy theorists suggest that a transfer request is imminent.
Meanwhile, Tom Huddlestone has been heavily involved in pre-season and he got another 80 minutes in the centre on Sunday. Redknapp says this a big season for the England Under-21 international, and the boss could be about to hand him a starting berth.
On the right flank, Aaron Lennon should pick up where he left off last season, but Redknapp threw in a curve-ball on Sunday, giving David Bentley 67 minutes on the right and introducing Lennon on the left.
The days when those two fought for their favourite slot seemed to be long gone. But Redknapp says Crouch needs the right service, and that could open the door for Bentley, who came to Tottenham as a crossing and dead ball specialist.
In defence, Benoit Assou-Ekotto is guaranteed his spot, while Sebastien Bassong will certainly start against Liverpool, alongside King and then Vedran Corluka at Hull.
But who will play at right-back? Is new signing Kyle Naughton, who Redknapp describes as a "prospect", ready to start the Premier League, or will the manager stick with Corluka instead (when the Croatian isn't needed at centre-back)? And where does that leave Alan Hutton and Pascal Chimbonda?
With no regular midweek European matches this season, Redknapp will hope to pick stable and settled line-ups, allowing the team to gel and build relationships on the field.
Given that the manager will definitely put out his first team out against Liverpool, Sunday's clash should provide an accurate insight into Tottenham's future.