Kranjcar could be out of Luk as Modric returns

LUKA Modric's return on Saturday was certainly a welcome one, and the fact that Harry Redknapp turned straight to his star playmaker in his hour of need spoke volumes about the 24-year-old's importance...

By Ben Pearce

LUKA Modric's return on Saturday was certainly a welcome one, and the fact that Harry Redknapp turned straight to his star playmaker in his hour of need spoke volumes about the 24-year-old's importance.

Before the match, Redknapp had said the Modric would be "involved", but the boss was probably planning to give the Croatian international a 20-minute run-out at the end - ideally with the points already in the bag.

Modric had previously played just 70 minutes in the reserves in midweek, after 15 weeks out with a broken leg sustained in Spurs' fourth game of the season against Birmingham.

But, initially named on the bench, he was thrown into the fray at the weekend as Tottenham searched desperately for a route through Wolves' supremely well-organised roadblock.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and on the 60th minute Modric was summoned from the bench. The burning question was: who would he replace?

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It would be overzealous to suggest that, in one attacking substitution, Redknapp had revealed anything about his future plans, and a possible starting line-up - trailing 1-0 at home, it made sense to bring Modric on for Wilson Palacios, Spurs' least offensive and dangerous midfielder.

However, Niko Kranjcar must have been a relieved man when he saw Palacios' number appear on the board - because he has spent the last few months insisting that he was not signed as a short-term replacement for Modric.

Redknapp agrees. "He's too good a player just to bring him in as cover. I think he's proved that in the little time he's been here," said the boss.

"He's real quality. I could have sold him at Portsmouth. I think the club were talking about �10million to Roma a couple of years ago. It was only because he was nearly out of contract that we got him as cheap as we did. For that money he was fantastic value."

Despite Redknapp's comments, it was surely no coincidence that - having left Kranjcar at Portsmouth all summer - the boss suddenly moved for the midfielder immediately after Modric's injury, only sealing the deal in the final hours of the transfer window, which came three days after the clash with Birimingham.

Kranjcar has certainly fulfilled the same function as Modric, making all of his 11 appearances in the vacated left-midfield spot.

And he has played a virtually identical role - drifting infield at will to get involved and helping to dictate play rather than hugging the touchline and operating as an orthodox winger.

It seems reasonable to suggest that Kranjcar was indeed signed to be the new Modric, temporarily.

But what happens now that the real Modric has returned? With Modric surely guaranteed a place in the team, can the two play together somehow?

Redknapp said: "We're lucky that Niko has come in and played in that position and been so good for us, so it's nice to have them.

"They're both fantastic, technical players - real Tottenham players if you like, technically top-class. I could see them both playing in the same team at some stage."

Good news for Kranjcar then. However, when pressed, Redknapp seemed uncertain of how he would actually put that reassuring, woolly theory into action.

"Luka can play inside, he can play central, but I've got good central midfield players as well," mused the manager with some hesitation.

I think they would play great with each other because they're both so good on the ball. They could play like they do for their country, play off each other and work together. It's not an impossibility that they could play together if I needed them to."

"Not an impossibility" - that sounds much less encouraging for Kranjcar and, while Spurs fans would surely love to see both of their Croatians in tandem, Redknapp's dilemma is a difficult one.

If he did start with Modric in the middle, and with Kranjcar on the left, who would he drop?

Certainly not Aaron Lennon, but Tom Huddlestone (who has played in every one of Tottenham's 20 games so far)? Or Wilson Palacios, who offers a physicality that both of the Croatians probably lack?

Modric is unlikely to start for a few weeks yet as he recovers full match fitness, but Redknapp now has another selection headache to ponder - and another world-class international to placate.