Spurs review of the Year Part IX: 'Best in Europe'

SPURS went into the international break on top of the league, with maximum points from their four league games. However, they now prepared to face Manchester United at home and then Chelsea away...


By Ben Pearce

SPURS went into the international break on top of the league, with maximum points from their four league games.

However, they now prepared to face Manchester United at home and then Chelsea away, in back-to-back meetings with Big Four opponents.

Tottenham fans were waiting to see how United would cope without Cristiano Ronaldo, who had departed for Real Madrid during the summer, while the champions had also lost Carlos Tevez to Manchester City.

Spurs legend Clive Allen backed ex-Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov to pick up the slack.

Most Read

"Traditionally they [United] tend to start slowly so I think playing them early is good for us, and when you take out the goals that they've lost over the summer - particularly from Ronaldo - they're never easy to replace," he said.

"Time will tell if the new signings can fill the gap. I think Berba will now become the player that United were intending to buy from us last year. He's an outstanding talent, and he can certainly handle the pressure if he's asked to play a bigger role now. I think he could become a massive player for them this season."

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch continued to revel in his return to Tottenham.

"I feel happier now than I've ever been," he said. "I've done my moving around. It's a big upheaval each time and not the sort of thing that you want to go through too often, but I feel in a way it has all been leading up to this move. It was where I started and I know the club well.

"As a player you start thinking about where you'd want to see your career out. At some you can't picture it, but to do that at Spurs would be tremendous. I don't think there's any limit to what we can achieve."

Spurs reached the high-point of their season 60 seconds into their clash with United, with Jermain Defoe's bicycle kick giving the Lilywhites the lead inside the opening minute.

However, United then fought back in an open game, and went into the break 2-1 up thanks to goals from Ryan Giggs and Anderson.

Paul Scholes was sent off in the 59th minute, giving the home side hope of gaining at least a draw. Instead, United increased their lead through Wayne Rooney to run out 3-1 winners, and extend their unbeaten run against Tottenham to 20 games.

The post-match inquisition focused on Redknapp's curious decision to play Robbie Keane on the left wing, in place of the injured Luka Modric, just days after he had signed Niko Kranjcar.

Work finally got underway on Tottenham's new training ground in Enfield, described by chairman Daniel Levy as "the best training facility in Europe".

The 67-acre training base could be ready in three years. It will includes 11 full-size pitches - one floodlit - as well as three smaller pitches, a running track and hill, goalkeepers' practice area, gym, conditioning areas, pool and hydrotherapy suite.

Ledley King said: "Having come through the ranks here at Spurs and understanding the value and importance the club places on developing home-grown talent, this facility will provide a fantastic platform for our academy."

Spurs prepared to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, hoping to maintain their early-season form away from home.

Before kick-off, Tottenham had won both of their previous trips away from N17, beating Hull 5-1 and West Ham 2-1.

Redknapp revealed that a positive approach had been the key factor in Spurs' transformation on the road.

"Can you work on away form? Not really, I think it's about character away from home, and I think we have to be positive away from home," said the manager.

"You've got to go and have a go, and if you've got enough ability in the team I think you've got to go out on the front foot and attack teams. I think Man United have shown that over the years - they'll go out with two wide men and get at you home and away."

Strangely, Redknapp immediately seemed to forget his own words, opting for a new and defensive system against the Blues.

The Spurs boss mirrored Chelsea's diamond formation in midfield. Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios all started for the first time in the campaign, while Aaron Lennon was taken off the wing and played at the most advanced point of the quartet.

The scheme did not work and Carlo Cudicini conceded three goals for the second game in a row - this time against his old club.

Spurs should arguably have had a penalty at 1-0, when Ricardo Carvalho seemed to foul Robbie Keane - who was seemingly punished for keeping his balance.

However, the game effectively ended when King limped off three minutes after half-time.

Huddlestone played the remainder of the second period, and Chelsea scored two more goals to win 3-0. In truth it could have been much worse.

King's hamstring injury was another painful reminder of his injury hell over recent years. It was the second time in quick succession that the club captain had failed to complete a match, having also been withdrawn at half-time against Birmingham.

"Do I look back and think it could have been a lot better? Yes, of course," he admitted. "But I'm still playing at the moment so all I can do is try to get the best out of the situation. When I finish playing I'll probably look back and think that way, but while I'm still playing I think the best idea is to try to get the best out of myself and keep going for as long as I can.

"I think it's important for me to keep my mind clear and stay positive. What I can't do is be negative or feel sorry for myself because I'm sure it would affect me. I have to make sure I'm ready for that."

"I think we've got the strongest squad we've had probably since I've been in the team. This really is a strong team so I do feel this is our best opportunity. We have the potential but it's about proving it."

Having suffered back-to-back defeats in the league, Spurs travelled up to Preston in the next round of the Carling Cup, winning 5-1. Jermain Defoe and Keane were on the scoresheet again, but Peter Crouch stole the headlines with a hat-trick. He was left out of the starting line-up three days later - for the sixth time in the opening seven league matches - as Tottenham hosted Burnley.

Redknapp's selection surprised many, but the boss' decision was vindicated as Spurs racked up a 5-0 victory, with Keane scoring four goals.

After the game, the Republic of Ireland skipper promised that there was even more to come on the horizon.

"I normally start off slow, usually October I start kicking on a bit," he said. "But luckily I have six now and I'm pleased with that. I've started better than in previous years goal-wise. With the players we have there are times you are going to be left out. If we want to progress and do well as a team and push into that top four we have to have other lads playing ahead of you.

"Crouchy got left out and could easily have moaned or sat in the corner with his head down, but he was around to wish the boys well and had a happy smile on his face like he always has. If we want to progress we need players in the dressing room like that. There will be times I will be left out, or Pavlyuchenko. You have to help the lads that are in the team."

Since his four-goal brace against Burnley, Keane has scored three times in 12 appearances, and has recently lost his place to Crouch. He has only started one of the last four league matches.

The victory over Burnley was Tottenham's first clean sheet of the season, coming at the ninth attempt, but it was also notable because Gareth Bale finally shook of his winless hoodoo at Tottenham.

The Welsh international had previously never been involved in a Premier League victory - since leaving Southampton in the summer of 2005 - and despite 25 attempts.

Redknapp kindly brought him off the bench against the Clarets in the 85th minute, when Spurs were comfortably 4-0 up.

"If Burnley score we'll have to take him off again!" laughed goalkeeping coach Tony Parks.

Redknapp justified his decision not to reward Crouch for his hat-trick, explaining that the 6ft 7ins frontman was encouraging a long-ball approach.

"I've bought him more than anyone else so I know all about him," said the manager. "We can play it too long at times, because he's an easy option for you. If you just keep lumping it from the back it's not really our way of playing., we like to pass it and play.

"It's a difficult one though, because you do have to hit him with the ball, because he's not going to run up channels for you. It's no good him coming short and joining in play like Robbie Keane does.

"His game really is pulling away on their last man where you can drop balls up to his chest or off his head, where he can hold it up - because he holds the ball well and he can get it down to his feet and play it.