I’ve been avoiding writing this, because I don’t really want to dwell overly much on Monday’s performance – watching the slow and inexorable degradation of our top four challenge is, in all honesty, punishment enough. Chelsea only stumbling to a draw against Fulham has really been the sole highlight in an otherwise desperately disappointing weekend. At least Liverpool are still sticking around for light comic relief, but even they can manage to pull a win out of an otherwise farcical performance.
Rather than reliving the weekend’s fixture minute by painful minute, I thought I’d use this more as a cathartic analysis spot for why we’re currently doing so badly. I’m not pretending to have all (or any) of the answers, but there are plenty of questions…
Redknapp and England
It’s obvious that this is one of the biggest factors. Nine points in nine games since Capello resigned tells its own story, and it’s clear that Redknapp has one eye on taking the England job come the season’s end. If you need a contrasting example for the effect on the players, you need look no further than Alan Pardew’s Newcastle, sitting one place below us. When Pardew ruled himself out of the running for the England position hours after Capello’s resignation, he was widely jeered, with Newcastle then sitting in a solid mid-table position. However, since his affirmation of his commitment to Newcastle, they’ve garnered 17 points, almost twice as many as Spurs, to put themselves back in the running for the Champions League places.
Of course, Pardew has been helped by the arrival of the (so far) prolific Cisse, but it’s clear that the Tottenham players have been to an extent affected by the indecision over Redknapp’s future at the club. Funnily enough, if after so long looking assured of a place in the top four, Redknapp fails to deliver, it could have a negative impact on his consideration for the national side – England already do bottling pretty well, so you’d've thought they wouldn’t be in a hurry to install a manager capable of instilling more of the same. Actually, this is the FA we’re discussing, so in fact, they probably would.
Transfers, and the Fall of the King
Whilst Newcastle were enlisting Cisse’s services, Spurs, who have been in need of a prolific striker for some seasons now, were enlisting those of Louis Saha. Whilst Saha has certainly surpassed expectations since joining, it’s clear from his age alone that he still isn’t the striker we’re looking for. Of course, he’s just a temporary measure, but when we needed to bolster our firepower in the here and now, it’s frustrating that we merely traded one benchwarmer in Roman Pavlyuchenko for another.
We’re also now just reaping the dubious rewards of our failure to bolster the defence in the January transfer window. Again, this is something that has needed looking at for a while, and after we just failed to sign Gary Cahill in the summer transfer window, it was assumed that a new centre-back would be a priority come January. However, all that materialised was 34-year-old Ryan Nelsen – not a terrible defender, but also by no means any more than the defensive equivalent of an elastoplast. I was going to say that losing Dawson to injury for the remainder of the season couldn’t have been predicted, but given our centre-backs’ tendency to pick up injuries like they’re going out of fashion, it probably could have been.
On top of all this, Ledley King’s powers certainly seem to be on the wane judging from his struggles against Norwich’s front line. It’s probably also as much a case of him being overworked; he has made 20 appearances in the league this season, compared to 26 in total over the past two seasons. This just emphasises the folly in not securing a more reliable centre back in January, who could have taken some duties away from King. The return of Caulker from Swansea currently can’t come soon enough.
Below is a succinct summary of the remaining fixtures for each of the teams in the top six, including ourselves. Ours is still the easiest run-in on paper; however, on current form, I’d be wary of making any statements about how many games we should/need to win. At least we can take some solace in the fact that our rivals for fourth, Chelsea and Newcastle, still have to face each other, and so one of the two is guaranteed to drop points – currently, a Chelsea victory in the fixture would help us out, assuming we can defeat Bolton. Arsenal, too, must play Chelsea, but with our prospects of winning every game until the end of the season currently looking slim, we’re likely to need more than one slip-up on their behalf to have any chance of securing a now unlikely third place finish.
The FA Cup Semi-Final
At any rate, getting away from the doom and gloom of the Premier League, this weekend we can at least attempt to advance our cause in the FA Cup. Though Chelsea have picked up under Di Mateo, it’s been more in the form of luck rather than in an improvement in performances. By all rights, they should have lost at the hands of Wigan, and Fulham pegged them back to a draw on Monday evening, so the semi-final really will be a clash of two teams woefully out of form. It’ll probably come down to who’s worse on the day – with it looking like Ledley might be called on to start once again, it has to be said that our defence could be looking shaky. Still, a win in the semi-final and passage to the final could yet turn the tail-end of our season around. Hmm. Optimism. Feels weird.
On Twitter: @AEFSpurs.