Tottenham Hotspur: 5 Things That Must Be Done To Make the Champions League
Tottenham Hotspur are playing host to former Russian champions Rubin Kazan at White Hart Lane on Thursday. While this will be one of the best teams the Spurs face during their Europa League campaign, it leaves fans dreaming of the glory nights of the Champions League a season ago.
Spurs began the season in dreadful form, losing to both the Manchester clubs with a combined score of 8-1. They have since recovered and are currently on a five-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League, which includes a 4-0 thumping of Liverpool and a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
Despite their good form, Tottenham have changes and decisions to be made if they hope to play their way back into Champions League glory.
Tottenham are currently overwhelmed with injuries, particularly on defense.
William Gallas, Michael Dawson, Vedran Corluka and now Ledley King are all hurt and expected to miss extended time. This means that Spurs are forced to risk their remaining healthy defenders in the Europa League on Thursday. Fans should pray for no further injuries on defense, because Tottenham are one or two more knocks away from a real crisis.
Tottenham's midfield offers a bit of solace, as Spurs are expecting the returns of Aaron Lennon and Sandro by the weekend, if not on Thursday. Lennon has been missing since he picked up a groin injury and Sandro has been sidelined with a calf problem.
Harry Redknapp will be relieved with the return of his midfielders, as he has been struggling with Spurs' formation in recent games—but more on that later.
Tottenham will do well to remain healthy as players slowly make their way back from injury, but they need their best players on the pitch is they want a top-four finish.
Play Jermain Defoe
Two seasons ago it would seem foolish to even have to say this. Defoe was just coming back for his second stint with Tottenham and was in the midst of a season where he would go on to score 24 goals in the Premier League.
How soon we all forget. Last season was the worst of Defoe's career. He battled injuries and inconsistencies in playing time and finished the season with only three goals for Tottenham.
So far this season, Defoe seems back to old form. He has played six games in the Premier League and already has matched his total from last season. More impressively, he has managed these numbers despite being on the bench for two games.
It seems that the man Harry Redknapp once labeled the best finisher in England, has returned. Redknapp must find a way to fit Defoe in the squad, he will help Spurs return to the Champions League.
Motivate Gareth Bale
Did anyone see Gareth Bale against Newcastle? Was he even on the field?
Bale's game Sunday against Toon was the worst display from him in a long time. He never looked comfortable and was nothing close to dangerous. Spurs fans who have grown accustomed to watching the winger gallop down the touchline (myself included) should be nervous about his play so far this year.
Sure Bale was playing out of position to begin the game, but Spurs quickly realized he was struggling and returned him to his home on the left wing. His play didn't improve after he switched. He gave up possession far to easily, looked sluggish in his movement and never made a real impact on the game.
Tottenham must figure out a way to get Bale back on his game. On form, he is one of the most devastating players in the world. Just ask Maicon, who still might not realize what happened to him last season against Tottenham.
The problem is that Bale has not been on form this season and Spurs need him to be to contend for a Champions League spot.
Figure Out Rafael Van Der Vaart
Rafael van der Vaart has undoubtedly been a success since arriving at Tottenham on Deadline Day in August 2010. He was Spurs' leading scorer a season ago and has not slowed down this season with three goals and two assists to his name in the Premier League.
However, the Dutchman seems to have an attitude issue. He sulks when he is subbed out of games, he hits out at Harry Redknapp in the press and he is reluctant to play defense.
Do Spurs need a player like that in a squad vying for a place in the Champion's League?
I think they do—if he can quit with the petulance and play a little defense. He is a player of too high a quality to leave out of the squad. Van der Vaart has proven his ability to score goals and create chances out of nothing. He is especially adept at scoring against the run of play (see his goal against Arsenal this season).
If Harry Redknapp can solve van der Vaart's attitude problem it will bode well for Spurs' chances come May 2012.
Solve Formation Issues
Tottenham have started their past two Premier League games with formations that failed to mesh.
Against Arsenal, Spurs deployed Rafael van der Vaart as a right midfielder with the freedom to drift inside. While he did score a goal, he was also very poor in defense and was responsible for the Arsenal goal.
Against Newcastle, Spurs had van der Vaart in a central attacking role in support of Emmanuel Adebayor. Gareth Bale was on the right wing, for some strange reason, and Luka Modric was on the left.
Van der Vaart had a fine game in his more natural position, but Bale struggled to impose his will from the right side. Even after Bale was returned to the left wing, he was unable to leave his mark on the game.
Modric had a decent, if underwhelming, performance. He does his best work from the center of midfield where he can dictate play.
The formation issues will be eased with the return of Aaron Lennon. He is a natural on the right wing, with the speed to complement Bale on the other side. The question becomes who to play in the center of midfield.
Modric is a must-start. The Croatian is a joy to watch play and a lot of what Spurs do starts through him. If van der Vaart were a better defender then he would be the easy choice to partner Modric, but he hasn't been.
That leaves van der Vaart's playing time dependent on the form of the strikers. So far, Adebayor and Defoe have formed a fine partnership. If one of them has a drop in form, look for Redknapp to revert to playing a lone striker with van der Vaart in support.
Having too many good players is a nice problem to have, but it is still a problem. Redknapp will need to solve it if he hopes to return Tottenham to the glory of Champions League football.