It’s lucky for Spurs when the year ends in 1…

August 13, 2010 — by John Lally2

Or at least it used to be.  By the end of this season, it will be 20 years since Chas ‘n’ Dave wrote those lyrics.  Since then, there has been very little for Spurs fans to cheer about.  Prior to the formation of the Premier League, Tottenham were considered one of the “Big 5” clubs (along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton) and had a strong cup tradition.

The “Year ending in 1” superstition came from FA Cup wins in 1901, 1921, 1981 and 1991; the League in 1951; and the magic year of 1961 when Tottenham were the first club in the 20th century to win the League and Cup double.  May 2011 will see the 50th anniversary of this achievement and 20 years of mediocrity with just a couple of League Cup wins in that time.  This year brings a potential Champions’ League campaign, a tough fight in the league to cement our place in the top 4 and, with any luck, good cup runs alongside it.  However, we’ve had optimism before and Spurs fans all over will fear the worst while hoping for the best.  A Tottenham season has long been akin to a George Pelecanos scripted episode of The Wire; no matter how you feel at the beginning, you just knew that it would end with heart wrenching misery.   But no more…right?! Can we dare to hope?

The Squad

For the first time in a while, Spurs have not had an offseason full of transfers in and out of the club.  The only notable addition so far is Sandro, a holding midfielder from Brazil, although this is likely to change prior to the closing of the transfer window at the end of August.  This consistency in personnel will hopefully lead to more stability in the team and a fast start to the season.

Gomes, the once much maligned goalkeeper, is a safe pair of hands and saved many points last season, notably in the home win over Arsenal.  In front of him, the defence looks solid with Dawson and Bassong in the centre, with Corluka and Assou-Ekotto as the full backs.  However, the central defence is complicated by Woodgate and King, both first choice when fit, both rarely fit.

You Maniacs! You blew it up!

Tottenham’s midfield is probably their strongest asset.  Bale and Lennon on the flanks is probably the best winger pairing in the Premiership.  In the middle, Palacios will usually be deployed in the holding midfield role – a great tackler but somewhat lacking as a passer.  The complete antithesis of him is Huddlestone, who strokes the ball around like Hoddle but does not impose himself physically enough.   The creativeness comes from Luka Modric, a Croatian who’s passing is slicker than the Gulf of Mexico and who can control the tempo of the game.  Niko Krancjar, a crafty left winger, gives another option should Bale be employed as a left back.

Up front there are definitely goals for Tottenham.  Under-used in South Africa, Crouch and Defoe will likely be the first choice pairing for the big games this season.  They link up well with Defoe’s clinical finishing and Crouch’s obvious aerial advantage and good link up play.  Keane has had another good pre-season and should he rediscover his form from before he went to Liverpool two years ago, he will be a real asset and someone with Champions’ League experience.  Pavlyuchenko is very much the fourth striker and will likely get some run outs in Cup games or league matches post-European nights.  On his day, he can be a lethal finisher, but too often he looks incapable of even controlling the ball.

"I'm just excited to see the field."

The rest of the squad is reasonably balanced with some good options to fill in should there be injuries or the need to rest players.  Jenas, Bentley, Kaboul, Cudicini and O’Hara are experienced professionals who many teams would be happy to have as first choice.  There are also some exciting youngsters coming through.  Dos Santos had a great World Cup and will hopefully be used more this year.  Coming through the ranks there is Danny Rose, scorer of a magic volley against Arsenal on his full debut, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason who may find themselves breaking into the first team in the League Cup at least.

European Campaign

To get into the group stages of the Champions’ League, Spurs need to get past Young Boys of Berne.  Should they make it (and they really should) then the group stages will give Tottenham the opportunity to pit themselves against some of the best teams in Europe.  It’s hard to predict how they will do at this point, it will always be tough coming up against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munchen or Internazionale, and Spurs are unproven at this level.  However, Tottenham’s style of play – patient build up combined with speedy wingers who can bring about fast counter-attacks – is suited to European competitions.  My prediction: Tottenham make the group stages and end up third, dropping into the Europa League which they will go on to win.

Premier League

First things first, we’re not going to win the Premiership, nor be relegated from it.  So the question is: can Tottenham repeat their top 4 finish of last season?  I have a feeling they’re going to just miss out this time around, as Manchester City’s squad has improved so much and Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United remain the best three teams in the country.  If I was looking for potential weaknesses, Arsenal’s goalkeeping issues still haven’t been resolved and Chelsea will suffer the loss of Carvalho who was good cover for Terry’s mishaps, but realistically neither will drop out of the top 4.  Manchester City are the unknown quantity and it depends how the new players gel and whether or not Mancini can balance the squad with the new Premier League rules (25 senior players of whom at least 8 must be homegrown).  With Hodgson in charge, Liverpool can’t be counted out either and I think this year will be a tough one for those hoping to break into the Champions League competitions.

What would be success?

For Tottenham this year I would define two things as making the year a success.  Making the Champions’ League group stages is the first and most easily attainable target. After that, Spurs should be looking to win a trophy.  When did we forget that this was how we measured success?! Since 1991, Spurs have only won the League cup twice, nothing else.  The FA Cup should be a priority this year and if we were to win that, even if we didn’t qualify for the Champions’ League again, I would consider this season a success.

Hopefully, this year will cement the progress Tottenham made last year and no more will we have the agonising losses, the near misses and the underachievement.  But as John Cleese said in Clockwise:

“It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”