The Libero - Tottenham's entertainment rollercoaster runs risk of derailment
Published: 08 Dec 2010 - 09:06:04
Just over three months ago, when Tottenham's name was pulled out of the same hat as Internazionale, Werder Bremen and FC Twente, excitement levels in North London (the Lilywhite part at least) were matched only by the trepidation at the daunting task that lay ahead of them.
'Oh well, at least we get a trip to San Siro for a proper European glamour tie and a couple of jollies to Germany and Holland. It'll be great while it lasts', must have been the general feeling among the fans.Understandably so, because no Spurs fan in their right mind would have entered that group with any degree of confidence of progressing to the knockout stage of the Champions League.
The reigning European champions, a relatively experienced European side that finished third in the Bundesliga last season and the newly-crowned Dutch champions - what chance would Spurs have? As it turns out, a great one.
Having successfully qualified asGroup A winners, Spurs must surely now rank as the surprise package of this season's Champions League. Not only have they traded victories with Inter - and very nearly registered one of the most sensational comebacks of all time at the end of that one defeat - they have done it in style. Harry Redknapp style.
Eighteen goals in six matches, including six against Inter, have certainly marked Spurs out as Europe's entertainers this season. Which neutral did not thrill at either game against Inter? Or the 4-1 win over Twente? Or the 3-0 demolition of Bremen? Or even last night's 3-3 goal-festin Enschede?
Say it quietly, but perhaps even some Arsenal fans have been forced to begrudgingly admire Spurs' scintillating, free-flowing attacking feats from afar this season. It's been a rollercoaster ride so far but, unfortunately, one that is going to end soon.
It seems a shame to present a negative aspect to what has been a thrillingly positive campaign, but there is a price to pay for playing such entertaining football - and Redknapp knows it. Indeed, it is the manager's refusal to compromise on the entertainment value his side delivers that will be their ultimate downfall.
Redknapp said in the aftermath of the latest win over Twente: "We attack, we score goals, we go for it every game.
"We play with two wide men and look to score, look to attack teams at every opportunity. We are open. We could string five across the middle and shut up shop, but you can't have it both ways."
He's right. He can't have it both ways. Only the top, top teams manage to strike that rare balance of entertainment in the attacking third and impenetrable solidity at the back. Spurs are not a top, top side. And Redknapp is pragmatic enough not to get carried away and believe all of a sudden he is in charge of an English Barcelona. He isn't.
Their defence is far too leaky. With the 18 goals at one end have come another 11 at the other. Eleven goals conceded in six games is not a record to be proud of. Yet Redknapp refuses to temper his side's forward play in a bid to reduce exposure to his back line. Admirable or foolish? It's difficult to say when both approaches are yet to be tried and tested but come January it could easily be the latter.
It's all well and good plumping for the 'it doesn't matter how many you score, we'll score more' school of thought in the one-off group stage matches, but the knockout stage is altogether a different kettle of fish.
Over two legs, a solid defence is nothing short of essential. Entertainment goes out of the window (freak teams like Barcelona 2008-09 excepted), how else did Jose Mourinho's Inter win it last season?
And if Redknapp refuses to address his clear defensive problems in time for the recommencement of the tournament next year, he will get found out sooner rather than later. That's a shame, because Spurs have lit up the Champions League so far this season. But it's just the way it is.
Redknapp knows it too. He knows Spurs' run is close to ending but credit to him, he's going to go out in a blaze of glory. As he freely admits himself: "This is just the way we play, we can't sit back."
At least we can for the time being - that is, sit back and enjoy the show.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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