the cup of salvation - league cup final 2009

25.02.2009

Harry Redknapp has come in for a lot of stick in the last few weeks, some of it deserved. In the post Christmas period results have been poor, and some his team selections and tactics have been questionable. His constant references to the lowly league position before his arrival suggests he is not totally convinced Spurs can still beat the drop and is absolving himself of blame. His treatment of Darren Bent after the Portsmouth draw was harsh. Of course, anyoneís missus would have put that chance away, but at a time when we need to have all hands the pumps, it was not the wisest move to publicly humiliate a player who clearly lacks confidence. 

To be fair, Redknapp is himself under pressure. Before we become too critical, we must realize that without him at the helm we would probably be in an even worse position. Spurs were deservedly bottom of the league in October. We were awful, leaderless and weak in attack. They could no longer outscore the opposition. The old cracks were still there, but they had lost the ability to paper over them. The boost following Redknappís arrival has given us a fighting chance of survival. 

Furthermore, Redknappís attitude towards the UEFA cup campaign, although controversial, is the right one. We canít afford to be playing a congested fixture list when we are struggling at the wrong end of the table. As he said himself, itís no use progressing to the latter stages of the UEFA cup and being relegated. 

The away victory over Hull was so important, as it gives us some valuable breathing space in the relegation battle. Yet despite our recent improvement in the league, we are still not playing effectively as a unit.  

I canít say that I have watched one match this season where I have been satisfied with our performance. In patches we have been good. But more often than not our midfield has been inconsistent, the strikers have failed to link up effectively in attack, and at the back we have committed glaring defensive and goalkeeping errors.  

The match against Arsenal at home is a case in point. Before kick off I would have taken a draw, as the point was valuable. But in the context of the game we should have won. Arsenal were there for the taking, yet all we could do was huff and puff. Our failure to put the ball in the back of the net emboldened the opposition and encouraged doubt in the minds of our own players. Fear of the opposition, fear of losing, fear of relegation has hindered Tottenham all season.  

This Sunday, against the English, European and World Club Champions, we are not expected to win. The odds are stacked against us. If you prescribe to that outlook, and most do, then surely Spurs have nothing to lose if they go for it. The League Cup final presents a massive opportunity for the players to purge some of their demons. It gives them a chance to show everyone what they are really made of, to play with freedom without the fear of defeat and the consequences of relegation. 

It may also not be a bad time to play against United. Their clean sheet record came to an end against Blackburn last weekend, and their frustrating 0-0 draw against Inter Milan may be a sign that they are about to go through as difficult patch. On the flip side Spursí performances in the league have improved of late, and the away victory over Hull is a major boost. And let us not forget that Redknapp has a knack of getting the better of Alex Ferguson in the big games. 

Man United have more quality than Spurs in every position on the pitch. Having Palacios, Keane and Cudicini cup tied doesnít do us any favours. The injury to Defoe was a particular blow, as he worked well up front with Pavlyuchenko. Even so, if the players available perform to the best of their ability, they have a real chance of causing an upset.

A cautious, defensive strategy will not work for Spurs. They need to make it hard for United, chase every loose ball, close them down, and play to their attacking strengths when in possession.  

Spurs can win this cup final. But to do so, the players will have to put their league worries to the back of their minds, work hard and can play without fear.

COYS

marc keown

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