Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sky -- or Rather Third Place -- is the Limit for Spurs

sky is the limit
Photo by Basibanget on Flickr

Just when you least expect it, up pops Columnist James with a report on the happenings over at White Hart Lane:

As November dawns in the Premiership so many of August's questions have been answered so unexpectedly and so many new questions have been created.  For example, as Mario Balotelli trudged off the ground of an exhibition in Los Anegles after a tragically misguided back footer, we all thought that Mancini would fail to manage the colossal egos on City as he had in the past.  That, and his stubborn insistence to maintain a conservative/Italian defense first mentality would doom City to more underachievement. Shortly thereafter, after an 8 goal emasculation of the Gooners,  we were asking not whether, but by how many points United would run away with the table this year.

Alas, as we encounter the first frosty nights of Autumn, it is City and not United who appear poised to run away with things even after the inevitable Tevez blow up and Balotelli antics.  While United find themselves struggling with injuries and disappointed with the play of a mid-field that many questioned going into the season, it has been City -- after their almost absurdly easy dismemberment of United two weeks ago at Old Trafford -- who are being hailed as the English Barca. And to reinforce the vital importance of an effective and balanced mid-field in modern football, City has benefited hugely from balancing the contributions of the magnificent David Silva with the dogged workmanship of the holders Yaya Toure and James Milner.

Which brings us to Spurs:  another club whose play has been compared to Barca of late, who have answered a different set of August questions in a most unexpected manner and who have, most surprisingly, benefited hugely from the contributions of a superbly talented, well balanced and, most importantly, committed mid-field.

Of course, we all remember the August questions -- they revolved around the two key reasons Spurs sit currently even on points with Chelsea with a game in hand.   Those reasons are Luka Modric and Scott Parker, of course.  In regard to the former, many supporters including yours truly rued our failure to sell as a massive opportunity to strengthen the club lost.  You can't keep a player who wants to leave, we said.  He'll poison the dressing room and bring down the whole club, we said.  With our resources, sometimes we need to sell, we said.  Even Harry himself seemed to hint at this in some of his frequent press quotes, and it really appeared to most of us that Levy was digging in his heels in the face of harsh reality.  These warnings appeared to be realized when Modric failed to appear for three-nil drubbing at United and appeared -- to put it charitably -- acutely disinterested in a the following week's 5-1 drubbing by City.

But then, after the City game, a blessed event occurred:  the window closed.  And with its closure arrived Emmanuel Adebayor and Scott Parker.  And, as Harry suggested it would, the entire emotional vibe of the Club seemed to immediately change. While this change could be due to many factors - the bright attitude and supreme play of Adebayor, the fitness and intensity of Van Der Vaart, the return to form of Bale, the steady consistency of Assou-Ekotto, the (not to be underestimated) colossal impact of a healthy Ledley King -- the main drivers for the renewal have emanated from mid-field in the persons of Modric' and Parker.

As for both, in retrospect, we should not be surprised; Harry tried to tell us.  About Modric, Harry said he's nice boy, never gives a problem, true professional, will have his head on straight once the window closes.  And while Harry also seemed to come out in support of the player himself -- saying he should be allowed to leave if he really wanted to, but if not then he should be paid as he is valued in the market - lo and behold, once the window closed, little Luka has been playing the football of his career.  In retrospect, this whole episode was Harry's famous "man management" at work.  As for the "man," one need only follow Joey Barton on Twitter to be reminded -- "best player in the Premiership," he tweeted today.  While not generating the assists, goals or glamour of Silva, Modric is the distributor for just about every offensive move Spurs make and, as he always has done, works tirelessly to track back and cover on defense. And he has done so brightly, with a smiling intensity that has made the dramas of the summer a distant memory.

Harry also tried to tell us about Parker, the acquisition of whom the Spurs Twitter world seemed ambivalent at best.  He'll protect us at the back, be a hard worker, good example for the youngsters, great in the dressing room, Harry said.  Typical Rednapp acquisition, we said, too old, riding out the end of his career for a last shot at the Euros.  But he left yesterday, covered with grass stains and perspiration, to a standing ovation at the Lane, looking every inch of the supremely relentless effort he had displayed in that game and every minute he's been in the white shirt this year.  Watching Parker for Spurs so far has just simply been a pure joy.  Holding, sliding, tackling, hustling, breaking up passes, disrupting rhythym, distributing with Modric,  Parker has become an instant favorite at the Lane and has unquestionably revitalized the vibe at the Club.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that Spurs have not lost a game this season with the two of them on the pitch.

And what a supremely enjoyable afternoon the lads gave us yesterday.  Granted this was a QPR team that struggled against nine man Chelsea just the week before.  Nevertheless, Spur were on fire in the first half.  Flowing, players interchanging, passes pinpointed, creating all over the pitch  - Johan Cruyff himself would have been proud.  Except for several incidents of a not-yet-concerning-inability-to-finish by Adebayor, it could've easily been six nil at the break.  And with a near future fixture list that includes the likes of  Fulham, Villa, West Brom, Bolton and Stoke could we be - dare I say it - optimistic heading into the holidays?

Regardless, here we sit at the end of October at a very unexpected place in the table and with that very unexpected optimism for our prospects this year.  We have comfortably beaten Liverpool and the Gooners, who in spite of their respective issues remain our main rivals for a top four position this year.  Further, Chelsea suddenly look almost as comical as the Gooners on defense, and appear more vulnerable than they have in years.  And Spurs - with a (big knock on wood) healthy Ledley King and a soon-to-be-welcomed-back William Gallas to solidify the only overtly vulnerable area of the Club - appear for the first time ever seriously situated for a run at being the best club in London, and 3rd in the Premiership.

My how the memory fades in our old age.  Remind me - what were we talking about back in August?

This is farlieonfootie for November 1.

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