Tottenham Hotspur’s remarkable achievement of reaching the last sixteen of the UEFA Champions League suggests they could become a permanent fixture in Europe’s elite club competition.
After securing qualification to the group stages back in August, the gossip column was in over-drive trying to identify which ‘world-class’ striker manager Harry Redknapp would be recruiting, to ensure that the group stages wasn’t as good as it got for his Spurs’ side.
Such rumours would have left Peter Crouch wondering if he would be joining Roman Pavlyuchenko on the substitute’s bench. Luis Fabiano, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Ruud Van Nistelrooy names all suggested but none prevailed.
However, three months on Spurs have booked a place in the last sixteen of the Champions League whilst Peter Crouch remains a permanent fixture in the front-line, and deservedly so.
Crouch, who has scored seven times this season (five Champions League goals, two in the Premier League) may not be considered a prolific goal scorer but his contribution to the team warrants his place in the starting XI.
In the absence of Jermaine Defoe and the incompatible pairing of Pavlyuchenko and Crouch, Redknapp has employed Rafael van der Vaart as a second striker and this has worked perfectly.
Although you cannot guarantee that Crouch will win every ball in the air, what you can be certain of is that Van der Vaart will be within a ten metre radius of his striker, ready to win the first or second ball. This is one of the reasons the Dutchman has been able to maintain a unique record of scoring seven goals in seven appearances at White Hart Lane.
Statistics also demonstrate the fruitful relationship of Crouch and former Real Madrid play-maker Van der Vaart, Crouch setting up five of the Dutchman’s eight goals this season.
However, it is not just the suggested long ball that is paying dividends for Redknapp’s side. The team play a direct style, but don’t let this be mistaken for long ball. No, this means putting team’s under enormous pressure by getting the ball forward but also using the wide players to get the ball and move the play into the penalty area.
The return of Aaron Lennon to right-wing; coupled with Gareth Bale’s fine form, makes for a full-backs nightmare as Inter Milan’s Maicon will testify. Here Crouch can be fully utilised and his presence will create uncertainty, it is clear he has a pivotal role to play.
The playing relationship of Bale, Crouch and Van der Vaart is key for Spurs; the re-emergence of Luka Modric is also a huge boost, the Champions League a suitable stage for a player of undoubted quality.
Despite the early season success of this Spurs team, I believe that if the White Hart Lane club are to challenge for major honours, then they will need to bring in a prolific striker. This is not to say in replacement for Peter Crouch, but to perhaps play alongside.
For now though Harry Redknapp and his side can congratulate themselves on job well done and will know greater challenges lie ahead, but it will still be some time before this Spurs side outgrows Peter Crouch.
Written By Carl Noyce