With Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-0 win against Coventry during the weekend propelling them into a fourth-round clash with either Birmingham City or Leeds towards the end of this month, Andre Villas-Boas’ side now go into the second half of the season fighting for success on three different fronts.
Conjoined with the ongoing efforts for a top four finish in the Premier League and the manager’s very public desire to fight on in Europa League, the games are set to come thick and fast for supporters in the coming weeks. But while that’s just how the fans like it, an ever-inflating fixture list certainly doesn’t come without a degree of risk.
Of course, the ongoing concept of weighing up success in the league at the expense of pursuing glory in the cup competitions isn’t anything entirely new, but given Harry Redknapp’s previous disdain for Uefa’s secondary cup competition, it’s not something that’s previously been much of an issue at White Hart Lane.
Fighting for a top four finish in the league has only tended to be accompanied by either a run in the League Cup, FA Cup or in the case of the 2010-11 season, the Uefa Champions League, but rarely in recent times have the club made a sustained and successful effort for success in more than two competitions during the course of the season.
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If Spurs get turned over by Lyon in the their upcoming Europa League fixture or by Leeds or Birmingham in the FA Cup, the status quo will of course be resumed. But if they overcome both those obstacles, it’s here that Spurs will begin to enter something of an uncharted territory in terms of how the squad will cope with sustaining efforts on three different fronts.
The willingness of Andre Villas-Boas to rotate elements of his squad, primarily his defenders in recent games, was welcomed with open arms by many supporters and if Spurs are set to progress in both the Europa League and the FA Cup this season, the Portuguese’s eagerness to manage his squad could set to be a very shrewd move indeed. Although much of supporters’ commendation of Villas-Boas’ squad rotation comes from a looming grievance with Harry Redknapp’s seeming refusal to swerve away from his first choice XI for the majority of last term.
For all the dearth of other factors that contributed to Tottenham’s self-destruction in the Premier League last season, one of the most prominent was the belief that Redknapp ran certain members of the squad into the ground by offering little in the way of rotation. Now whether you do or don’t buy into that concept, considering the squad’s only real distraction was a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, if that sentiment does ring true than Villas-Boas is going to have to find some room for a little more tinkering in coming weeks.
For much of last term’s Europa League campaign, Redknapp opted with a quasi-reserve like feel to his first XI. As refreshing as it was to see the likes of Tom Carroll and Ryan Fredericks in the side, those that played in the league during the weekends very rarely turned out for a Thursday night foray, with the side somewhat predictably failing to get out of the group stages. With what was essentially a second string side crashing out of the League Cup to Stoke City at the first hurdle, Spurs had only the FA Cup to contemplate alongside their league campaign. Yet still, many attributed fatigue as a point of contention for their woeful second half of the season display.
Andre Villas-Boas has done a great job of coaxing his side into third place in the Premier League but the second half of the season is set to prove a real test for the ex-Chelsea boss. Should Spurs overcome Lyon over two legs, you can throw another two games to their fixture list. A replay in the fourth round of the FA Cup could see them stack a further two games on if they were to overcome Leeds/Birmingham at home. It may be purely hypothetical at this moment in time, but it’s a very distinct possibility.
Fans have been refreshed to see Villas-Boas take the Europa League seriously this season and his approach has given a gentle reminder to a certain Danny Blanchflower’s musing about the game being about glory. Football is as much about winning trophies as it is desperately trying to dine at Europe’s finest table in the Champions League.
But for as much as supporters would dearly love to see the side lift the FA Cup at Wembley or the Europa League in Amsterdam, it is the Premier League which is going to prove the yardstick that Andre Villas-Boas is ultimately measured against. Somewhere along the line in both competitions, he’s going to have to start taking some risks.
Be that putting faith in Tom Carroll to stand up to the Lyon midfield at the Stade de Gerland or trusting Andros Townsend to do a job away to Birmingham or Leeds later this month, at some point sacrifices are going to have to be made. The recent returns of both Scott Parker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have strengthened the squad, but it still remains perilously weak up front and until a movement’s been made in the transfer market, AVB is going to have to be dreadfully careful when he chooses to field Jermain Defoe.
This isn’t a call to discard Spurs’ interest in the cup competitions, nor is it a rejection that the squad have enough to survive in all three competitions. But come the end of the season, it’s Tottenham’s league placing that Andre Villas-Boas is ultimately going to be judged on. Supporters must be mindful of that as we enter such a phase of the season that is as crucial as it is congested.