If Harry Redknapp had been offered six points out a possible nine from successive games with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, then he would have snapped the offer up without a second thought.
Having already earned six points from the first two matches, it will have been with disappointment that the Tottenham boss reflected on coming away from Old Trafford with a defeat. Aside from a few momentary lapses in defence, Spurs put up a valid fight against the reigning champions and could have come away with at least a point. The cause was not helped by the concession of two penalties, the second of which could kindly be described as clumsy, the first merely reckless. As good as Heurelho Gomes has proven to be in recent weeks at saving spot kicks, he was left with no chance by the precision finishing of Ryan Giggs. Whilst the penalties were amazingly the first ever taken by the Welshman in the Premier League at the grand old age of 36, the technical quality possessed within the ranks at Old Trafford was always going to make it a risky business to hand them two such glorious chances whoever stepped up. If the penalties were bad enough, it was the second goal that was the killer, with Nani’s glorious finish preventable had Gareth Bale shown he is as good going towards his own goal as he is advancing the opposition net. Bale let his man run free, a footballing crime every bit as bad as Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s rash lunge at Patrice Evra for the first penalty. Having worked so hard to get back on level terms, it was a sorry sight for one slack piece of marking by the in-vogue Bale to cost Tottenham a valuable point.
Defensive naivety apart, the trip to Manchester exemplified some more positive dilemmas for Redknapp to solve. Having won so superbly in two massive matches recently, Redknapp had to make the tricky choice of whether or not to bring back Wilson Palacios from suspension. The Honduran offers Spurs tenacious qualities that are one of the few key ingredients lacking elsewhere in the squad, but he had been admirably deputised for by Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modric. After two superb performances by the pair, there were stronger candidates elsewhere in the team to make way for Palacios, but a fair amount of rearranging would be needed to accommodate all three players. It was Younes Kaboul that was the sacrificed party, a square peg in a round hole, albeit an effective one, when filling in at right-back previously. With another square peg in Assou-Ekotto slotting in on the right of defence, Gareth Bale was pushed back from left-midfield to left-back, the position previously considered his strongest. Modric moved out to the left flank, the Croatian’s versatility counting against him as he had arguably been the pick in the centre out of him and Huddlestone. In fairness to Redknapp, that was the most obvious line-up once Palacios was selected, although Kaboul might have been a wiser option than Assou-Ekotto. The left-footed Cameroonian was preferred due to Nani’s propensity to cut inside on his stronger right foot, but Assou-Ekotto still lacks the defensive maturity that could be expected of him at 26-years-old. For a player who still struggles occasionally in his decision making on his natural side, it was always asking a lot for him to play out of position against one of the division’s form wingers.
Whilst having to field a square peg in a round hole was not so positive on this occasion, when Vedran Corluka is back from injury the focus will purely be on the bright points. Redknapp has gone from struggling to field a full 11 players that all possess enough quality to having to work out how to leave out highly talented players. With a fully fit side, he will have to choose just four midfielders from Aaron Lennon, David Bentley, Niko Kranjcar, Modric, Huddlestone, Palacios and Bale, with the Welshman the only one who would realistically slot in elsewhere. With Ledley King, when fit, already ousting the excellent Sebastien Bassong at centre-back, and Peter Crouch forced to warm the substitutes’ bench, Redknapp faces some very tricky decisions with his selections. These are the dilemmas faced by the strongest teams in the division, with Carlo Ancelotti, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger consistently having to leave out top quality players. This has been the big difference between the top trio and the other member of the supposed big four, Liverpool, where Rafa Benitez does not even have 4 top class midfielders to choose from. Spurs are getting closer to being a top side, and their squad is beginning to look formidable. If Redknapp can master the tricky art of rotation, then Tottenham will challenge for the top four again next year.
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