The popular explanation for Tottenham’s surprise home defeat to Wigan has been a case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show.” Having sealed qualification for the group stages of the Champions League in midweek, and then the excitement of being drawn against holders Inter Milan, Spurs could only offer a limp performance against the whipping boys of the fledgling Premier League season.
Harry Redknapp dismissed the suggestions that his team had suffered a hangover from their European exploits, exposing a flaw in the argument with his assertion that after a 4-0 win his team should have been full of confidence. He said his team should have felt fantastic rather than lethargic, and gave Wigan the credit they fully deserved. It is easy to get carried away with the Latics’ woeful start to the season, starting with home drubbings by Blackpool and Chelsea, and to write off Roberto Martinez’s side but he has a raft of international players at his disposal, who will have been working non-stop on the training ground to address their turmoil. Redknapp described it as a rare bad day for Tottenham and they had the misfortune of experiencing the said bad day against a team full of determination to right the severe wrongs of the past two Saturdays.
Tottenham will look back on Younes Kaboul’s last gasp header that went wide and a handball shout in the Wigan area that was given against Roman Pavlyuchenko rather than opposition defender Antolin Alcaraz. Wigan can legitimately counter that Alcaraz had missed a glorious chance earlier on and that certain camera angles suggest that it was indeed a Pavlyuchenko handball. In truth, Spurs were scarcely worthy of the point that a penalty or better direction from Kaboul would have delivered and would not disguise the poor performance on the day. Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal looked full of the confidence that had been lacking from regular Latics keeper Chris Kirkland lately, and whilst he was not flawless, he put in a better shift than Carlo Cudicini in the home goal. The Italian was at fault for the winning goal, letting slip what should have been a routine save. Cudicini turns 37-years-old in a week, and whilst age does not always have the same effect on keepers as it may an outfield player, it must surely be a factor on a person’s ability to recover from as a serious a motorcycle accident as Carlo suffered last November.
Another player who Redknapp must have concerns about currently is Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The Cameroonian endured a torrid World Cup with his country and his form so far this season has been poor. Whilst Gareth Bale’s long-term future is likely to be in Assou-Ekotto’s left-back spot, his defensive game is not yet on a par with his attacking prowess, leaving Redknapp short of a reliable candidate for the position. William Gallas was used as a left-back on occasion at Chelsea but this is attributed as part of the reason he was so keen to leave Stamford Bridge. With question marks over his temperament, it is hard to see him as the answer to this particular conundrum.
Whilst Redknapp will stick by his assertions that the performance on Saturday was just a bad day rather than European-influenced, it is still worth considering what effect playing in the Champions League may have on Tottenham’s league form. Playing two games a week will not be a new phenomenon for the team, and Spurs showed they could cope with two big games days apart when beating Arsenal and Chelsea at White Hart Lane in April. Even the level of opposition will not be a massive factor, as a team like FC Twente are not on a par with top Premier League opposition Tottenham are used to playing like Manchester United. The biggest factor is often the increased amount of travelling, and Spurs have been fortunate to not only draw three teams from countries in close proximity to England but to also have a home league fixture after each away Champions League group match. Tottenham have away fixtures after two group games but they both come after European ties at White Hart Lane, with a trip to Bolton following the home game with Inter and a visit to Liverpool after hosting Werder Bremen.
If Tottenham are going to have a successful season fighting on two fronts, they will have to respond better after big European nights than they did against Wigan. If Redknapp is accurate in his assessment that it was just a rare bad day, then there is certainly no need for panic button pressing yet. Spurs have a squad strong enough in most areas to cope numerically with the additional games, but it will be interesting to observe Redknapp’s movements in the remaining hours of the current transfer window to see if Saturday’s defeat has given him any food for thought.