Spurs lead chase for 5th, but Europa League feels like second best

On Sunday Tottenham were able to defeat Liverpool at Anfield for the first time since 1986, and took pole position in the hunt for the final Europa League place – though participation in the Europe’s second-tier cup competition is seen as a questionable honour. Harry Redknapp speaking after the game stated that: “We’re not fighting for the Europa League really. We just want to finish fifth because you want to finish as high as you can…That’s your pride, and if it means playing in the Europa League, we will.”

It was a much-improved performance from Spurs, who inflicted a first home defeat for Kenny Dalglish since taking over at Liverpool in January. The Reds’ formidable home record – 20 points from eight matches prior to this encounter – counted for little as the visitors started the better of the two teams and though they rode their luck at times, assured performances from the ever-impressive Luka Modric and mercurial Rafael van der Vaart proved decisive. This season will be a memorable one for Tottenham; their thrilling run in the Champions League, and especially their games with the Milan clubs, will live long in the memory. However, the disappointment of not reaching the Europe’s premier club competition again this year is seen by some as failure.

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Their form during the run-in has been poor. Despite possessing a large and talented squad Spurs have struggled to find a consistent performer upfront, with neither Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe nor Roman Pavlyuchenko impressing, and they have been stretched at the back due to injury. Redknapp believes that fatigue and lack of a quality signing in January to reinvigorate his side are the chief reasons for Spurs’ indifferent form: “We could have improved (the squad) in January…We just needed a little tweak to liven us up a bit because we had a few tired players around.”

“We then lost key players: (Gareth) Bale was flying at the time and winning games for us but we weren’t scoring while Rafa (van der Vaart), who had been looking like a £50 million player all season, tired in the last six or seven weeks and that was important for us. “Hopefully we can get one or two players in the summer and improve again for next year because it is going to be hard. We have a big squad but what we need is one or two players who will make the difference to us.”

Next season there may be six sides in contention for Champions League qualification: Manchester United will surely lead the charge, with Arsenal and Chelsea on their heels even if all three sides need to be strengthened. In addition Manchester City will continue to spend and improve over the summer in the hope of building on this term’s successes and Liverpool look refreshed and motivated under Dalglish. Spurs, with or without the distraction of Europa League football, will face a tough task if they are to repeat the feat of 2009/10 and finish among the top four next year.

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