Victory lifted Spurs into top four ahead of Champions League tieA little over a week ago Niko Kranjcar might have been forgiven for thinking he was so far out in the cold at White Hart Lane that he might as well have been in Siberia. Now he’s thoroughly defrosted after two red hot strikes grabbed six points for Tottenham to lift them back into the Champions League places.
The goal capped a very impressive performance for Harry Redknapp’s side, not impressive in the sense that Spurs engineered countless chances and tore Sunderland apart – they most certainly didn’t – but impressive in the sense that their second string midfield came to the Stadium of Light and got the job done. That’s something that Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United cannot say. And it’s a very good sign for Tottenham as the business end of the season approaches.
But as Steven Pienaar pointed out earlier this week, the Champions League is a very different beast. Being able to grind out a gritty result in the North East is a world away from a glamor tie against AC Milan in the San Siro.
For all the credit they deserve for getting the result, if your midfield isn’t able to create chances against Sunderland – today’s goals came from a set piece and a stunning volley from nothing – then you’re going to have problems against a disciplined Italian unit.
|ON THE SIDELINES
Rafael Van der Vaart
Calf muscle strain
The reserves did their part, but Tottenham desperately need their big guns back if they’re to put up a fight against a side flying high at the top of Serie A.
For Kranjcar’s obvious quality, Gareth Bale has been explosive in the Champions League – most notably scoring a hat-trick at the San Siro against Inter – while Rafael van der Vaart has been a revelation for Spurs this season.
Where Defoe and Pavlyuchenko looked flat against Sunderland, van der Vaart has been positively talismanic for his side.
But arguably the most influential player is Luka Modric, the Croatian composer is the heartbeat of the Tottenham concerto. Pienaar or Kranjcar – although neither are the same whirlwind – can deputize for Bale and a strike force of Defoe and Crouch would suffice in deference to a partnership of Crouch and van der Vaart but, put simply, there is no ready replacement for Modric.
Jenas just isn’t on his level and, despite his recent thawing; Kranjcar doesn’t have the pedigree needed to pull the strings from a central position in a tie of this magnitude.
If Spurs can get Modric into the game against Milan they’ll stand a chance, if they can get two of their magic three to the San Siro cauldron they’ll be in the tie. But if they can get all three into the mix, well, they might just cook up something special.
The other side of the coin...
Money can’t buy you love, but as Jack Walker , Roman Abramovich and someday surely Sheikh Mansour will be able to tell you; money can buy you the Premier League. And as many an identity thief can testify, a passport to Europe also has its price. The premium secured for Darren Bent in the January sales may have looked like good business at the time, but if the cost is Sunderland’s ticket to next season’s Europa League – can the club’s hierarchy still claim that they got a great deal for the club?
While it’s overly simplistic to blame a team’s tribulations solely on one player’s departure, the results speak for themselves. With Bent at the club, Sunderland lost two games at home all season. Without him, they’ve lost both of their home games as well as a bonus defeat at the hands of Stoke City.
The fact is, Sunderland have struggled for goals from midfield all season and barring Kieran Richardson’s fleeting purple patch they don’t seem to have resolved this issue. This has been compounded by a return to last season’s defensive lapses that cost them a top half finish, and begs the question: What will be the cost this time around?
But at least the books will be balanced, so much for financial fair play.
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