By Jonathan Birchall at the DW Stadium
When Tottenham host Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League on Thursday evening, it will fall exactly a year to the day that they won their first ever game in the Champions League proper, hammering FC Twente 4-1.
It was a victory that would start a journey on which Spurs would face both giants of Milan, AC and Inter, as well as Real Madrid as the north London side joined their neighbours from the Emirates on European football’s grandest stage. 12 months on and Harry Redknapp’s men are showing form to suggest that they are desperate to return.
Tottenham's 2-1 win over Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday was their third in as many Premier League matches, with an impressive disposal of Wolves at Molineux and their hammering of Liverpool coming before. The club haven't had a run as strong since February, and having played a game less than those around them, the White Hart Lane outfit are currently sat in sixth, but it is two places above that they will striving for come season's end.
There are members of the squad that certainly warrant Champions League football. Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Emmanuel Adebayor, the three players to which the Latics had no answer, each possess the quality to light up the tournament. The question that remains is whether those around them have the quality and depth to to get them there.
Tottenham's explosive performances in the competition were usually personified in the shape of Bale, who looked to be on the way back to his near unstoppable best at Wigan. Facing Steve Gohouri, who at 30 no longer has the pace to contain a winger of such enterprise, it appeared a mere matter of time before the Ivorian picked up a booking.
He got two, both for lunges on Bale and for the second time in six days, the 22-year-old had got his direct opponent sent off, with Martin Skrtel having walked last Sunday.
Right direction | Bale and Spurs look to be getting back to their best
The Welshman's goal, a glancing header exploiting some frankly pathetic defending by the hosts, was his first since New Year's Day, but it was a devastating all-round performance that impressed most.
The same can be said of Ledley King, who, despite being the same age as Gohouri and with chronic knee problems that have taken him to the edge of disrepair, was simply unconquerable. Just as Bale was born with the instinct to run, his captain has an innate ability to frustrate forwards with quite remarkable ease.
| EARNING THEIR SPURS
| GARETH BALE
||The young Welshman picked up his first goal since New Year's Day with a simple glanced header from Luka Modric to double Spurs' lead. It was deserved for Bale, who ran his socks off down the left and through the middle. Wigan simply couldn't cope.|
| LEDLEY KING
A dominant defensive performance from the Spurs skipper, who was flawless for his side once again. He’ll have more difficult days at the office but when required, the injury-plagued centre-back was there to clean up any potential problems.
Having bossed both Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez at the Lane, King rarely looked like breaking a sweat against Wigan. With the north London derby coming up next weekend, it warmed the heart to see King on the teamsheet at two o'clock, an hour before kick-off at the DW. No longer kept wrapped in cotton wool to be unleashed for the biggest games, the centre-back may well be on his way to a proper run in the team.
Having not lost a match since August last year - to Wigan of all teams - King is massive for Spurs in more ways than one, when fit.
But therein lies the biggest potential problem for Tottenham this season if they are to chase fourth. With a squad nearing on the threadbare, Harry Redknapp will be relying on Bale and, to a lesser extent, King, to stay fit for sustained periods throughout 2011-12, with neither player the finest examples of durability.
It raises some questions over the club's business during the summer transfer window, with only three senior players, one on loan, arriving at White Hart Lane while five recognised squad members departed. Modric may have been kept away from Stamford Bridge, but the north Londoners are lacking the depth of Liverpool, and possibly even Arsenal; their biggest rivals for fourth spot.
Such thinness of squad has led to concerns over the club's participation in the Europa League, but recent history suggests that it need not be a hindrance. Those that finished fifth in the last five seasons only worsened in their position twice in the following campaign, and with Redknapp having clearly prioritised the league, there will at least be time to rest for a starting XI high on quality, backed up by a supporting cast that could do with strengthening. If Daniel Levy is serious about making it back to the promised land of Europe's elite club competition, then there can be no excuse for apathy come January.
With Fabio Capello set to end his tenure as England boss come the end of Euro 2012, Redknapp is the firm favourite to replace the Italian. A top-four finish would bolster his chances of taking the so-called top job in the country, and despite being accused of not being a 'Champions League manager' throughout Spurs' run in the competition last season, how fitting a legacy it would be for the 64-year-old if he was to take them there again. For their finest players, anything less simply won't be good enough.
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