By Richard Parry
Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool – all away from White Hart Lane. If Tottenham’s end-of-season heroics which saw them claim fourth spot last year was impressive, then achieving it again would be miraculous.
With Roman Pavlyuchenko the only Spurs striker pushing double figures in terms of Premier League goals – with eight to his name thus far – Rafael van der Vaart is pivotal to Tottenham’s sprint to the finish line, as Harry Redknapp’s side go in search of the last seat at the Champions League dinner table.
More than just a bargain buy, the Dutchman has been the talisman of Spurs’ attacking line. With 12 league goals to his name, Spurs’ No.11 has hit the back of the net more times than Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres, while sitting level pegging with Didier Drogba and Javier Hernandez. Not a bad return for a midfielder.
But before his brace against Arsenal in the riveting north London derby last week, the former Real Madrid man had gone seven games without a goal, having been on a run of five goals from his first eight games for the club.
Away from White Hart Lane the majestic Dutchman has been hit-and-miss all season, finding the net on just three occasions. That said, when Van der Vaart shines on the road Spurs usually triumph, and more importantly the Dutchman is the man who shows two-fingers towards adversity.
| GGOOD VAN | Nov 20: 3-2 v Arsenal (a)
|7.5||"You can see why they love him down the Lane"|
| GOOD VAN | Dec 26: 2-1 v Aston Villa (a)
|8.5||"He was always calm in possession and looked a class above anyone else on the pitch"|
| BAD VAN | Mar 19: 0-0 v West Ham (h)
|6.5||"The Dutchman had plenty of sights of goal but he could not beat Robert Green"|
| GGOOD VAN | Apr 23: 3-3 v Arsenal (h)
|8.5||"Looked like the Van der Vaart Tottenham signed in the summer, showing wonderful skill"|
His two other away-day strikes came at Villa Park. After Jermain Defoe was harshly dismissed in the 27th minute, Van der Vaart was forced to lead the line on his own, bridging midfield and attack with an exhilarating display of stamina in a man of the match display which saw Redknapp’s side claim all three points.
Of course, the Dutchman has been assisted by the likes of Bale, Luka Modric, and Aaron Lennon in terms of fuelling his side’s attacking thrust – but the Croatian and diminutive winger have only contributed five goals between them (Lennon three, Modric two).
It has been the Welshman’s seven league goals which have complimented an understandably infrequent goal return from the Dutch midfielder, but injuries are set to reduce the former Southampton man’s influence in the coming weeks.
A casualty from the 2-2 slip-up to West Brom last weekend – other than Spurs’ fading top-four hopes – was the loss of left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, with the Cameroon full-back expected to miss the forthcoming clashes with Chelsea and Blackpool with a hamstring injury.
His loss was not only felt by the back four – having made more interceptions this season than any other player in the league – but from Redknapp’s attacking charges.
Bale, who started his career as a flying full-back, was forced to return to his former defensive role, and albeit that against Roy Hodgson’s side the Welshman could still attack the flanks, he’ll struggle to do so at Stamford Bridge, should he indeed start in the role.
This puts further pressure on Van der Vaart to conjure the magic Spurs needs to finish the season on a glorious high – or at least be in the running come May’s curtain call – but following his blistering display against the Gunners last week, it appears that the Dutchman is ready to fight till the death. And how Tottenham will need him to.
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