Dancing Berbatov relishes the trip

Bulgarian striker aims to reproduce European form to see off dismal domestic away-days
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The Independent Football

Perhaps we should dub Dimitar Berbatov the cancan man of Tottenham Hotspur. Having lifted his team into the knock-out stages of the Uefa Cup with a flurry of goals achieved through seemingly effortless elegance, the 25-year-old Bulgarian today turns his attention to the embarrassing matter of Spurs' dismal Premiership away form: nary a win in eight matches, just three goals scored and due to tackle Manchester City, who are unbeaten at home this season and have conceded one goal in eight games.

But if anyone can snap that wretched sequence, Berbatov can. Having raised his Uefa score to five in four outings with what he acknowledges cheerfully was a gift against the supine opposition of Dinamo Bucharest on Thursday, he will apply himself to the rather tougher task of taking apart the defence of a City team who, he says, have "great players and a great coach".

Though gratified by the compliment, Stuart Pearce and his side will be careful not to grant Berbatov the freedom of the park he enjoyed against Bucharest, a freedom his brilliance engineered in most of those European outings, particularly since the Berbatov-Jermain Defoe striking partnership has started to gel attractively enough to bring a satisfied smile to the manager Martin Jol's jowls.

Berbatov is confident he can repeat the free-scoring season he enjoyed at Bayer Leverkusen which persuaded Spurs to part with £10.9 million last summer. He already has 10 goals, so could 20 be on the cards? Brief pause for thought after the Bucharest demolition, then he says: "If we play like a team, support each other, it's possible for me to get 20." Or possibly more than 20, since he insists he has not yet unveiled top form for Tottenham.

For one thing, he does not find the pace, power and frequency of Premiership games the burden which afflicts so many arrivals from the Continent. "I enjoy two matches every week, I prefer to play as much as possible because that's how you can improve and show people what you are made of. The game is much more physical over here but I am a big guy, I am not afraid, that's why I improve myself every time."

But Berbatov agrees that the Uefa Cup pace is most agreeable. "I played five, six years in European football, so the experience I bring can help the other guys in the team. And they are helping me adjust more quickly in the English League. So it's like, they help me, I help them."

There was also some help forthcoming on Thursday night from Bucharest's idiosyncratic Belorussian goalkeeper, Uladzimir Hayeu, who threw a clearance straight to Berbatov's feet and was slow reacting to the prompt return of shot. It was a sight which must have cheered Paul Robinson in the Spurs goal in view of his recent misfortunes, which this contest helped eradicate further. His low clearance found Defoe, who swerved past a half-hearted challenge before beating Hayeu. Cue a chant for Robinson of "England's No 1", which he happily acknowledged.

The fact that Bucharest had also already qualified for the last 32 of the competition perhaps explained their inept, powder- puff display in the face of some sweet Spurs combinations which could have doubled the five they scored against Charlton last weekend. The only time that the Romanians appeared animated was at the final whistle when, to a man, they converged on their opponents. Apprehension about resentful fisticuffs turned out to be nothing more sinister than the urge to swap shirts, possibly with eBay in mind, since the team were accompanied to London by wives and girlfriends on a club-sponsored shopping trip.

Tottenham's reward for topping Group B with a 100 per cent record is a February date with Feyenoord (more smiles from the Dutchman Jol) followed by either Portugal's Braga or the Italians of Parma in March's round of 16 if successful. The holders and form team, Seville, are avoided, as are the Champions' League drop-outs and Bundesliga leaders Werder Bremen.

So hopes are high of a third Uefa Cup success for Tottenham, to follow the triumphs of 1972 and 1984, marked on Thursday night by the half-time appearance of the men who captained Spurs to those victories, Alan Mullery and Graham Roberts.

It will be tougher, much tougher, today against Manchester City. Even Southend can be expected to offer more resistance than a flat Dinamo managed when they come to White Hart Lane for a Carling Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.

"This will be the highlight of their whole season," ventured Berbatov, perhaps forgetting that Southend's last victims were Manchester United. "But we are fully concentrated, 100 per cent. I think we will go through." Possibly with another goal or two from the £10.9m cancan man.

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