King commands Spurs to shake off Champions League hangover - European - Football - The Independent

King commands Spurs to shake off Champions League hangover

Ledley King has told his team-mates it is time prove they are not "the same old Tottenham" by following their Champions League thrashing of FC Twente with victory over Aston Villa tomorrow.

Spurs captain King admits the club have too often allowed their standards to slip in Premier League games in the immediate aftermath of their European matches. But the England defender insists enough is enough and is demanding the same level of performance this weekend as he witnessed at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night.

"This is what we've struggled to do in recent years," said the 29-year-old, who shook off a groin injury to help Tottenham beat the Dutch champions 4-1 and join Internazionale at the top of Champions League Group A. "When we've been in Europe in the past, our league form has suffered, so that's what we want to put right this season."

Spurs followed last month's Champions League play-off hammering of Young Boys by losing to Wigan and also struggled to beat Wolves after their 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen.

King added: "We slipped up against Wigan and losing that game gives us an incentive not to let it happen again. "People are now looking at us after we've played our European games. The spotlight is on us and teams are waiting for us to slip up, saying we're the same old Tottenham. We don't want to be like that. We're at home to Villa and those are the games that we need to take three points from.

"We needed to bounce back against Twente after losing to West Ham and we didn't dwell on that and got the result we wanted. Now we will think about Saturday's game."

King could find himself once again cheering from the stands on Saturday if manager Harry Redknapp decides his captain's notoriously fragile knees cannot handle two games in four days. The centre-back's fitness is now a constant talking point but he pays no heed to speculation over his game time.

"I'm used to reading a lot about myself about whether I'm going to play or not," he said. "I'm know when I'm going to play or when I'm not, so it makes me laugh sometimes."

King's return for Tottenham's first home game in the European Cup proper for 48 years proved a timely one last night. He made a number of vital blocks and interceptions as Twente threatened to make Redknapp pay for an adventurous line-up that left his defence all too exposed. Yet, Spurs were exhilarating going forward, while King believes the game witnessed the beginnings of a productive understanding between playmakers Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric.

"They could be brilliant," he said. "I have seen them work together. When they're in training, it's tough to get the ball off them. They're so small, their touch is so good and they play little one-twos – they're just brilliant players. The more they play together, the better it will be. They can open any defence, and we have players who can score.

"Rafael also has the ability to take the team by the scruff of the neck. You can see he wants the ball and wants to make things happen and that gives everyone a lift."

The game saw something of a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Van der Vaart, who missed a penalty, broke the deadlock and was then sent off for a second bookable offence. It means he will miss next month's mouthwatering game at European champions Inter – a match King cannot wait for.

"It's what we dream of," he said. "We've been wanting to play Champions League football for many years and you want to go to places like the San Siro and test yourself. So we're looking forward to that."

Meanwhile, Birmingham manager Alex McLeish is confident another high-profile summer signing, the £6m striker Nikola Zigic, will come good despite struggling to adapt so far. The Serbia international has found English football difficult to adjust to after playing in Spain with Valencia.

He has been confined chiefly to a substitute role with last season's top scorer Cameron Jerome preferred as the main striker. But McLeish has faith in Zigic to eventually show his true worth.

The former Scotland manager said: "Nikola is still adjusting to the English game. It is hurly burly, 100 miles an hour. On the continent he is used to balls being laid up to him and cushioning it and laying it off and keeping the play moving. It is a totally different game to the Spanish system and also the Serbian system as well. The players tend to get lazy because they just launch it forward. But we've got to try to get into the right positions to give him the right service."

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