It is the balancing act that will define Tottenham's season: how to keep progressing on the Europa League's long slow road to Bucharest, while maintaining a 38-game challenge at the serious end of the Premier League.
Last night at White Hart Lane Harry Redknapp weighted his selection perfectly. His first team was without Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker, Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul, and Benoît Assou-Ekotto. Rubin Kazan, at full strength, were impressive and inventive throughout, dominating long spells of possession.
Roman Pavlyuchenko's free-kick was the game's only goal, but Redknapp needed assured substitute performances from Kaboul and Modric to ensure the three points. Having successfully done so, Spurs are just one win away from qualification for the knock-out places, while having most of their best players fresh for Sunday's game at Blackburn. Redknapp knew afterwards that his selection had been vindicated.
"It was a good result, I didn't over-stretch too many of the senior players," he said. "I've obviously got a big game again Sunday, so it worked out OK. I find it difficult. There's so many games involved in the competition, so much travelling, and you've got Thursdays and Sundays all the time. So you've got to juggle around with your squad."
Few games in this competition are likely to recreate this season the privileged thrill of last year's European nights, when Tottenham hosted and bested both Milan giants. If Spurs want to be invited back to the top table next season, Redknapp knows that they must push all of their chips into the Premier League, at the expense of games such as this.
"It is a juggling act between the Premier League and the Europa League," Redknapp said. "In all honesty we want to do well in this competition but the Premier League is all-important for us, that is what we get judged on at the end of the year, where we finish in the Premier League."
Rubin Kazan were Russian champions in 2008 and 2009. The Tatarstan team has not yet made the same European impact as their more prestigious rivals from Moscow or St Petersburg, but they are obviously good enough to compete well at this level, as they demonstrated last night. Simple, well-executed combination football brought the visitors the best chances of the opening spell. Roman Sharonov nodded wide from a corner, soon before Gokdeniz Karadeniz headed at Heurelho Gomes.
Firepower can be a trump, though, and it gave Spurs the lead. Twelve minutes before the break Pavyluchenko, the Russia international, rocketed a 20-yard free-kick into the top corner of the net, putting his compatriots behind.
After the break the visitors re-asserted themselves and their game: probing football, prompted primarily by Bibras Natcho, and with the added forward presence of former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins. After an hour, Christian Noboa missed Rubin's best chance, his shot deflected wide from Nelson Valdez's pull-back.
Rubin were dominating possession, and, more worryingly for Redknapp, cutting through the defence. He therefore trusted the preservation of Tottenham's lead to three of his benched first-teamers. Spurs looked more secure, and finished the game with three-quarters of their best back-line, with Modric, a more obvious Champions League footballer than any other in London, bringing necessary control to midfield.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Walker, Bassong, Livermore, Rose; Lennon (Modric, 72), Carroll, Sandro (Kaboul, 72), Giovani (Assou-Ekotto, 65); Pavlyuchenko, Defoe. Substitutes not used Cudicini (gk), Falque, Townsend, Kane.
Rubin Kazan (4-2-3-1): Ryzhikov; Kuzmin, Sharonov, Cesar Navas, Bocchetti; Natcho, Noboa; Kasaev (Martins, 61), Ryazantsev (Eremenko, 77), Karadeniz; Valdez. Substitutes not used Arlauskis (gk), Kaleshin, Kverkvelia, Orazsahedov.
Referee J Sousa (Portugal).Reuse content