Redknapp's shifting fortunes in race for fourth
Manager baffled by Spurs' dip in form that could ruin season
Two years ago, Tottenham lost the FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth – a tie they were heavy favourites to win – and the feeling was that the life had gone out of their season. They responded by beating Arsenal and then Chelsea in the space of three days and secured the club's first ever Champions League spot in the penultimate game of the season at Manchester City.
As it stands, defeat for Harry Redknapp's team to Chelsea on Sunday in the FA Cup semi-final looks like it might just tip a team that look like they are in a bad place into one that does not know where their next win is coming from. The memories of 2010 suggest that Spurs' form is not as predictable as that. Even so, there are those at the club who are worried what the effect of defeat on Sunday could have on the end of the season.
The strange aspect of Spurs' season is that when Redknapp was in court in January and February, fighting for his job, his reputation and his liberty, the team's form barely wavered. The judge, Anthony Leonard QC, permitted Redknapp to leave on the stroke of 4pm to get to the game against Wigan at White Hart Lane on 31 January in good time. Problems with Redknapp's private jet meant that he never even got to Anfield for the game against Liverpool six days later.
The Saturday after Redknapp's acquittal on two tax evasion charges, his side beat Newcastle 5-0 with a brilliant team performance and went 10 points ahead of Arsenal in fourth. Since then they have won just once in eight league games and, from looking like the team that were comfortable favourites for third place they now cannot be sure of a top-four finish. The most pressing concern for the management is that it is not obvious what the problem is.
Monday's defeat to Norwich City at home, a gruesome result, especially given that Redknapp had hoped that the team had turned the corner at White Hart Lane with a win against Swansea City eight days earlier, had some notable features. Primarily that Ledley King, for so long a player who has defied convention by performing at the highest level despite chronic knee problems, looked like he was done.
It was King who spoke on behalf of the Spurs team after the defeat on Monday and he tried valiantly to play down its significance. "The only thing that needs to be said is that we need to stick together," King said. "We need to keep going until the end of the season and keep working hard. There is not a crisis in any way... we have top players."
King was instrumental in the turnaround that Redknapp effected when he took over the club in 2008 and the Spurs manager has always called upon his captain when King's knee has permitted. Now that may have to change. King looked vulnerable against Norwich in a defence that is already struggling with the absence of Michael Dawson, who was injured in the FA Cup fifth-round replay with Stevenage on 7 March.
Scott Parker was also absent with injury for the Norwich defeat, although Redknapp expects him to be back in the side for the semi-final against his old club. Aaron Lennon started his first league game since 4 March on Monday. The hope – and the expectation – is that he is over the worst of his latest injury problems and will be able to play a full role in the remaining five league games.
Redknapp is well aware of the suggestion that his position as favourite to take the vacant England manager's job is regarded as a factor in his team, at one point the emergent force in the Premier League, going into such a decline. Privately he is dismissive of that factor. Like everyone else he is curious as to what the Football Association really thinks of him, and whether everyone on the four-man appointment panel wants him to have the job. But it is not an everyday topic of discussion at Spurs.
The situation has been compared to the malaise that affected Manchester United in late 2001 when Sir Alex Ferguson announced his impending retirement – later retracted – at the end of the 2001-2002 season and they lost in the league to Newcastle, Bolton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham before Christmas. But, as Redknapp will point out, he has made no announcements.
He has said little more than he would be interested in the job. Besides, he does not run the same kind of ship as Ferguson did 10 years ago at United. The players are aware that Redknapp is by no means a certainty to get the job. That may change if the FA opts to make its approach next week, which would make sense given that it allows Spurs to get the semi-final out of the way first.
In terms of Spurs' star performers – Gareth Bale and Luka Modric – there has not been a disastrous drop in form. Modric was, at worst, a little flat by his standards against Norwich. Bale has been superb of late against Stoke and Swansea. Redknapp tried to change the team by leaving out Emmanuel Adebayor and partnering Jermain Defoe with Louis Saha on Monday but to little effect.
In many respects, Redknapp won the biggest battle of his career when he was acquitted at Southwark Crown Court. On that day he would have said that football's triumphs and disappointments were of secondary importance to fighting for your reputation in court. However, the Spurs manager is understood to be struggling to be quite so philosophical now his season is unwinding so dramatically.
In some ways, the semi-final against Chelsea on Sunday is respite for both teams from their struggles in the league. But it is what state the losers are in come Monday morning that will have the greatest effect on who clinches that fourth place.
Tottering Hotspurs: How the challenge has faded in two months
Spurs' miserable run:
26 Feb Arsenal (a) Lost 5-2
4 Mar Man United (h) Lost 3-1
10 Mar Everton (a) Lost 1-0
21 Mar Stoke (h) Drew 1-1
24 Mar Chelsea (a) Drew 0-0
1 Apr Swansea (h) Won 3-1
7 Apr Sunderland (a) Drew 0-0
9 Apr Norwich (h) Lost 2-1
Table on 11 February
3. Tottenham 25/53/+24
4. Arsenal 25/43/+13
5. Chelsea 25/43/+13
6. Newcastle 25/42/0
Form guide (results since 25 Feb)
1. Man United 32/79/+51
2. Man City 32/71/+49
3. Arsenal 32/61/+22
4. Tottenham 33/59/+19
5. Newcastle 33/59/+8
6. Chelsea 33/57/+18
Arsenal Tonight Wolves (a); Monday Wigan (h); 21 April Chelsea (h); 28 April Stoke (a); 5 May Norwich (h); 13 May West Bromwich Albion (a).
Tottenham 21 April QPR (a); 29 April Blackburn (h); 2 May Bolton (a); 6 May A Villa (a); 13 May Fulham (h).
Newcastle 21 April Stoke City (h); 28 April Wigan Athletic (a); 2 May Chelsea (a); 6 May Manchester City (h); 13 May Everton (a).
Chelsea 21 April Arsenal (a); 29 April QPR (h); 2 May Newcastle (h); 5 May Liverpool (a); 13 May Blackburn (h).
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