Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, has predicted the season will again finish in a straight fight between his team and Manchester City for fourth place in the Premier League, with Kolo Touré's failed drug test a potentially decisive development in the battle.
Spurs pipped City to the final Champions League place last May with a run-in that included victory at Eastlands after Shay Given's shoulder injury meant Marton Fulop was in goal. Redknapp expects incidentals like that to count this time around too, and City could be without Touré, the Ivory Coast central defender, if he receives a ban for testing positive for a "specified substance".
"Of course, if it's an important player it can have an effect on the team, for sure," said Redknapp yesterday. "You don't know how it'll affect the club but they'll certainly miss him as a player. It just shows you, you've got to be so careful. You shouldn't be taking drugs.
"I don't know what he's done, I wouldn't know one drug from another, to be honest with you, or what drugs he's supposed to have taken. Slimming pills, wasn't it?"
Touré played in last season's game at City, which was effectively a play-off to reach the Champions League group stages, and Spurs have made the most of that qualification with their run to the last 16 in the European competition. They protect their 1-0 lead over visitors Milan on Wednesday but Redknapp is attempting to compete on two fronts by finishing fourth again in the league.
With Chelsea gaining momentum from their midweek win over Manchester United and Arsenal closing on the summit, Redknapp feels Spurs will go head to head with City. "I've got a feeling it'll be between us and Man City. It could be that tight again," he said. "We've both got lots of games (still to play). They're involved in the FA Cup, the Europa League still, we're Champions League."
Spurs almost paid the price last season for losing games home and away against Wolves, whom they face tomorrow at Molineux, and the manager is wary of them. "I think when you get to this stage, with the Champions League and the fixtures, if they (the fixtures) fall your way you can (have) a big advantage (against) clubs that are playing Champions League teams. Because it is hard, in fairness, not to have one eye on the Champions League."
Ian Holloway's Blackpool side defeated Spurs in their last game and Redknapp ranks Wolves' Mick McCarthy as another of the managers holding their own in the Premier League. "Wolves are a well-run club from the chairman to the chief executive, and their manager is top class," he said. "He gets absolutely everything out of his players week in week out. We had a tough couple of games against them last year.
"They did the double over us then and we were quite fortunate to beat them at home this year. We were 1-0 down and ended up winning 3-1. They are a good side. We have to make sure that we finish in the top four. That's our priority. That's important for us, to look to win on Sunday."
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