It didn’t take long for the warning signs to start flashing in a bright neon fashion. Spurs dour 0-0 draw at Blackburn might look like a point gained but ironically it could be the fact that they got the point rather than lost the game that points towards some deeper problems.
They say that tactics don’t win you games, players do. And on both counts Spurs failed to be at their best on Wednesday night. Martin Jol took the path mostly trodden by “brands” like Chelsea and Manchester United, by rotating his squad.
Out went three important players (midfielders Edgar Davids and Michael Carrick along with striker Jermain Defoe), in came Robbie Keane, Pedro Mendes and Michael Brown for their first starts of the season. The Keane-Mido partnership that prospered so well against Lyon in the Peace Cup final hardly got a sniff of the ball – Spurs had one shot on target in the whole game.
The thinking behind the move seemed to be to rest the players for the home match with Chelsea on Saturday. But to rest players at this stage of the season, and in a game that was arguably harder than the two that came before, seems folly.
Davids is 32 and there is an argument for leaving him on the bench alright but Carrick and Defoe are 23 and 22 respectively. As it turned out, things were so flat in the Spurs midfield that Davids came on after 53 minutes to try and kick-start things.
While Martin Jol has the full support of Spurs fans, there were some moments last year when you wondered just what he was doing. Playing Pedro Mendes on the right wing or Stephen Kelly at left back were two such moments. Signing Timothee Atouba was another but we’re blaming that one on a now-departed Dane.
Last night gave me more food for thought. Spurs were away to a side that they were in with a chance of beating. Blackburn are an evolving and reasonably talented side – but they are limited. They are not the sort of team that you should set your stall out against. Games like that are there to be won.
And as if to further confuse my thoughts on Jol, the rumours of a peculiar £9m bid for Jermain Jenas refuse to go away no matter how nicely I ask. With enough central midfielders to fill the Scottish Premier Division, you have to wonder if this money is being better off spent on a striker.
And the reason a striker is desperately needed is because the irritating, but occasionally brilliant, Freddie Kanouté has been off-loaded for a decent £4.4m fee. If the ‘replacement’ for Kanouté is Jenas, you can write off Spurs hopes of UEFA Cup football right now. Mido is struggling to perform (despite two goals (one of which was courtesy of the non-stick gloves worn by Mark Schwarzer) and Defoe and Keane have never played effectively alongside each other.
But the worst result will be the legions of dejected Spurs fans that usually accept after 6-8 weeks of every season that it’s not going to be their year. Unfortunately the effect will be magnified as optimism is so high right now that failure of Spurs to deliver will probably result in some form of mass meteorological depression settling over North London for the next while – well until August 2006 anyway.
Liverpool meet Chelsea in the group phase of the Champions League, and already the naysayers have the reigning European Champions in big trouble. Real Betis and Anderlecht are the other two teams in the group but it is the Chelsea-Liverpool head-to-head battles that will draw the world’s attention. It’s amusing to hear how some are saying Chelsea are odds-on to win that gorup and put the Reds tournament in jeopardy. Much like they did last year, yeah?
Liverpool may essentially be a one-man team but if Steven Gerard, and the man he brings the best out of, Xavi Alonso, play against Chelsea, I wouldn’t bet against them turning over the multi-national, multi-talented, multi-billionaire Stamford Bridge Laundry Company. Jose Mourinho’s big problem in Europe is the same as any other teams – there is no hiding place. A couple of poor performances in a row and quality opposition will make you pay. In the Premiership you can perform poorly against Blackburn, West Brom and Aston Villa and still get 9 points. In the Champions League you’re on the next plane home.
So my prediction is for Liverpool to once again defy the odds and while they may not win it again, they’ll make mugs of far more talented squads.