Spurs have 10 days to prepare for West Ham - but is rest overrated?
IT HAS reached that time of the season when teams who have everything to play for in the league look back on cup exits and describe them as ‘blessings in disguise’.
Tottenham are certainly among that number and, three weeks ago, few Spurs fans were bemoaning their absence from the Carling Cup final, or their failure to progress past the fourth round in the FA Cup.
Having just overcome AC Milan in Italy, and with the race for the top four as close as ever, the fact that Harry Redknapp’s side had bowed out of the other two competitions at the first stage suddenly looked like an advantage. They certainly had an enviable fixture list ahead of them.
As they left the San Siro, the Lilywhites had a full week to prepare for the trip to Blackpool, and then another 12 days without a game before travelling to Wolves.
With four successive wins behind them, and all the time in the world to prepare for these games, what could possibly go wrong?
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Fast forward to the present day and, after just two games in 19 days (and a five-day trip to Dubai in between fixtures), Spurs have picked up just one point from the six that were on offer.
On every level, from every perspective, it is a terrible waste – a missed chance to overtake Manchester City, and a botched opportunity to build a lead over Chelsea.
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With just THREE games to play in March – three games in 38 days in fact – this was the ideal opportunity for Spurs to take advantage, to put a silver lining on their cup exits by making a major move in the race for the top four.
So far things have not gone to plan and, meanwhile, rivals Arsenal have been fighting on all four fronts, putting Spurs’ lowly work-load into sharp focus.
The down side to the Gunners’ achievement is the mammoth fixture congestion and, in the 19-day spell when Spurs only played twice, their neighbours played six matches.
That hectic schedule has taken its toll with injuries and, should Arsene Wenger’s side finish the campaign empty-handed once again, he may reflect that his four-way bid for honours was over-ambitious.
And yet, Spurs have proved that rest and recuperation can be hugely overrated. Somehow, after their quietest spell of the season, Tottenham have ended up in a worse position than they were before. Instead of moving up to third, they have dropped to fifth.
To compound the irony, when Tottenham have had to cope with a flurry of fixtures, they have often thrived.
Redknapp’s side and Man City were the only top-flight teams to win all of their matches over the busy seven days of the Christmas schedule.
Indeed, the Lilywhites played eight games in the 37 days between December 4 and January 9, and emerged with four wins, three draws and one defeat, away at Everton.
More recently, an injury-ravaged Lilywhites outfit travelled to Blackburn’s Ewood Park on Wednesday February 2, just three days after the 4-0 defeat to Fulham at Craven Cottage – and won 1-0. They went on to overcome Bolton on the Saturday.
Those achievements, against all the odds and with every excuse available, now cast an even darker shadow over the latest two results.
Yes, both games were away from home, and Blackpool and Wolves have fried some big fish this season, but those are hardly mitigating factors.
After all, Spurs have one of the best away records in the league. Behind Arsenal and alongside Man City, they have won more top-flight games on the road than any other team (six).
Tottenham have won at both Blackburn and Stoke for the last two seasons in a row – some of the toughest away games in the calendar – and are supposedly made of sterner stuff these days.
Ultimately, some perspective is needed. The failure to take more than one point from a possible six against Blackpool and Wolves will not decide the race for the top four.
However, it has denied Tottenham the chance to build a lead as they eye a north London derby next month, and a run-in which includes trips to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Those games will probably decide the season, but the failure to score more than once from 25 shots at Blackpool, and the failure to close out a 3-2 win at Wolves, mean Tottenham are currently losing a race that they should be winning – especially after such a big breather.
And yet, as ever, the chance to rectify matters is right around the corner. With no FA Cup tie this weekend, Spurs have another 10 days to prepare for their next game against West Ham next Saturday lunch-time – plenty of time to perfect their pitstop routine and get right back on track.