Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham: Cottagers visit the Lane looking to rattle nervy Spurs
Manager fields a much-changed side. Players go in with a sizeable first leg advantage and all the lax cockiness that comes with it. Their opponent actually shows up to play. It was a recipe for a phenomenon Spurs fans are all too familiar with: the team’s breathtaking ability to smash the panic button with both fists when things get messy. What transpired on Thursday over 120 manic minutes at the San Siro, while disappointing to say the least, was hardly a surprise.
This recent run of self-destructive performances started in the last league match. At 1-0 down to Liverpool, hope was hardly lost. And indeed, after Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen scored two goals of the quality Emmanuel Adebayor spends his nights only dreaming of, Spurs were in control of the game. Enter Kyle Walker and a looping back pass that can only be described as daft. Enter keeper Hugo Lloris with a comically miscalculated clearance attempt. Finally, enter that much maligned Liverpool man Stewart Downing, who despite Vertonghen’s best efforts to play striker, centre back, and keeper in one match, managed to score the goal that put the hosts back in the match. It was a quintessential “my own worst enemy” performance from Spurs. When Defoe played a clearance back into his own box, leading to the series of events that culminated in Gerrard smashing in a late penalty, the game was at last thrown away.
That Spurs nearly repeated this feat against a team they should have navigated past more comfortably on Thursday shows that fear and doubt are once again starting to nestle within the psyche of a team that had been playing some of the best football of any Premier League side prior to the Liverpool match. But should Spurs fans be mashing the panic button with the same fervor their squad did against the Italian outfit? The simple answer is no, not based on two poor results. Spurs were in control of the Liverpool game until two individual mistakes cost them; it’s not as though the team performance was terrible. And though Inter managed to hassle them into blowing a big lead, the fact is that without the suspended Bale and injured Lennon, Spurs were always going to struggle. Width and pace are the side’s greatest assets, and shorn of their wingers, they were predictably lacking.
But with Gareth Bale certain to start against Fulham on Sunday and Aaron Lennon hoping to play at least a supporting role, Spurs will look a different team at White Hart Lane. Fulham, meanwhile, have only won 2 of their last 5 matches, with Manchester United being the only top-half team they faced in that time frame. Their form has been erratic all season. Though they possess several players capable of hurting Spurs, including a certain sulking Bulgarian chap home fans may be familiar with, they aren’t unbeatable by any means. In many ways, they are the ideal opponent for Spurs to bounce back against: strong enough to test the hosts, but ideally not strong enough to overwhelm them.
Since star man Bale is well-rested and raring to return to the side, Spurs should offer more going forward than they did against Inter. Though fatigue will certainly play a role from Thursday, as many starters from the San Siro are likely to play again Sunday, they have the quality to overcome that fitness disadvantage. The restoration of Lloris to the goalkeeper position will enable the hosts to properly employ their high defensive line again, something they were utterly incapable of with Brad Friedel minding the net in Italy. German Lewis Holtby is the freshest of the midfield options and may even warrant a start in the hole behind (hopefully) Defoe. The youngster seems eager to prove himself and stepping up against Fulham would be the ideal way to do so. A return for Michael Dawson or Steven Caulker to the centre of defense would offer Vertonghen a more solid partner than the shaky William Gallas, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto resuming his duties at left-back represents a much better option than Naughton was on Thursday. In short, a better team selection will be the difference on Sunday if AVB can get it right, and he’ll be keen to do just that after making all the wrong moves against Inter.
Fulham have enough about them to score, so I don’t necessarily expect a clean sheet. But if Spurs can pick themselves up from the lows of some of their recent, less than stellar outings, they will be too strong for the visitors to handle. 3-1 to Spurs, with Berbatov, Bale, and Defoe on the score sheet for their respective sides.
By: Mike Schmidt
Follow on Twitter @Schmidt_the_yid
Have something to tell us about this article?