Much has been made of Tottenham Hotspur’s resurgence under Harry Redknapp in recent months, from relegation candidates to top four stardom. It’s an achievement that should not be underestimated but what, if anything, can a Manchester United side struggling for true consistency learn from the north Londoners?
To begin with, this Spurs side is engrossed in competition at all levels. Managers have come and gone too often for the club’s own good and old ‘Arry’s appointment was seemingly the last roll of the dice in a bid to become an English heavyweight once more.
The costly removal of Senor Juande Ramos and Damien Comolli, now director of football at Liverpool, made the move for Harry even more desperate, placing Redknapp under extreme pressure to succeed from the start.
This notion of competition transcends to the grossly overpopulated squad too. Where United lack real depth in many positions, Spurs arguably has a myriad of options. In fact of the 11 that started against Liverpool, perhaps only one player is guaranteed his place in the first team – the hugely influential Croatian Luka Modric.
Heurelho Gomes, the once much criticised goalkeeper but now very much number one, has overcome his doubters but remains supported by two other experienced options, Carlo Cudicini and Croatian ‘keeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Right-back Alan Hutton has only recently won his place in the side back from Vedran Corluka, despite once proclaiming his desire for a move to Sunderland he has since impressed all with his attacking impetus.
Central defenders William Gallas and Younes Kaboul are likely to find themselves back on the bench once Ledley King and Dawson return from injury, regardless of their impressive vain of form. This of course is without mentioning the much troubled but talented England defender Jonathan Woodgate
Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been dropped in the past but has recently signed a new contract after positive form this season, although any move to reinstate Gareth Bale to defence would oust the Cameroonian once again.
Meanwhile Golden boy Bale, now the first name on the team sheet, was not so long ago a much a maligned figure, having famously never played when his side had won a game. Bale’s development adds to a sense that Redknapp has a wealth of options in midfield.
Wilson Palacios, bought at vast expense, been forced to play second fiddle to the now injured Tom Huddlestone, despite early promise in his White Hart Lane career. Even Jermaine Jenas’ resurgence has kept the Honduran out of the side in recent weeks.
Should Brazilian international Sandro continue to develop or the much touted signing of Scott Parker happen, Redknapp’s midfield options will only be stronger.
Aaron Lennon has also been used from the substitutes bench this season as his form has wavered but this has accommodated Rafael van der Vaart and two strikers. Lennon is also under some pressure from David Bentley and Niko Kranjcar for his position, who can also provide competition for Bale’s left-wing slot.
Van der Vaart’s inclusion contradicts the basis of Spurs’ recent success – 4-4-2. So for the Dutchman to be accommodated he must carry on producing magic, or Jermaine Defoe and even captain Robbie Keane will be back in the side.
Meanwhile, the hardly prolific Peter Crouch, who like Roman Pavlychenko has been rotated and then rotated again in order to find the best fit, still adds to the wealth of options.
The point vividly illustrated in Redknapp’s model is that no player is irreplaceable. The squad is so deep that if anyone fails to reach his standards there are often three or four players able to step in.
Of the players discussed, each is a now a seasoned pro. Where Sir Alex Ferguson calls on, for example, Fabio da Silva, Harry has Kaboul. Similarly, if Ji-Sung Park plays poorly there is really no better replacement available.
Fans are guilty of enjoying the inclusion of young players but in the pursuit of glory is United’s squad strength enough?
Even more glaring is United’s lack of creativity in midfield. Harry bought Van der Vaart; United stuck by a more dysfunctional unit.
Earlier in the season there was reason to laud United’s strength in attacking depth. It remains true in theory. Sadly, leaving aside the whole Wayne Rooney debacle, few United strikers have regularly stepped up to the plate. Berbatov scores five one week but there is little guarantee he won’t ruin it the next.
The question remains, ‘Does United really have a big enough squad to seriously challenge on three fronts?’
Sir Alex held greater depth in previous years and although it may not have guaranteed anything now watching players’ reaction at Villa park when the two first choice strikers were removed for, critically speaking, two freshmen was instructive.
Perhaps Ferguson this more often as another season of inconsistency will not suffice for many United faithful.