For a large portion of the season Tottenham Hotspur had thrilled and threatened the dominant forces of English football. They are now stumbling blindly to the finish line and swatting away Newcastle and Chelsea, who threaten to steal away fourth spot.
The 2-1 loss to Norwich on the weekend was met with a chorus of boos around White Hart Lane. It was the latest in a string of average performances and the problems are stacking up against Spurs.
Most obvious is the poor run of results since manager Harry Redknapp was short-listed (in a list of one) for the England job by every player and manager in the league. Fabio Capello's resignation in February coincided with Redknapp's acquittal in a long-running tax evasion case. The timing was extraordinary and, as far as most were concerned, the path was cleared for him to succeed the Italian.
All parties have kept mum about Redknapp's future, but the uncertainty may well be hindering Tottenham players. The team has mustered only two wins since Capello resigned and Redknapp was brought to the fore. The Spurs manager maintains the ambiguity of the situation has had no bearing on his team's performance, yet that's difficult to believe there has been no subconscious effect.
Close to everything that was going well for Spurs before Christmas has now been reversed. Take Gareth Bale, for example. He is at his most effective when exploiting the left flank and tormenting right-backs.
For some reason or another, Bale has been given (or has decided he has) a license to roam across the field - he's now popping up on the right wing, through the middle, you name it. Whether he has taken it upon himself to be the Messi of the team, including his current infuriating habit of trying to go solo at every opportunity, or whether he has just lost some direction is unclear. But Bale needs to stick to what he does best for Tottenham to reap the benefits.
Should Spurs fail to cling onto that all-important Champions League qualifying spot, the summer could quickly turn dark. The manager's position is tentative, and the chairman will have to build up the barricade once again to prevent Luka Modric (and perhaps even Bale) from legging it from N17. Retaining the services of Adebayor will also be beyond their means. The current squad is formidable, but removing one key piece could bring things tumbling down like a set of Jenga blocks.
An FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea this weekend gives Spurs a reprieve from the league and a chance to take stock. They have a favourable schedule until the final day, with Fulham the only top-half team left to play. Fourth spot is there for the taking, but only if Redknapp can hold onto the rudder and steer them straight to the end.
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