The dust had barely settled on Fulham’s riproaring win over Manchester United last Saturday when, standing at the bar of the Half Moon, I was congratulated by a Spurs fans. But, he said, “Boxing Day’s massive for us. We need to beat teams like Fulham to show that we’ve improved from last year and can break into the top four”. Of course, he’s right. Until Tottenham can both win at places like Craven Cottage – something they have found particularly difficult in recent years – and get rid of the crazy minutes like that they had at Arsenal the other month, reaching the Champions’ League will remain something of a pipedream.
Harry Redknapp was ever so fond of reminding us that he took over a Tottenham side with just two points last season. That Spurs were languishing at the wrong end of the table was a story in itself. It’s no surprise that, with the money Redknapp’s invested in his squad, Tottenham should be pushing for a European spot at the very least. Such was the transformation at the Lane last season that a win at Anfield on the final day would have seen them elbow us out of contention for that final Europa League spot.
Yet, you get the sense with Spurs that you’re still talking about two teams. Going forward they’ve got the ability to be absolutely devastating, something most Tottenham teams have always possessed (think back to our grim demolition at White Hart Lane a couple of years ago). The amount of creative talent Redknapp can call upon is truly frightening. Aaron Lennon’s low centre of gravity and explosive pace have always made him a tricky winger but there are now signs that he’s found a final ball to make him a potent danger. Niko Krancjar scored a stunning goal at the Cottage for Portsmouth a few years back and remains one of the league’s most watchable midfielders. Wilson Palacios has been a revealation since arriving from Wigan, providing the solidity Spurs have been seeking in a holding midfielder for sometime. When little Luka Modric shakes off his ankle injury – and that might be in time for the Boxing Day clash – they’ll be serious competition for places in midfield.
Tottenham haven’t suffered for strikers lately either. Jermain Defoe, red hot this season, and Peter Crouch, who turned down a move to Fulham in favour of teaming up again with Redknapp, seem to be the preferred partnership, although Robbie Keane has kept the captaincy despite his instrumental role in the Irish Christmas high-jinks. When Roman Pavlyuchenko and Giovani dos Santos can’t get near the first team, it speaks to the amount of options Tottenham now have up front.
Defensively, though, Spurs still remain vulnerable, even if they put together back-to-back clean sheets lately. The goalkeeper might have got past throwing them in – as he did at Fulham last year – and Heurelho Gomes has arguably been Tottenham’s most improved performer since Redknapp took charge, but there’s still a nervousness about the back four. Missing Ledley King for what seems like every other game doesn’t help and, although Sebastien Bassong has added a bit more assurance, you’d fancy Bobby Zamora to pose Michael Dawson a similar set of problems to the ones he faced last year at the Cottage.
It’s more than seven years since Spurs have won a league game at Fulham and Roy Hodgson will be quietly confident of keeping that run going. The fact that he’ll still be without two forwards, in Andy Johnson and Diomansy Kamara, means he might stick to the formula that he has been so effective in recent weeks. Two of the goalscorers against United, captain Danny Murphy and the much-discussed Bobby Zamora, will have extra motivation for Saturday afternoon, both having endured largely forgettable spells at Tottenham. Zamora’s revelled in the lone striker role he’s been asked to fill in the last couple of weeks, scoring those vital goals in Basel and lashing home that crucial second against the champions just 19 seconds after the break. Zoltan Gera’s looked mightily impressive just behind Zamora, although it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Hodgson use a new tactical plan to neuter Tottenham’s attacking threat.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Duff, Dempsey; Gera; Zamora. Subs: Stockdale, Smalling, Kelly, Etuhu, Dikgacoi, Davies, Riise, Nevland.