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Know Your Opponent: Tottenham Hotspur

Yeah, I'm a little bit terrified too.
Yeah, I'm a little bit terrified too.

If you want to know about Tottenham's season, there are few people you'd do better to talk to than Cartilage Free Captain's Kevin McCauley, so that's exactly what I did. Find out about Tottenham's tactics, their unsung heroes, expectations for the season, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto's hair. My responses to his questions may be found here.

Graham: Harry Redknapp, tactician? When did that start happening?

Kevin: It hasn't, that's a dirty rumor. His moves in the middle of the game against Arsenal were great, but it's not like he's Mourinho or Sir Alex in terms of tactics. I find myself complaining about Harry's tactics occasionally, but his approach is just different, not necessarily stupid or ignorant. What are the chances that Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart would be in the form they're in if they weren't told to just go out and play their game, tactics be damned? It's a tough question to answer, but it's difficult to imagine any approach getting better results in terms of getting the best players to shine.

G: Who's been more important to Tottenham's season, Gareth Bale or Rafael van der Vaart?

K: I'm going with van der Vaart, but only because of what he's meant to the team in Jermain Defoe's absence. It's almost impossible to separate the two players on form, but we could find someone to play the left wing competently if Bale went down. Modric has played there and we could re-call Danny Rose from loan. While Defoe was injured, we needed van der Vaart in there to create goals. Bale is terrific, but we can score without him. Scoring with neither Defoe or van der Vaart in the lineup is nearly impossible for us against elite teams. On that basis alone, though they can't be separated on form, van der Vaart has been slightly more important.

G: How realistic are Spurs' hopes of retaining their place in the top four?

K: They're plenty realistic, but I'm not sure that they're likely. It's not unreasonable to say that they're the fifth most talented team in the Premier League right now. I could conceivably see any of the current top five teams finishing anywhere between first and fifth place. There isn't a wide separation between the great teams like there used to be. With Liverpool dropping off and both City and Spurs improving significantly over the last two years, there really is a "big five" now. So, based on the fact that there are four Champions League spots and five teams that I think have an about even shot at reaching them, with Spurs being the least talented of the five, somewhere between a coin flip and the four out of five chance they would have if all of the teams were equal. Let's call it a 65% chance.

G: Hair off: Benoit Assou-Ekotto vs. Florent Malouda.

K: I am a big fan of BAE's hair, especially in the up position. I would take him first overall in a hair expansion draft.

G: You guys managed a bit of a shock by pipping Inter Milan to first place in Group A. With Arsenal unavailable, who do you most want to see in the next round?

K: Call me crazy, but I would like our chances against Olympique Lyonnais. On talent, they are a good team, but they have been playing well below their talent level both in the Champions League and Ligue 1. Claude Puel has been on and off the hot seat all season and I think that if Lyon faced Spurs in the round of sixteen, we would end up as the coach killers. To be honest, I'd take anyone but A.C. Milan. Roma and Valencia would both give us very tough challenges, but I would call us slight favorites against everyone but Milan.

G: Who's the one Spurs player who hasn't been getting the recognition he deserves?

K: Luka Modric gets plenty of love from Spurs fans, but it doesn't seem like he's as well recognized by neutral fans and the media. He's overshadowed by the flash and pizazz of Bale and van der Vaart, as well as the enormous and imposing figure of Tom Huddlestone, but Modric really is the unsung hero of our midfield. Because he's a competent dribbler, passer, crosser, tackler, and shooter, as well as being a two-footed player, we can play him on the left or right side of midfield, as well as in the middle with any kind of central midfield partner. He's our only midfield player that can play basically any role that Harry Redknapp asks of him, and that's why he deserves more press.

G: Is it true that the only reason Robbie Keane is still at White Hart Lane is because the recycling people refused to accept him?

K: You bet. There isn't a team in the world that will both pay us a decent fee for him and pay his wage demands. If Keane were to agree to terms with a team, we'd probably let him walk for free, but why would he want to give up his giant salary? We pay him $100k per week to sit on his rear end. The Vancouver and Celtic rumors only make sense if Keane is willing to cut his wages in half.

G: Any matchups you find particularly interesting and/or scary against Chelsea?

K: A potential Bale vs. Ferreria matchup has me frothing at the mouth. Despite the fact that he's suffered a dip in both health and form, Didier Drogba against a team that hasn't kept a clean sheet in ages scares the crap out of me. I also think that Florent Malouda will be able to exploit our fullbacks if he's able to get himself into dangerous positions out wide. The most interesting matchup to watch will probably be Luka Modric against the Chelsea midfield.

G: Let's end this with a good old score prediction.

K: Chelsea 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1

Cheers, Kevin.

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