Yesterday, the once snake-bit Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City in what was effectively a playoff game to secure fourth place in the Premier League and as a result, a lucrative European Champions League spot next season. Not to pat myself on the back, but I had predicted Spurs to finish fourth as the season started. Much of this was simply due to my own homerness, but looking at the Spurs squad at the start of the season, the thing that was most notable about it was its depth. Spurs didn't achieve top four because of one particular player, they got there because their depth.
Prior to the Man City-Spurs game yesterday there was a lot of talk that if City did reach Champions League it was due to their deep pockets essentially buying there way in. Spurs, while lacking the cash and the prestige to attract the high profile talent that City was able to bring in last summer, had been anything but frugal. Spurs had sold a lot of players, but they had also spent a very significant amount over the last five years. Unable to attract that established high profile players (both due to profile and wage demands), Spurs have often shelled out substantial sums for that up and comer who is supposedly about to be a star - the Darren Bent's (16 mil), David Bentley's (16 mil), Roman Pavlyuchenko (15 mil), Luka Modric (16 mil), Younes Kabul (8 mil), Kevin Prince Boateng (5 mil), Gareth Bale (5-10 mil), Dmitar Berbatov (7 mil) [disclaimer: there figures are based off memory]. Some of these players have become stars, some haven't, others have seen mixed results.
Thus upon taking over, Redknapp had some very talented players, but he also had a fairly unbalanced and unsettled team - that while it could get forward, it also gave up cheap goals and was soft in midfield. With Redknapp's arrival and the departure of Damien Commoli, the buying strategy shifted a bit, as Spurs brought on more seasoned premier league veterans, such as Defoe, Crouch, Keane, Krancjar and solidified the team with Wilson Palacios and Sebastian Bassong.
The general result of these purchases has been a very solid squad from top to bottom that has a good mix of talent and experience. This has allowed Rednapp throughout the season to make changes when the team sputters, or fill holes when Spurs have been afflicted by injuries.
Not all went according to plan, however. Despite the amazing run, the season was still filled with very Spurs-like moments - collapses against Wolves, squandered leads against Everton, Birmingham, Villa, and the usual struggles on the road. One could also be very critical of the Spurs loan policy, which needlessly thinned the squad in January. Players like Giovanni Dos Santos, who would have been useful with Lennon's injury, Alan Hutton at right back, who would have been called on at right back with Corluka's injury (perhaps if he was in against United, the makeshift right backs don't give up 2 needless penalties), and Robbie Keane, who despite not setting the world alight would have likely been starting over Defoe who is in a horrible funk, would have all been very useful over the last five months.
However, whenever it looked like Spurs were doomed to fall of the pace, each time another player stepped up. Redknapp, due to the squad depth was able to make adjustments. When Modric went down in August with a broken leg, Aaron Lennon became a 20 million pound player, Niko Krancjar filled in on the left, and Tom Huddlestone solidified his place and became a slightly less-wealthy man's Xavi Alonso, playing deep and pinging passes around the field. When Lennon went down and Assou Ekotto went to African Nations cup, the long maligned Gareth Bale stepped up and became one of the players of the season for Spurs, giving them attacking venom on the wings. Additionally, when Crouch and Defoe couldn't score to save their life, Roman Pavluychenko hit a brief hot spell in the spring to keep Spurs going.
But the one area where Spurs have improved the most, and Harry deserves the most credit, is the defensive solidity the team showed. This Spurs side was not the most prolific scoring team of recent years. With Keane and Berbatov Spurs were scoring goals in spades but were also letting them in at a ridiculously high rate. Despite, Ledley King's unreliability and the absence of injured Jonathan Woodgate, Redknapp found a solid pairing in Michael Dawson and Sebastian Bassong who both anchored the backline for much of the season. Wilson Palacios, while at times not looking as sharp as he did last season, gave Spurs some mettle in the midfield and provided additional protection on the backline.
So what next for Spurs? While many non-Man City fans feared what Man City could do in the transfer market with Champions League appeal, Spurs with extra Champions League cash may now be able to expand their wage bills and attract a few established high profile signings, especially at striker which is the position most in need of an overhaul.