In a drab and boring game on Tuesday night (in England, afternoon in the States), a very youthful Spurs side ran out against Stoke City in what could possibly be described by some as resembling a football match. We didn’t have the luxury, or punishment, or watching this cup tie on television because it was only broadcast on BBC London Sports radio. But the final whistle (after the final whistle of regulation and extra time) blew after Spurs failed to convert in the eighth round of a penalty shoot-out, at which Tottenham were eliminated from the Carling Cup. But let’s ponder a second, is that actually a bad thing?
Let’s avoid using the cliche “blessing in disguise” for a moment and discuss the ramifications of the loss to Stoke City. It was a blustery rainy September evening in Stoke. The purely meteorological indications pointed to a tough match for a footballing team like Spurs who enjoy kicking the ball about and controlling possession.
Tottenham assembled what would be a reserve team if they ever entered a team into the Reserve League again. Starting in goal we had Gomes; Corluka on the right, Kaboul and Bassong in the middle, and Assou-Ekotto at left back; then Carroll and Giovani as wingers, Sandro and Livermore as holding and box to box midfielders; and Van der Vaart slotted in behind Pavlyuchenko in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Stoke fielded a starting 11 much closer to their Premier League first team than we did but I don’t know enough about them to know exactly how much.
The story of the match is summed up nicely in this picture:
The match was so boring that the radio announcers routinely read tweets from supporters about how Roman Pavlyuchenko needed to make way for teenage heartthrob Harry Kane. Every build up Tottenham constructed seemed to end the same way; a wild shot over the net by Pav. 90 minutes of mediocrity from both sides ended 0-0. Two fifteen minute periods of extra time ended the same way. When Jermaine Pennant missed his penalty in the second frame of the shoot-out, Spurs had a chance to capitalize and take the lead. However, Tottenham’s next shooter was none other than Super Pav who, almost as if it was scripted, skied his penalty and the radio commentator remarked that the Russian “struggled to keep it in the county” on “one of the worst penalties I’ve ever seen.” All the players managed to net their shots (including lumbering right back Vedran Corluka, not exactly a natural goal scorer), until Tottenham youngster Massimo Luongo. The 18 year old had his shot stopped by Stoke keeper Thomas Sorenson, which resulted in Tottenham’s ejection from the competition.
Here is Redknapp’s post-game interview, aside from the bedroom humor there’s little in it.
Now, is this result at all bad? Or even a little bit bad?
Every year there are a slew of complaints about England’s secondary cup competition. Most everyone is familiar with the concept of the Football Association Cup, FA Cup, in which 763 teams from across England’s professional, semi-professional and amateur leagues compete. In contrast, the Carling Cup only includes fully professional teams in the Football League, Premier League, Championship, League 1 and League 2. Also known as the Football League Cup, the Carling Cup is significantly shorter due to the fewer number of teams (92), has fewer rounds, plays its final match in February and all together is viewed as less important by the entire footballing world. However, a trophy is a trophy, and as Birmingham show this season the Carling Cup is a viable path to European competition for teams that can’t finish in the top six of the Premier League table.
Because both Tottenham and Stoke are playing in the Europa League, they each played 3 games in 6 days, culminating on Tuesday’s match, which explains why neither team showed any impetus to go on and win the game.
The competition just adds another midweek fixture. Tottenham will now have played 7 games without having more than 4 days rest from September 10 at Wolves to October 2 against Arsenal. This just adds to the existing fixture congestion and player fatigue factor that is raised every year. These Carling Cup matches are so far down the totem pole that only the Manchester United match was televised on Tuesday.
Speaking of Manchester United, only the huge teams in the Premier League (by that i mean the handful that are bigger than Tottenham) have the depth to compete in this tournament, in addition to the others and not in lieu of them. Clubs have a highly competitive league to play in each week, European competition every other midweek and the FA Cup ties coming up soon. On top of that there are player injuries to deal with. This competition is more of a nuisance than anything else. Tottenham could definitely have won the match on Tuesday and gone all the way in the competition, but we would have had to sacrifice the one or two of our other priorities. The Europa League is also a tournament we can win, but there is also more money involved in continental competition. If Spurs were not in a position with our club to gain European entry via the league table, then maybe we should have taken the Carling Cup more seriously. Tottenham are in a weird purgatory with relation to this cup. We are too big to treat this competition with respect, but not big enough to use it as our playground like the Red Devils.
Let’s take the positives away from Tuesday. As much as it stings to get knocked out of any competition, this now allows us to refocus our energies on the Premier League campaign foremost, while playing on reserves in the Europa League group stages.
Come On You Spurs.