A goal in each half made sure Tottenham got all three points from Blackburn at the Lane. Blackburn never mounted a threat and could not even manage a single shot all game (first time since 2004 that a Premier League team failed to generate a single shot or chance in a league match) Tottenham controlled the game from the first minute when Lennon could have scored off a dangeous Modric cross. Then in the 8th, Sandro smacked a shot off the bar which typified the Brazilian’s inspired play today. In the 22th minute Lennon crossed from just inside the box and Bale headed off the bar before Blackburn’s centerback cleared off the line. Unfortunately for the relegation-threatened team, the clearance bobbled right to Adebayor who blocked off the Blackburn defense long enough for van der Vaart to pop in and jab the ball over the line. At the end of the half, Gallas headed onto the crossbar from a corner. After halftime was much of the same, with Tottenham pushing all 10 of their field players in the Blackburn half. In the 75th minute, Kyle Walker scored another memorable goal, this time a nearly perfect free kick goal from range.
With this win, Tottenham leapfrogs Newcastle into fourth place on virtue of goal differential. Arsenal is third with 66 points, Spurs are on fourth with 62 but 20 goal differential. Newcastle also has 62 points but has only built up a plus 7 goal differential. Chelsea is breathing down Spurs’ collective neck on 61 points with 23 goal differential.
In the postgame interview on Sky, Walker admitted that he hadn’t even been practicing free kicks, let alone from that range. He said he just had a good feeling about it and was rather surprised van der Vaart let him take the shot. He asked vdv if he could have a crack and initially van der Vaart laughed off the suggestion.
Because Blackburn played with something like 6 defenders, Tottenham were camped out in the opposition half. Both fullbacks had the time and space to get forward on every rush. Danny Rose, filling in for Benoit Assou-Ekotto who is out with a dislocated shoulder, seemed tentative in the first half and Bale was getting lost in the Blackburn defense. Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon, however, were much more active throughout the match. In the second half, the two right sided players were the most dynamic on the field. Walker was always available as an outlet and defended well the one or two times Blackburn had the ball. Lennon was, in my opinion, the most effective offensive player for Tottenham. He showed out wide, something Bale rarely did, but also made intelligent runs inside, something else Bale rarely did.
When Lennon went down clutching his right ankle after a crunching tackle and disgusting slow motion replay, I had a pinch of fear for our season. Without Lennon, we lost our shape, organization, strategy, plan, everything. Without Lennon, we tried playing a 4-3-2-1, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-1-2-2-1, and none of them was at all effective at winning football matches. I wanted Redknapp to sub Lennon out immediately after the initial injury and when Lennon went down again I was rather incensed. Especially when Gareth Bale has forgotten how to play football, we need Aaron Lennon to open up the field for us.
Sandro was also a star for Spurs today. This season Sandro has suffered to nail down his role with the team. Scott Parker is the team’s hard-tackling ball-winning midfielder paired with Modric. Jake Livermore has been the go to substitute late in matches. Sandro’s appearances in a packed midfield (4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1) had him playing as an anchor man or a second tackling defensive midfielder. Part of the reason why Sandro has had nightmare performances lately has been this lack of clarity or consistency of what his role in the squad is and what his identity on the field is. Luckily for Sandro and the team, Blackburn did not show up to try to play football so he was free to play his game. He made well timed tackles when he needed to (winning all 11 of the tackles he attempted and all 17 ground duels), but showed a much smoother passing game than Parker possesses.
Looking ahead from this match, Tottenham have every chance to take 9 points from their final 3 games. Arsenal are four points up but with one fewer game remaining. If Arsenal slips up against Norwich or West Bromwich, then Tottenham could very well go third. I’m not in any delusion about Spurs’ chances and I know we need to focus on keeping our concentration for our remaining games. The problem for Tottenham in recent weeks has been that our destiny has been firmly in our own hands. There was no one else to blame for the atrocious performances of late. Again, Tottenham controls their fate and if they win their fixtures they will end the season in a Champions League qualifying place.
And now for the bad news… If Tottenham do slip up, there is a chance Newcastle can surpass them for fourth place. Newcastle go to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, then host Manchester City before travelling to Everton. In the unlikely case that Spurs drop points and Newcastle surge in response to their drubbing by Wigan to win out, Tottenham will be on the outside looking in at Champions League football. Likewise, if Chelsea can take full points from their remaining fixtures (Newcastle, at Liverpool, Blackburn) while Tottenham drops a result during the run-in, the Blues will claim Champions League. But I don’t think the league will be the priority for Roberto DiMatteo’s men with the FA Cup final next weekend and the Champions League final on the 19th.
There is also the possibility that England loses a qualifying place if Chelsea wins the Champions League Final. I’m not too worried about that probability as Bayern Munich have to be favorites playing at home, while Chelsea will be without John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires, and Raul Meireles. Even though Bayern will be missing Holger Badstuber, David Alaba and Luiz Gustavo, Chelsea’s anti-football style against Barcelona relied on Meireles and Ramires in the midfield.
Amid rumors that both Modric and Bale could be tempted to leave Tottenham in the summer if the team fails to secure Champions League, Redknapp needs to assert his motivating leadership and keep the squad focused on their final three fixtures. Spurs travel to face Bolton on the 2nd, to Aston Villa on the 6th before hosting Fulham a week later. All these games are reasonably within reach for Tottenham, but we’ve all seen the team drop easy matches in recent seasons.
Players who listed Tottenham as a potential destination earlier in the season have shied away from the club in recent weeks. If we want to attract the likes of Jan Vertonghen, we need to offer the allure of the world’s best club competition.
On the off-chance that Arsenal stumbles at home to Norwich City (who will want to rebound from an ugly performance against Luis Suarez) or away at West Bromwich, Tottenham can secure Champions League even if Chelsea do lift the trophy.
All of the rumors and speculation are moot if Spurs fail to win their remaining games. The team had a very positive result on Sunday, but we need to string together a solid run of form to finish the season. Our three remaining matches are very winnable and if we repeat the 4-4-1-1 we played against Blackburn, Tottenham will be back where we belong; among Europe’s elite teams.