Great expectations

August 22, 2006
By The Insider
(Archive)

Tottenham 2-0 Sheffield United

They are Jose Mourinho's pick as the side to break the monotony of the Premiership's established superpowers this season, yet Tottenham started their first home game of the season with pressure bearing down on their collective shoulders.

Empics / TonyMarshallDimitar Berbatov celebrates his first competitive goal for Spurs.

'I expect Tottenham to be in the top four, maybe the top three,' is the prediction of the Chelsea manager, yet after their opening day defeat against Bolton provided more answers than questions, they needed to provide some definitive proof of their class against the favourites for Premiership relegation.

Seasoned Spurs watchers will not have been too surprised to see them crumble to their now traditional defeat at the Reebok Stadium, but those who expect a little more from Martin Jol's men this time around will have been bemused by the feeble manner of their surrender.

A popular orange fizzy drinks advert coined a phase to describe a messy fate befalling an unsuspecting victim a few years back and Tottenham suffered something similar as they were 'Boltoned' on Saturday, yet they were not the first and won't be the last to suffer such a grizzly demise.

If Tottenham are to live up to Mourinho's billing, games like this need to be negotiated with comfort and as they produced a scintillating first 45 minutes to sweep the Blades aside, the side who came a close as possible to a top four finish last season stated their intentions to go one better this time.

If promise is to be converted into tangible success, the form and fitness of summer buy Dimitar Berbatov is likely to be crucial. While the enigmatic Mido was a glorious talent when he wanted to be, the explosive Egyptian forward could not be relied upon to lead the line alone with any level of success, yet the same cannot be said of Berbatov.

A fee of £10.9m may seem like a lot for a player who has rarely captured worldwide headlines, but Jol's lengthy pursuit of the Bulgarian international looks set to pay handsome dividends as it's not just the personal qualities he brings to the team that may be vital. Berbatov's best quality may be the options he provides as Jol attempts to solve the dilemma of getting the best out of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane.

On this occasion, it was Ireland captain Keane who started in place of his English colleague and with Berbatov happy to command the attentions of two Blades defenders, Keane was released to weave his magic from a deeper position and how he revelled.

Looking fully fit after recovering from the calf injury that saw him relegated to the bench for the Bolton game, Keane was the heartbeat of this Tottenham effort as he turned in the sort of performance his supporters have long known him to be capable of. Displaying an immaculate first touch, this is a striker whose creative skills are as impressive as his abilities in front of goal and for the first 45 minutes, he produced a master class of forward play.

Keane's perfectly weighted cross so nearly provided Berbatov with the opening goal after just five minutes and even though Aaron Lennon can take the credit for the opening goal that was tapped home by the Bulgarian a minute later, it was merely a lull in the Keane show.

Another gloriously floated ball from the golden booted Dubliner after 16 minutes allowed Berbatov to lay on Tottenham's second for Jermaine Jenas and while dominant possession enjoyed by the home side allowed him to sparkle, Keane's command of the ball was a sight to behold.

GettyImages / CliveRoseMan of the match Robbie Keane and goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov

With Edgar Davids and Teemu Tainio providing the defensive back-up in Tottenham's midfield, the front three of Lennon, Berbatov and the imperious Keane were too much for the overwhelmed Blades to handle and the same will be true for many a Premiership side this season.

Four days after their brand of passionate and committed football earned an unlikely point against Liverpool, Neil Warnock's men had stepped up a level and once their valid appeals for a penalty were waved away when David Sommeil tumbled in the box on the hour mark, their faint hopes of a comeback evaporated.

The key ingredient in this Tottenham side is the pace they ooze from every position and Neil Warnock was quick to confirm as much. 'We were a little bit in awe of them for the first 20 minutes and a few of our lads let themselves down in that period, but I felt their quality was outstanding,' stated the Sheffield United boss.

'Keane and Lennon were fantastic all night and gave us all kinds of problems. What we have to do now is stop worrying about the excitement of playing in these great venues and against these great players and concentrate on what we can do.'

The goal Keane so richly deserved should have come moments later as he scuffed a glorious chance in the box after another fine Lennon run and if you were looking for a flaw in Tottenham's make-up, it would have to be their inability to kill off opposition that were waiting to be beaten. Complacency is rarely a concern for the top four in Premiership, who love nothing better than rubbing salt into the wounds of humbled opponents.

The rousing reception that greeted Keane's 81st minute departure was well deserved and to have a player of Defoe's quality itching to replace him suggests the strength required to last through an English winter in present in this Spurs squad.

'I am a happy customer,' said Spurs boss Jol. 'It's hard to pick out an individual performance after a performance like that as I could not ask for any more that that. We had great link-up play, gave perfect support for our strikers and we showed that the result from Saturday did not affect us too much.

'It was an all-round performance and the key now is producing performances like that first 45 minutes every game. The score doesn't reflect on the game because we could have scored three or four and that is the area we need to work on. If we can score more goals, then we will have everything we need.'

With experienced and class added to the side that finished fifth last season, Mourinho's confidence in Tottenham's Champions League ambitions may well prove to be well placed.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Robbie Keane

It took the Irishman some 46 minutes to put a foot wrong and his annoyance at a rare piece of poor control said much about the high standards he sets himself these days.

MASCOT MAYHEM: Tottenham's decision to employ eleven mascots never fails to amuse and on this occasion, the curious policy was further exasperated by the fact that the female mascot accompanying Edgar Davids was as tall as the Dutch legend.

WHERE WERE THE BLADES: In what was their first Premiership away day for many a year, it was curious to note that half the Sheffield United travelling support section was empty for this game at White Hart Lane.

EARPIECE DISASTER: In the midst of yet another touchline ban, Neil Warnock admitted his communication with the bench broke down. 'I couldn't get any messages down to my staff,' he moaned. 'Our technology is not too good at Sheffield United.'

FOOD WATCH: The spicy chicken stew before kick-off was worthy of a second helping and the meat pie a half-time was an added bonus. Culinary class from the Tottenham catering team.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: The top six is a certainty for a side whose pace and ability shone through and if they can keep they key men fit and avoid distractions from the UEFA Cup, something far more lucrative could be possible.

  • Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.