Wednesday, September 13, 2006

100 Up! The UEFA Cup Preview - Slavia Prague Away

Ah, how nice it is to write those words – UEFA Cup preview. It’s been a while since Spurs were in this competition, the 1999-2000 season to be exact, after our Worthington Cup win at Wembley under the chap in the overcoat enabled us to qualify for the first time since English clubs were allowed back into Europe. Two late goals in the away leg of the second round against Kaiserslauten ensured that it was only a brief adventure however. Europe may not have seen the best of Tottenham Hotspur in recent years, but there is a rich history there which is not forgotten. The UEFA Cup and Cup Winner’s Cup competitions were merged in the 1999-2000 season, so taking the history of both tournaments, the UEFA Cup from its glorious beginnings in 1971/72 when the mighty Tottenham Hotspur were the inaugural winners, and the CWC from its first season in 1960-61, the list of most wins is:

Team No. of Trophy Wins
Barcelona 4
Juventus 4
Anderlecht 3
Inter Milan 3
Liverpool 3
Parma 3
Tottenham Hotspur 3

So victory this year would mean that Spurs take their rightful place as the joint most successful team in the competition’s history. What a nice achievement that would be. Edgar Davids thinks that Spurs sits well with Barcelona and Juventus on his CV and The Waddler thinks it would look pretty nice on the UEFA Cup roll of honour too.

OK we are getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, got a bit misty eyed there for a moment, picturing Graham Roberts lifting that enormous trophy in front of the pretty new West Stand at White Hart Lane. Could it be Ledders doing the same in Glasgow next May? Anyway, enough of dwelling in the past let us look towards Thursday’s game against Slavia Prague. Martin Jol and Chris Hughton have both quite rightly emphasised how good Czech football is, and how the national team is as good as England. However, that hides the fact that all the best players play abroad, leaving their domestic competition rather weak. Whilst Slavia have far more recent European experience than Spurs, regularly appearing in either the Champions League or UEFA Cup for each of the last 13 years, they should be put away over 2 legs by a star studded Tottenham team. A Czech club can only dream of taking one of the German League’s top strikers away for €15m for example. There is a world of difference between the two teams. In fact Slavia coach Karel Jarolim threw in the towel as soon as the draw was made, commenting “We could not have been drawn against a stronger opponent“ .

So, what should be the plan? With the very welcome news that Aaron Lennon looks like he may be fit for this one after all, Spurs can stick with the tried and tested 4-4-2 containing the same back four that looked good against Man Utd last weekend; a midfield of Tainio, Zokora, Jenas and Lennon, with Mido up front if Berbatov isn’t fit, and it would be nice to see a start given to Jermaine Defoe. That side should be too good for most teams to handle. With one eye on Fulham on Sunday, you could then pick Berbatov and Keane for that one all being well. There will be some squad tinkering over the next two games, and it will be interesting to see who features. We have yet to see any of Tom Huddlestone for example, and Hossam Ghaly’s surprising introduction to English football at Old Trafford suggests we may see more of him.

It would be nice to go over there and come back with a 2-0 lead, but in all honesty a score draw would still represent a good nights work, and leave us in pole position for the home leg in a couple of weeks time. For Spurs’ 100th competitive European game though a win, wearing the all white kit would be a fitting way of announcing to Europe that Tottenham Hotspur are reclaiming their place at the table. Let’s hope for a return of those Glory, Glory nights.

Come on you Spurs!

The Waddler.