Spurs will look to set White Hart Lane afire with three points that could clinch advancement to the knockout stage of the Champions League (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
So in Kevin's absence you get me and I'll do my best to not blow the site up, but I make no promises in the same manner that the soccer gods have made no promises to keep any Tottenham players healthy. We're well versed in all the long-term injuries Spurs have battled through this season and continue to battle through, but despite it all the club has done alright for themselves.
Some embarrassing league hiccups aside, Spurs sit within striking distance of the top four and are currently top of their Champions League group. That's not too shabby and a great deal of that success has come because the club's two best players have been reliable. Match after match (with the exception of a suspension), Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart have taken to the pitch and much more often than not they have turned in brilliant performances. So Spurs being Spurs, naturally the two have to be an injury doubt going into the biggest match of the Champions League campaign.
When Spurs opened Champions League group play with a draw at Werder Bremen, the home fixture against the Germans immediately because the most important match left in European play. Back then it was assumed that three points from the home match versus Werder would be enough to put Tottenham through to the knockout stages and with that match now upon us, it is true. If Spurs can manage three points against Bremen they will likely go through to the knockout stage and in an surprising circumstance for those who discounted the Rafa-factor at Inter, Tottenham can even with the group.
The question that Spurs will have to answer is exactly how they get three points from Bremen. White Hart Lane will be buzzing and old ground should provide the club with a boost, but that's not near enough to win matches. Luckily, Bremen is going through a horrid run of form. The Germans haven't notched a goal in four November matches and haven't won a match since October 23. Their four November matches have seen them manage a scoreless draw to go along with a 4-0 loss, a 6-0 loss and a 2-0 loss to Twente in their last Champions League fixture to kick off the month. Needless to say, Bremen aren't getting the job done and it all starts with a leaky back line that has allowed the second-most goals in the Bundesliga this season.
A home match and an opponent just dragging themselves along right now is a good formula for three points, but how will Spurs manage it with so many key players out or in doubt? The losses of Michael Dawson and Ledley King are well-documented and the center back pairing of William Gallas and Younes Kaboul hit a high on Saturday in Spurs win over Arsenal when the pair were a rock at the back. Often betrayed by comical defending by their outside backs and a deeper lying central midfield who took 89 minutes to put a tackle in, Gallas and Kaboul stood tall. Despite the obvious injuries in the center of the Tottenham defense, that is not the area of doubt for Spurs against Bremen. Those concerns come farther up the pitch.
Both Bale and van der Vaart are in doubt as Bale fights a shoulder injury suffered in the waning minutes of Saturday's match and the Dutchman deals with a knock just above his ankle. If the pair cannot play, Spurs will be in load of trouble. Tom Huddlestone's injury has made it nearly a requirement that Luka Modric play centrally so that Spurs have some form of possession and passing in the center. Without Bale and van der Vaart though, Modric will likely have to slide out to left and leave, gulp, Wilson Palacios and, double gulp, Jermaine Jenas to man the center of the pitch alone. Not a pretty picture. Toss in the uncertainty about whether Jermain Defoe is fit enough to start and what Tottenham has in the attack could be as threatening as a butterfly.
That said, currently Bale and van der Vaart are said to be a doubt. That hardly means that the pair will be out and should they both be fit enough to play then you have to like Spurs' chances to beat a beleaguered Bremen side. With the two in doubt though, I'm not going to bother predicting the lineup Spurs rolls out there. With how integral both are to what the team wants to do, speculating on a lineup without knowing their status is nearly impossible because of the ripple effect it has on the entire lineup.
One thing I would like to see regardless of van der Vaart's health is the return of Vedran Corluka. How Alan Hutton continues to earn starts is beyond me and an insult to the sport. A right back incapable of defending who hasn't put in a decent cross in weeks and has the position sense of a soon-to-be-roadkill squirrel needs to find a warm spot on the bench. That is even more true when you have someone of Corluka's quality hanging around. The Croatian will never be confused with an attacking player and any forays into the attacking third are an accident, but he is a reliable defender and that is something that cannot be underestimated in the impact it can have in the attack. With Corluka at right back, Aaron Lennon doesn't need to commit to defending as much. More importantly, he finds extra room to attack on the counter attack as he exploits the space left by the opposing teams left back or central midfielder who stray from position and break shape to help a left midfielder shackled by Corluka.
Okay, we're going to call for an end to my rambling with this basic thought. Decades in the making, Tottenham very well could clinch a spot in the Champions League knockout stage in front of a cracking White Hart Lane crowd. For all the misery Spurs put every supporter through, moments like that are what make it worth it and they're the moments that remind you the magic of the sport. Should things go in favor of Spurs tomorrow, take a moment to savor it.