Georgina Turner
Friday August 27th, 2010

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was asked how he would celebrate after his team's victory against BSC Young Boys on Wednesday ensured qualification for the Champions League group stage.

"I shall go home and have a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea," Redknapp told reporters. "Wigan on Saturday is what I'm thinking about really."

It was a deliberately deadpan response on a night of giddy chatter about mixing it with the big boys of European soccer, and by the time Spurs had been drawn in Group A with Werder Bremen, FC Twente and defending champion Internazionale, Redknapp was as caught up in the moment as anyone: "Are we worried about taking on Inter? Am I worried about going to the San Siro stadium? Do my players think they are inferior? No, no and no again."

There's no doubting that the arrival of Inter on Nov. 2 will quicken pulses in north London -- White Hart Lane hasn't welcomed a club of genuinely comparable stature since 1985, when eventual winner Real Madrid defeated UEFA Cup title holder Tottenham thanks to an own goal -- and desire for progression doesn't preclude a lust for European nights to savor.

But Redknapp is wise to train his focus on managing a campaign fought on four fronts. "We can't start thinking about Champions League football and let our league form go," he said. "The top teams every year play Champions League football, Premier League football, and they compete on both fronts. We have to do that."

Tottenham has rarely sustained a challenge on all fronts and the manager is new to its demands, but the performance against Young Boys will boost Redknapp's confidence. Under a sky that dropped rain as if to quench a fire, his players looked as unflustered as you're likely to see them. Spurs blanked Young Boys 4-0 and pushed for more to the last minute, winning 6-3 on aggregate after losing the first leg 3-2 last week in Switzerland.

They now need to maintain that composure, concentration and energy through a congested fixture list. Wigan may hold few fears, but Redknapp's men face less comfortable away encounters with Fulham, Manchester United and Bolton sprinkled among two legs against Internazionale, while Werder Bremen's visit is sandwiched between a trip to neighbor Arsenal and a home match against Liverpool.

To do it, Redknapp needs to maintain a healthy squad. Though he attached the usual caveats about big, last-minute offers before the transfer window closes on Wednesday, Redknapp expressed satisfaction with his cover in every position.

"I've not pressed the chairman to buy anybody," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "We took William Gallas on a free. ... If we don't get anybody else, I'm really not too bothered."

Gallas may have received a tepid reception from Spurs fans, but he has experience of winning Premier League campaigns (and on Europe's biggest stages) that makes him an ideal substitute for Ledley King, who will inevitably miss matches. Players like Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Bassong and Jermaine Jenas, whose performances against Stoke last week drew praise from the manager, are unlikely to be first choices for Europe, but their reliability in physically taxing domestic encounters could be pivotal.

This time last year, Gareth Bale was being kept out of the fullback position by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. But having found his way to the left of midfield, and despite his youth and relative inexperience, Bale's name should be one of the first on the team sheet for Spurs to trouble the loftiest opponents. He was instrumental in all four goals Wednesday, and even in the 79th minute, when the game was won, he sprinted the length of the pitch to halt a Young Boys break.

Bale is capable of turning in a headline-grabbing performance in almost every game -- "There wouldn't be too many better left-sided players than Gareth," Redknapp said -- but Spurs should also hope to keep Tom Huddlestone fit. His contribution is less showy but he gives the center serenity, deftness of touch and vision; the yin to Wilson Palacios' bullish, less refined yang.

Redknapp has been linked with Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano all summer, and for once the rumors seem sensible. Fabiano has won two UEFA Cups with Sevilla and was outstanding at last year's Confederations Cup. He would be a good signing and it wouldn't be out of character for Redknapp to sneak him in (and Robbie Keane out, to Newcastle, according to the latest whispers) in the next few days. But it's becoming easier to see Spurs making do, even with such a trying campaign ahead.

Roman Pavlyuchenko can be ponderous and his goal-scoring record looks streaky, but a player capable of the kind of finish that drew Spurs back to 3-2 last week (and the generosity that almost set Peter Crouch up for another on Wednesday) is worth having. Jermain Defoe and Keane are pests who can outsmart and outpace defenders, and always starting one or the other makes sense. Like Keane, Crouch has been linked with a move elsewhere, but his performance this week demonstrated his use to Tottenham.

"When it's a one on one for a header against Crouch, you just don't have a chance," Young Boys manager Vladimir Petkovic said. "I probably haven't come across a player like that in top-class football."

Crouch's hat trick no doubt got Petkovic's attention, but it was noticeable in any case how often Spurs looked to launch a long ball up to him or to get Bale and Aaron Lennon into areas from which to cross, always aiming for the beanpole figure loitering at the far post.

Tottenham has the players to keep the ball on the ground -- Bale and Lennon are comfortable cutting in from the wings and Croatian playmaker Luka Modric is on the way back from injury -- and is unlikely to become an advocate of relentless route one soccer with them on board. But Crouch's presence offers an instant switch from defense to attack. Like Huddlestone, Michael Dawson can ping a nice ball forward, relieving pressure at the back in more difficult and draining games.

That kind of approach could be much needed: Between now and Christmas, Tottenham plays 22 matches, with its group of internationals facing European Championship qualifiers, too. It's a harrying pace and the Champions League draw could certainly have thrown Spurs an easier run. Maintaining winning form on multiple fronts as fatigue sets in -- reaching the knockout stages would crank up the pressure just as tweaks and strains start to be felt -- will require the best of everybody. But this is arguably the best Tottenham side in 20 years, and there's enough about the squad to believe that it's up to an entertaining, if not ultimately victorious, season of European adventure.

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