Redknapp's out to stop slide as Spurs will feel Euro heat if they stumble at Chelsea
22:31 GMT, 23 March 2012
Tottenham were heading for third
place a couple of weeks ago, but they might end up as the third best
team in London if their current tailspin continues.
Arsenal have already gone past them. Chelsea will fancy their chances too if they consign Spurs to their
fourth defeat in five Barclays Premier League games with a victory at
Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp insisted his players were not panicking at their marked dip in form over the past month, pointing out that the laid-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto 'probably doesn't even know we are playing Chelsea'.
But Redknapp was kidding nobody.
Back to the training ground: Harry Redknapp is confident of turning Tottenham's fortunes around
Defeat would reflect not just a dip in results, but a head-first dive. The lunchtime kick-off is a match neither side can afford to lose.
With Arsenal on a brilliant run that has seen them win their past six Premier League games and Newcastle United only two points behind Chelsea in sixth place, two of those four glittering 20million Champions League spots are still very much there for the taking.
'We've got a (five-point) lead over Chelsea but we've got to maintain that lead,' said Redknapp.
'It's going to be tight getting down to the end of the season. The Champions League places are all up for grabs now. From being 10 points clear we're only five points clear of Chelsea now. We've struggled to pick up results in the last few weeks.'
As for Roberto di Matteo, his message to his Chelsea players is very simple. Lose on Saturday and you can kiss goodbye to a place among Europe's elite next season.
'If we lose it will be very difficult for us,' said the Italian. 'I'm not contemplating that but it would be difficult. It would still be mathematically possible and we will fight to the end but we want to have a good game. A win would give us a big lift.'
Kidding no-one: Redknapp knows a repeat of the last few weeks at Chelsea will be very costly
If Tottenham can rewrite the history
books by recording their first win at Stamford Bridge since February
1990 they will, temporarily at least, leapfrog Arsenal, who host Aston Villa at 3pm.
Redknapp's side would also be eight points clear of Chelsea with just eight games of this topsy-turvy season to go.
Having lost 2-1 in midweek at Manchester City,
much of Chelsea's improvement under Di Matteo – four consecutive wins
in League and cups which followed the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas –
would be undone by back-to-back defeats.
Playing catch-up: Roberto Di Matteo and Chelsea hoping to overhaul Spurs
Should Chelsea win however, they would be only two points behind Tottenham.
That would be some turnaround, considering Spurs enjoyed a 13-point lead over Arsenal and were seven points above Chelsea on January 31.
The manner of Arsenal's comeback in their 5-2 victory over Tottenham in February started what has been a worrying four weeks for Spurs fans.
Limited options: Ledley King (left) unable to train, and Michael Dawson's (right) loss has been felt
Redknapp can point to encouraging performances in defeat against Manchester United and Everton, but, Gareth Bale apart, Spurs were lacklustre in the 1-1 draw against Stoke on Wednesday.
Their manager did not use the incredibly difficult events of Saturday's abandoned FA Cup tie against Bolton as an excuse and neither should his squad.
Redknapp was also incensed by suggestions that speculation over his own future has affected his players' performance.
'That is the biggest load of nonsense I've heard in my life,' he said. 'They don't care whether I'm the manager next year. Footballers are footballers: they play the game, they come in every day and train, somebody else comes in the door tomorrow. The king is dead. Long live the king.'
Missing width: Aaron Lennon was injured against Stevenage
Tottenham's problems, it seems, are more physical than psychological.
Ledley King's inability to train properly appears to be taking its toll on the captain and Michael Dawson's injury setback is a huge loss.
The team also miss the width and pace Aaron Lennon gives them on the right.
Playing Lennon and Bale on either flank stretches Spurs' opposition and also solves the problem of what to do with Rafael van der Vaart.
The Dutch playmaker is not as effective on the right and so drifts back from where he operates at his brilliant best, playing just off a striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
'We miss Aaron,' said Redknapp. 'He gives us balance on that right side. With him and Gareth on the other side we have got pace. We haven't really got a replacement.'
The Spurs boss also spoke at length on Friday about the current generation of players not thinking so deeply about football; Premier League superstars not being as entrenched in the history of the game as some of their predecessors.
But Redknapp cited Chelsea's Frank Lampard and John Terry as exceptions to that rule.
Communication – or rather a lack of it – between players and their manager seems to have been the downfall of Villas-Boas and is something interim manager Di Matteo has been keen to address.
'I've been talking to all my players,' said Di Matteo. 'I understand that sometimes they're not happy to come off. I've managed to get the group to pull in the same direction.'
Terry said on Friday Di Matteo was doing an 'immense' job and said talk that he and other senior players were running the dressing room was 'complete nonsense'.
Chelsea's new sense of unity will be severely tested in a game that will go a long way to determining England's representatives in next season's Champions League.