It's all been leading up to this for Tottenham Hotspur and manager Andre Villas-Boas. This all began last May when Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final, thus knocking Spurs out of this season's competition and ending the Harry Redknapp era at the club. Villas-Boas was acquired by Tottenham with one main goal in mind: Earn Champions League football in 2012-13.
That's it. Go back to this past summer when AVB was first introduced as the new Spurs boss. Winning cups/trophies was really an afterthought to Tottenham getting back in the major European competition. Now, with seven Premier League fixtures remaining, Spurs have their Champions League fate in their own hands. They currently sit in the third spot in the league table, and they'll have opportunities to show that they are a true top-four side in contests against Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea.
This is Spurs we're talking about, though, which means it can never be cut and dry. Tottenham also have Europa League matches to worry about. While Redknapp treated that particular European tour like a nuisance and nothing more, Villas-Boas has been clear from the very beginning that he wants to bring that trophy to White Hart Lane. He isn't alone in taking Europa League seriously. Midfielder Scott Parker recently spoke about the importance of winning the tournament.
The problem, as was the case in 2012, is that Spurs don't have the squad depth that Manchester City or Chelsea currently have. Tottenham fans can complain about the club not acquiring a striker this past January until they are blue in the face. What's done is done, and now Villas-Boas has but one healthy front man at the start of April; and that forward is hardly in-form.
Much as been speculated about Emmanuel Adebayor's struggles this season. Is Adebayor dealing with a crisis of confidence, or is this merely "Ade being Ade," that magical time when the talented Togo international is about ready to move on to his next home? Whatever the case may be, Villas-Boas is going to need Adebayor for at least the next couple of weeks while Jermain Defoe recovers from a muscle injury.
Villas-Boas has hinted that he could feature Gareth Bale up top against Basel on April 4. Bale, arguably the Premier League Player of the Year, has the versatility to perform just about anywhere on the pitch, but it's not a stretch to suggest that he's a much better scoring option when a true striker is placed ahead of him in the squad. Adebayor merely being out there as a presence which draws attention from a defender or two makes Bale more lethal in the attacking third.
There's also the fact that the likes of Bale, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and even goalkeeper Brad Friedel are, as the previously mentioned Parker was one year ago, set to be run into the ground. Along with Premier League and other club competitions, those players also routinely feature for their national teams. Do they have enough in their tanks to play in what could be a dozen more games between now and the end of the European season?
Villas-Boas deserves credit for the way he has thus far rotated his squads. Redknapp's inability to do just that beginning in February 2012 helped bring on the collapse that saw Tottenham tumble from second to fourth in the league table. Now comes what could be the biggest test of AVB's managerial career.
The next month and a half isn't just about Tottenham returning to Champions League or winning the European version of the NIT trophy. This is a chance for Villas-Boas to silence every critic who lashed out at him last year when he failed as Chelsea manager. I don't think anybody will deny that Spurs have the talent of a top-four Premier League side. What Villas-Boas does with that talent between now and May 19 will be the most significant factor in determining where Spurs end up in the league table when all is said and done.
What's most unfair to Villas-Boas is that there really is no way he can win. If Spurs do qualify for Champions League and/or win Europa League, analysts will gush about the club being a one-man or two-man team carried to glory by Bale and Vertonghen. AVB will, on the other hand, be the first man to be blamed if Tottenham can't achieve either goal.
Pro sports often aren't fair, and Villas-Boas could be a couple of weeks away from being reminded of that fact in a very painful manner.
For more: Jermain Defoe injury woes
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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