So, win this perennial game in hand and Tottenham Hotspur could be third, playing arguably the country's most attractive football, savvily negotiating their way through a European competition most fans actually quite fancy and with the strong chance of some January squad refinement. But, is it all enough to keep a certain Croatian happy?
No, not the Kyle Walker-usurped Vedran Corluka. Or crocked fancy-dan Niko Kranjcar. Although I doubt neither are too thrilled with their predicaments. We're talking about the tiny midfield schemer described by Twitter scholar Joey Barton after Tottenham's stylish 3-1 win over QPR as the Premier League's best footballer "by a mile." Luka Modric.
Being a bit pathetic and insecure, I've studied Modric throughout this fledgling season. And not just his increasingly thrusting performances (wibbly showing against Newcastle aside), but his body language, his expressions, his mood. Like any raw, wronged lover, I'm obviously over-analysing his every move. Is he over his flirtation with that rich other woman from posh London? Is there now too much water under the bridge for us all to fall in love again? Is he ready for the level of commitment I want? Can we fulfill his needs?
Is he over his flirtation with that rich other woman from posh London? Is there now too much water under the bridge for us all to fall in love again?
Right now, Spurs are providing Modric absolutely every reason to forget about Chelsea. They recruited the Premier League's most able guard-dog to allow him full creative license (with a pedigree Brazilian sat on the bench ready to help out when required). In Gareth Bale, Emmanuel Adebayor, Rafael van der Vaart and even Aaron Lennon, he has a fulcrum of dynamic, intelligent, peaking attacking footballers to weave magic with. And should Spurs eventually win this game in hand, there's every chance they could sit above Chelsea when the klaxon sounds for January's meat market.
As both Scott Parker and Van der Vaart commented this weekend, Tottenham feel tantalisingly close to achieving something special, something tangible. And while Parker applies the steel, Adebayor the presence, Bale and Lennon the jet-heeled thrust and Van der Vaart the clinical execution, Modric is the team's alchemist. Few Spurs endeavours succeed without Croatian engineering. Which is why January is stuch a concern. Because no matter how many games Tottenham remain unbeaten, or smiles Luka shows during goal celebrations, he's showed himself to be a footballer unconcerned with sentiment. He's 26 and wants to win right now.
Sure, Daniel Levy will have talked up the intangible pros of achieving glory within the team you helped build over piggy-backing onto a success-saturated outfit. To some players, a potential FA Cup win and a top 4 finish for a club who's supporters will eulogise your tenure for decades trumps greater riches where your influence is less integral. This summer, Luka didn't bite on the "folk hero" hard sell. It was hardly too surprising after an entertaining-but-ultimately disappointing season. Plus, Tottenham summers are rarely pretty, with Levy performing his bi-annual who'll-blink-first routine, several thousand prospective transfer targets touted and the starrier names fiercely barricaded within White Hart Lane. But post-Christmas Tottenham could be a very different proposition. Continue their ascent, perhaps trade the few dud squad members for more able replacements and Stamford Bridge may not feel such a Torres-like certainty.
The silent, lurking x factor in this transfer saga? Manchester United. Quite why Sir Alex didn't follow through a rumoured interest in the summer was a mystery (perhaps Wesley Sneijder was a deal United expected to complete). But now - particularly after Manchester City steamrolled through United's midfield so bravenly - surely a Premier League-educated David Silva of their very own is a neccesity. United seem to lack a genuine top tier midfield maestro to manipulate possession, to keep the ball in tight spots and to magic chances. Introduce Modric to the United side that faced Barcelona in last sesaon's Champions League final and Ferguson might not have been so comprehensively out-foxed.
Of course, as a Spurs fan, let's just hope Chelsea continue their capitulation and Fergie goes back in for Sneijder. Because it'll be absolutely lovely to see just what this team can do this year.
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