x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Peter Crouch sums up Spurs' dichotomy this season

The giant England striker has had a schizophrenic season - emphatic and prolific in Europe yet toothless on home soil.

Peter Crouch has scored four goals and set up three in seven Champions League games, including the winner against AC Milan.
Peter Crouch has scored four goals and set up three in seven Champions League games, including the winner against AC Milan.

Tottenham Hotspur's inaugural season in the Champions League is doubling up as a deluxe tour of Europe's grandest clubs.

After the Milanese masters, AC and Inter, come the most illustrious of all, Real Madrid. Overcome them and the garlanded greats of Barcelona probably await.

The fixture list still seems surreal. These are days to be savoured, partly because of their long wait and partly because a second excursion around the continent's highest-class clubs grows more unlikely.

With every Premier League point dropped, the probability increases that Spurs will be plying their trade in the Europa League next season.

There is a temptation to brand as schizophrenic a side that can scare the continent's best and struggle against the division's worst.

It could be argued, however, that this merely means Harry Redknapp's current collective are the rightful successors to plenty of their predecessors at White Hart Lane.

Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur has a more glamorous ring than consistent, consistent Tottenham Hotspur.

If one player epitomises the dichotomy, it is Peter Crouch. The man whose goal eliminated AC Milan has struck seven times in eight starts against European opposition.

Against the English, however, he has mustered a mere two goals in 27 games. He has become that rarity, a target man to take on the status of an enigma.

Or, perhaps, he has been found out. Crouch's unique physique is no longer a surprise to those who face him regularly. For the unfamiliar, however, he poses a novel problem.

It explains why his goalscoring record in the Champions League and international football is vastly superior to his return in the Premier League and why, although Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko started Saturday's stalemate at Wigan Athletic, Crouch is likely to be the lone front-runner in the Bernabeu tonight.

Yet there are few strangers in the higher echelons of the world game. Last week, his former Liverpool teammate, and current Real full-back, Alvaro Arbeloa, outlined a game plan against Crouch: defend high and keep him out of the penalty area.

Ricardo Carvalho, an old adversary, has reasons to be confident: he has faced the Englishman 12 times, without Crouch scoring in his 726 minutes on the field. Jose Mourinho is accustomed to planning to halt him.

There is a sense, too, that a man Redknapp has spent much of his career signing and selling (for Southampton, Portsmouth and Spurs) is at a defining point in his Tottenham career.

Should they fail to finish in the top four, the strikers could bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Between them, Crouch, Defoe, Pavlyuchenko and the departed Robbie Keane have contributed a mere 11 league goals (in comparison, Wolverhampton Wanderers' specialist forwards have struck 17 times and West Ham United's 19, and both teams are in the bottom three).

Redknapp's fondness for a transfer is legendary and a striker appears a priority. Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan and Villarreal's Giuseppe Rossi have attracted his attention, as did Luis Fabiano, now back in Brazil and Andy Carroll, who moved to Liverpool.

The demands have changed. Rafael van der Vaart's presence in the hole necessitates a multidimensional player if he is to be alone in attack; but, as Real have noted, pace is not Crouch's forte.

Increasingly, goalscoring is not either, although his alliance of opposites with the Dutchman proved prolific in the autumn.

It is Crouch's misfortune that he has been misunderstood for much of his career. His gangling 6ft 7ins (2.01m) frame can blind onlookers to the reality he often volleys the ball better than he heads it, for instance.

However, Redknapp knows him better than most, and he appears to have come to the conclusion that the professional predators are the likelier league scorers.

The precedent is worrying, too: Crouch became surplus to requirements at Liverpool when a truly world-class forward, Fernando Torres, was bought.

It was Crouch's goal against Manchester City that earned Tottenham their chance in the Champions League and his finish in the San Siro that clinched a place in the last eight.

Yet as Spurs arrive at the Bernabeu for what could prove a one-off, their European talisman could be forgiven for wondering if it is the beginning of the end for him.

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