Let's just list them out from the get go, shall we? Note that the Carling Cup is being left out because we've been eliminated by a combination of poor luck, an inability to finish from three yards out (Robbie Keane), non-match fit players in extra time and whatever else you want to attribute yesterday's defeat to.
1) Premier League
2) Champions League
3) FA Cup
There's no question in my mind that our number one priority is Premier League play. We pocket so much money from qualifying for the Champions League that finishing top-four has to be our number one focus. If we can make the Champions League for a couple years running we can turn that money from the Champions League plus the money coming from our hopeful new stadium into the right player acquisitions to be a Champions League regular. That's gigantic for the stature of the club in the eyes of fans and especially players, plus Champions League football is awesome.
The one thing that has really held us back is our wage structure. While we look at transfer targets gone elsewhere, we wonder why we didn't pay an extra £3 million or whatever the cost, but the real thing that rules us out of the top players is wage structure. Both Luka Modric and Gareth Bale got new deals this summer at £70,000 per week, making them the highest paid players on the team and currently, we won't go any higher than that for someone else. Even if we were willing to pay the £40 million for Edin Dzeko or whoever else, they would want more than £70,000 per week so it wouldn't work. However, if we were to become a Champions League regular then we would be able to pay bigger wages and get in the mix for the top players.
After that, winning in the Champions League becomes priority. We get an extra £3 million for reaching the knockout stages, another huge gate at the Lane and it will get us a lot more money in our stadium naming rights deal as well as other stadium sponsorships. It's also the biggest tournament in club football so a good showing there is always important.
The FA Cup comes in last, but unless we make it to the knockout stages of the Champions League, we don't have to worry about balancing those two because the FA Cup doesn't start until January and the group stages of the Champions League is over in December. If we do not qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League then how we prioritize the FA Cup becomes very much dependent on the draw and what type of squad we'll need to get results in the FA Cup. In a Champions League season the FA Cup takes a backseat, but winning it is still incredible and if things break right, going with your best XI in the final rounds is the right way to go, if we can get to the final rounds.
Now, just because we've designated the Premier League as our top priority doesn't mean you go with your first XI there and see what you have left for the rest of the matches. It takes some balancing and is very much dependent on who you're playing in each competition when you run into fixture congestion. Let's take a look at three upcoming matches.
On Saturday, we are away to West Ham before a Champions League fixture against Twente at the Lane with a visit from Aston Villa to follow the next Saturday. That means three matches in eight days and is the perfect example of the fixture congestion that brings up the "how to prioritize questions."
So, on Saturday, my first decision is to put Ledley King on the bench. His balky knees make more than one match a week a toss up and West Ham is terrible. They are bottom of the table on one point and have scored just three goals. He should not be needed against a team like West Ham so save him for Wednesday's match with Twente.
The other major questions is what to do with Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart. With Modric coming off of injury and Van der Vaart still not 100% match fit, I doubt both can go 90 minutes on both Saturday and Wednesday. I would have Van der Vaart start on Saturday both matches, knowing that he's likely to come off as a substitute in both. I would give Modric Saturday off because the added attacking presence shouldn't be completely necessary to unlock the West Ham defense. Besides the fact that they're not very good defensively, playing at home they should not try to drop men behind the ball and play for a point. Twente could very well do that at the Lane on Wednesday so getting both Van der Vaart and Modric on the field for that match has to be a priority.
As you can see, even with just a couple decisions Wednesday would see a stronger line-up if I were in charge than Saturday. This is despite the fact that I believe the Premier League is more important than the Champions League. How to play which players is very dependent on who you're playing and whether you can get by without your first XI. Against West Ham, Tottenham better be able to get by without their first XI so you take come liberties there. That said, if you end up in a situation where you have a top Premier League side on a weekend with Champions League to follow on Tuesday or Wednesday, you put your first XI out there on Saturday and figure out how to patch something together for Champions League after Saturday when you know how your boys are after that match.
It's a delicate balancing act and one of the tougher things that Harry Redknapp will have to do as a manager. Luckily for him, Sandro flashed the great play he showed off at Internacional and could add some squad depth in the center. Alan Hutton came on strong against Wolves and gives Spurs good cover at right back, maybe even pushing for Vedran Corluka's starting spot and once Michael Dawson and Jermain Defoe are healthy, Tottenham will have options up front and in the back. For a team new to Champions League football, Spurs are very deep and have good players to plug in when need be so the drop off shouldn;t be gargantuan, but it will still take some balancing on 'Arry's part.