'Tis the season, for snatching a stocking full of points at White Hart Lane.
Hey, it's that guy
Man. This is kind of big, huh?
Win, lose or draw in Wigan over the weekend, this match with Tottenham was always going to be a pivotal one. Not that matches with Spurs aren't always showcase events, but this season the derby seems to be taking on a bit more weight with both clubs in the pursuit of Champions League football for 2012-13. With that being said, has this season's opening salvo between the two sides taken on greater significance thanks to our holiday generosity toward Roberto Martinez?
I certainly think so. We gots to have this son.
Who: Tottenham Hotspur (est. 1882)
What: Barclays Premier League, Round 17
When: 22 December, 8pm local time (3pm EDT)
Where: White Hart Lane (36,310)
How: ESPN2 (DirecTV 209, Dish Network 144)
Why: This really is stated above. I don't think you can understate what a win here would do for us going forward. Our schedule following this fixture isn't easy - obviously - but it's much more favorable than it could be. Three points on Thursday followed by a string of quality results through January would definitely put us in an excellent position ahead of Manchester United's trip to Stamford Bridge (Feb. 5). Quite simply, we need to make some waves Thursday against a team that, as previously said, is playing ridiculously well at the moment. There's no reason we can't, either.
Three Point Lane? Not so much
Remember when this match used to represent a jolly good day out with the family? It wasn't so long ago that Spurs went 17 Prem games without a win in this fixture. There were no worries on Bill Nicholson Way back in the day.
That's hardly the case in recent times. We haven't won at the Lane in our last five visits, not since a 2-0 victory in 2005. Damn that rubbish 2-1 result in November '06. Hey, at least Aaron Lennon won't be on the pitch this time around. Neither will Khalid Boulahrouz - thank God.
There's no getting around it, Spurs are in superb form this season. They've won seven of their last eight league matches. The only mark during that run was a 2-1 defeat nearly two weeks ago at the Britannia; it was a result that easily could have been at least a draw had refereeing decisions gone their way. That form is the best in the league - better than City, Arsenal, United, whomever. What also must be mentioned is the fact that Luka Modric & company are two points clear of us in the table, in third, with a game in hand.
So, yeah, Tottenham pose a severe threat.
Fortunately for us, they look to be entering this match without several first-team regulars - many of whom carry a lot of damn pace. The aforementioned Lennon is definitely out after tearing a hamstring on the weekend. That's a serious blow to Spurs, as shaved eyebrows was just beginning to find his game after a lengthy stint on the pine to start the term.
Then there's Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe; participation on Thursday for both is murky at best. The Welshman, who missed the win over Sunderland, is doubtful with an ankle injury. Defoe, meanwhile, has been hindered for weeks by a hamstring strain that worsened during Spurs' Europa League win over Shamrock Rovers. Um, why play him then, Harry? Bizarre.
Anyway, Spurs down this trio would be a nice holiday gift for the Chels. Whether all three miss out is still up in the air.
That's the thing about planning for this match. How can Andre Villas-Boas apply himself when any number of Spurs players could, or could not, play? Unpredictability is somewhat of an asset for Harry on this occasion. What we do know is that they have a unique balance, solid at both ends of the pitch, and feature a good mix of talent. And that they'll go 4-4-1-1 with Emmanuel Adebayor as the spearhead.
No Bale gives our fullbacks a bit of a break, while no Lennon could mean we need to go at the defensively liable Rafael van der Vaart who will likely take up residence on one of the flanks. Whatever the composition of Spurs' lineup on Thursday, we're going to need to be at full tilt if we want to have any chance of leaving with a result.
Have I mentioned that we need to limit individual mistakes? I didn't think so.
Limit the fucking lapses, guys.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to personnel. I don't expect many changes from the side we saw defeat Manchester City. In fact, I'd be shocked if we didn't see the same XI minus Jose Bosingwa. Of course, Branislav Ivanovic would move out to the right of the defense while David Luiz would come in to the center to partner England's Brave John Terry. Ramires' return to the lineup will be most pleasant after seeing the Frank Lampard-Raul Meireles dynamic greatly disappoint against Wigan.
Fernando Torres may be due a start. I just can't see it coming Thursday, though. With Tottenham having shown some weakness in recent matches against direct play - they have conceded four goals in their last six matches, all via crosses or set pieces into the penalty area - Didier Drogba's inclusion looks to be a good bet. Plus, the man's due for another big performance. He wasn't at his best against Wigan, and, more interestingly, has alternated scoring and not scoring in his last seven meetings with Spurs. He didn't score in our last match with them so, you know, it's on.
It'll be interesting to see how we approach the contest. Will this latest trend of conceding possession continue or will we revert to a more AVB style gameplan? Don't expect a high defensive line, though. That's fo sho.
Whatever the lineup, whatever the approach - I just want a win. A damn win. After all, I'd like to enter Christmas with visions of Daniel Sturridge goals dancing in my head.
The Mighty One spoke not a word, but went straight to his work