The FourFourTwo Preview: Tottenham vs Aston Villa
Two teams very pleased to see the back of a troubled campaign.
It's probably a touch unfair to look back on predictions for this 2013/14 season made last summer, by fans whose hearts were full of a heady brew of hope, ambition and bonky-eyed optimism. But let's do it anyway, for the end really is nigh and hindsight is a wonderful thing.
- West Ham 2-0 Tottenham (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Tottenham (Prem)
- Tottenham 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Tottenham (Prem)
- Tottenham 5-1 S'land (Prem)
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Man City 4-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 3-1 Hull (Prem)
- Swansea 4-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-0 So'ton (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
Last August in FourFourTwo, Tottenham's pre-season pundit predicted a season of great promise under AVB. We asked: Where will you finish the season? He replied, with great certainty: "Third". Our Aston Villa expert was equally optimistic. "Top half for sure," they proudly proclaimed.
And now, as we approach the final fixture of a season of false promise and great buffoonery from both clubs, we can see that things haven't quite panned out as they'd hoped.
Surprisingly, for a team that's been playing like it threw the towel in weeks ago, Spurs still have something beyond positional payments (£800k per place) to play for. Defeat against Villa could leave the Europa League door open to Manchester United, who might yet steal that coveted sixth spot on goal difference.
Most Spurs fans will see Europa League football as an inconvenience they could do without, but Daniel Levy is a businessman who sees only the bottom line. Having announced the club won't raise ticket prices next season, because that would be an insult too far, Levy will see the Europa League as a cash cow to be squeezed by the teat until dry, particularly as there's a large squad to maintain.
And if Tottenham are to hang on to the likes of Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen, or attract players of a similar calibre next season, they'll need to dangle the carrot of European football this summer.
Villa would love to have Europa League football within their grasp. As it stands, they'll need to take nine points from their final fixture if they're to finish top half, as predicted. Which probably won't happen. Last Saturday's win over Hull at least sealed safety and keeps Villa on course to better last season's 15th-place finish, but any further positives are hard to locate.
After a second half of last season that gave cause for very cautious optimism and talk of a top-10 finish, Villa have struggled to make any kind of progress – a longest win sequence of two games (Norwich, Chelsea) all season is illustrative of their woes.
Villa played with a greater freedom against Hull than witnessed at Villa Park for some weeks, safe in the knowledge they would not be going down, but a trousering at Manchester City knocked the wind out of them.
Paul Lambert's plans have hardly been helped by a lengthy injury list, particularly to Christian Benteke. With a nod to necessity, Lambert may throw his kids (not literally his kids) in against Spurs – the likes of Callum Robinson, Jordan Graham and '80s throwback Jack Grealish. It would also represent a nod to the future, but what that future might bring for Villa and Lambert is another argument for another time.
For Tottenham, Andros Townsend, Kyle Walker and Mousa Dembele remain out for the foreseeable future, but Jan Vertonghen (ankle) and Etienne Capoue (foot) could both be in line to return on Sunday.
For Villa, Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor, Charles N'Zogbia, Marc Albrighton, Nicklas Helenius, Gary Gardner, Joe Bennett and Libor Kozak are all still missing, and while Jores Okore has returned to light training, he's still some months away from featuring again.
Player to watch: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
The only player to come out with any credit at Upton Park for Tottenham is one of the players who'll end this campaign with his head held aloft. The great Dane topped most of the key stats for Spurs in the 2-0 hammering – most passes (44 of 52 attempts, 19 of 22 in the attacking third), created half of his team's chances (4), most take-ons (2/5) and most ball recoveries (8). His creativity and endeavour will again be key on Sunday – quite possibly for the last time in a Tottenham shirt.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 0-2 Spurs (Prem, Oct 13)
- Villa 0-4 Spurs (LC, Sep 13)
- Villa 0-4 Spurs (Prem, Dec 12)
- Spurs 2-0 Villa (Prem, Oct 12)
- Villa 1-1 Spurs (Prem, May 12)
Despite being the "best manager this club's ever seen" – a tongue-in-cheek claim backed up by cold, hard but misleading facts based on his win percentage – Tim Sherwood will find himself out of a job once this season has ended. Officially, he'll sit down to discuss his future with Levy at the end of this campaign.
Unofficially, Frank de Boer has been spotted trying on Sherwood's cockerel-emblazoned gilet and his team have all but given up, a tacit acknowledgement that they know his race is as good as run.
Lambert's future is less clear. A fourth season spent battling against relegation appears to have taken its toll on owner Randy Lerner, whose future at the club has been in doubt for some time now.
He'll issue a statement that will, in Lambert's words, "bring clarity" to the situation after Sunday's game, with the suggestion being that both men will be gone by the summer.
In other words, what happens after the game is likely to be more interesting than the game itself.
Facts and figures
- Spurs have won 6 of their last 7 matches against Villa.
- 14 of Villa’s last 16 trips to top-half teams have had at least 3 goals.
- Spurs have won the second half in 9 of their last 14 home games against bottom-half teams.
- Villa are yet to win a second half in 18 trips to top-half teams since the start of last season, losing 12.
Spurs rouse themselves one last time to win (2-0); both managers are handed a big brown box shortly after.