Tottenham v Aston Villa, Premier League, February 6, 2010
Of the four contenders battling it out for probably the last Champions League spot in the Premier League, both Spurs and Aston Villa are the least fancied. (Spurs are 9/2 & Aston Villa are 5/1 to finish in the top four.) Manchester Cityâ€™s big spending and Liverpoolâ€™s experience of the premier competition in Europe, means most pundits would back either Roberto Manciniâ€™s side or the Merseyside giants to clinch fourth spot.
Nevertheless, it is not possible to discount Tottenham or Villa just yet. Harry Redknappâ€™s side currently hold fourth spot, two points above the visitors to White Hart Lane on Saturday tea time, although Villa do have a game in hand. It has long been held that the four horse race for Champions League football will go down to the wire and the head-to-head encounters could make all the difference.
With these two teams so evenly matched and with everything to play for, this could be a fine game to watch. Spurs come into this match on a high after coming through a tough FA Cup fourth round replay at Leeds on Wednesday night. Jermain Defoeâ€™s hat-trick took the plaudits but in truth the diminutive striker could have scored six, as Harry Redknapp admitted afterwards, and there were some other fine performances in the Tottenham side. (Spurs are 85/40 to score in both halves.)
David Bentley set up two of Defoeâ€™s goals and Michael Dawson, Gareth Bale and Tom Huddlestone all produced composed performances at Elland Road that reflect the form the trio have been in during recent matches. Spursâ€™ progress in the Cup though has brushed over their patchy league form in 2010 that has seen them cling on to fourth spot, for now.
Of their four Premier League games in January, Harry Redknappâ€™s side won just once, against a Fulham team in freefall. Their home draw with Hull, the disappointing defeat to Liverpool four days later and last weekâ€™s late draw with Birmingham have left Spurs fans ruing what might have been as they failed to put daylight between themselves and the other teams chasing fourth spot.
Aaron Lennonâ€™s absence with a groin injury has been a blessing for David Bentley who appears to be regaining form, but Spurs miss the zip of the diminutive winger. After they were on the bench on Wednesday, Luka Modric and Wilson Palacios will return to the side for the match against Villa and Rerdknapp will hope to have one or both of Eidur Gudjohnson and Roman Pavlyuchenko available off the bench. New signing Younes Kaboul will also be pushing for a start following his return to White Hart Lane. (Spurs are 5/1 to win both halves.)
Villa come into this match following a week off since their fine 2-0 win at Craven Cottage last week. (Villa are 23/1 to repeat the same scoreline.) All eyes will be on Gabriel Agbonlahor to prove he can reproduce the form he showed last week as Martin Oâ€™Neillâ€™s side continue to challenge on three fronts.
Reaching the Carling Cup final has buoyed the club and Villa have now not conceded a Premier League goal since Fernando Torres scored in late December at Villa Park. (Villa are 7/2 to keep a clean sheet.) The midfield triumvirate of England wingers James Milner, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young will all be confident of doing damage at White Hart Lane in what is normally a happy hunting ground for the side from Birmingham.
Stephen Warnock will definitely miss out due to a shin injury which should see Luke Young fill in at left back at his former club. Stiliyan Petrov is expected to be fit and John Carew has also returned to training to put pressure on Emile Heskey. With arguably five England hopefuls starting for Villa and four lining up for Spurs there will be no shortage of players looking to impress.
There are almost always plenty of goals in this fixture, most notably a crazy 4-4 in October 2007. Villa won 2-1 last season at White Hart Lane but will be wary that the fixture at Villa Park this season saw Spurs dominate for long periods but only equalise late on through Michael Dawson. A fascinating encounter awaits but the result may not do either team any good.
101gg predicts: Tottenham 2 â€“ Aston Villa 2 (17/1)
Full match odds here.