As the shocks and surprises of the FA Cup come to an end, one more game week in the Premier League beckons – the 23rd and to accommodate the FA Cup on the weekend, this game week will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday (31st and 1st). Among Tuesday’s matches is one where, a team with a great chance of being at least runners up are playing the team at the bottom of the league. No, Liverpool are not playing Swansea again. That was the 22nd game week. In the forthcoming batch of matches, Tottenham Hotspurs take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
With only 15 points in their league campaign so far, Sunderland have firmly established themselves in the basement of the table. If they lose or draw against Spurs, they really run the risk of getting further entrenched at the bottom of the table. Sunderland have not won a single match in last seven attempts across all competitions. They have lost five and drawn two. In the process, they have managed to crash out of the FA Cup and have squandered the benefit of the relatively decent run they had in the league during November and December. If they wish to mount their now customary relegation battle, the sooner they start turning around games, the better. They lead the league in the number shots on target they have allowed the competition minus the number of shots they have shot on target (141-64 = 77). This stat indicates clearly how frail Sunderland’s defense has been, even at closing down the competition before they can take a shot.
Sunderland’s guests on Tuesday night are going to be Tottenham, who are among the stingiest defenses in the league. They have shot 73 more shots on target than what they have allowed their opponents to shoot (137 vs 64). However, despite their solid defenses and great recent performances (both overall and versus the Black Cats), Tottenham will feel a little bit of anxiety with regards to their league position. They currently sit in the 3rd position at 46 points, nine points behind the leaders Chelsea. Ahead of them are their fierce rivals Arsenal at 47 points, and behind them are Jurgen Klopp’s sometimes faltering, other times excellent, Liverpool at 45 points. The two clubs from Manchester are also not too far away. So, if Spurs manage to drop points at Stadium of Light on Monday night, not only could Chelsea extend their lead, but Arsenal could also pull away and the Manchester clubs could draw nearer. So, despite the game looks easy for Spurs, it has the pressure of being a must-win match.
Sunderland are missing Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong (also Wahabi Khazri) due to their participation in the AFCON and will also miss Papy Djilobodji due to his suspension for four games. Further potential absences from the first team include Victor Anichebe, Jordan Pickford and Duncan Whatmore (all three with knee injuries) and Lee Cattermole with a hip injury. On the other hand, their latest signing Joleon Lescott should be available on Tuesday. It is fair to say that Moyes’ squad is injury-ridden and his team will miss some key players in a very tough match. Pickford and Anichebe are two players who could definitely make a difference but won’t be available.
For Spurs, Lamela and Vertonghen are the two notable absences due to injuries. Other than these two, Pochettino should be able to field a fully fit squad. However, he might keep in mind that two key players – Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele are both one yellow card away from receiving a one match suspension. This could impact his choice of team a bit.
- Sunderland are winless in their last 13 Premier League games against Tottenham (D3 L10). The only current Premier League side they are experiencing a worse run against are Arsenal (14).
- Of the current top six, Spurs have collected the fewest points away from home (17/33).
- Jermain Defoe scored 91 goals in 276 Premier League appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, but has only scored one goal in nine PL games against them (for Portsmouth in September 2008).
- Harry Kane has scored at 19 different stadiums in the Premier League, but he’s never scored a goal at the Stadium of Light in the competition (two apps, 101 mins).
If in the past, we were told that a team possesses one of the most prolific strikers of the season but is still suffering at the bottom of the league, we would be incredulous. However, it indeed is a matter of incredulity that Sunderland possess Jermain Defoe, who has scored 12 and assisted 2 goals out of a total of 19 goals scored by the Black Cats so far in the campaign. Only four players have scored for them and Defoe has nine more than both Patrick van Aanholt as well as Victor Anichebe, who have both scored 3 each. For a team starved of goals, Defoe is definitely the talisman, who has to fire on Tuesday for his team to have even a semblance of hope for the eventual relegation dog fight.
For Tottenham, the problem is a confusion of riches. They have so many players who can score and ensure victory but one player literally stands tall amongst all of them. Harry Kane (and Dele Alli) has all by himself outscored Sunderland in January (5 vs 3 goals). He also has the height advantage against the physical play generally employed by the Black Cats, who are starting to learn how to thwart creative attacks (draw vs Liverpool) but struggle against decent number nines (losses to Burnley, West Brom and Stoke). And, Harry Kane is a very good number 9, who is rested and should be able to cause ample trouble for Sunderland on Tuesday night.
This (and most league matches after this) is kind of a must-win match for both the teams as a loss or even a draw can hamper either team’s plans. For this reason, it will be a matchup between each team’s attack and the opponent’s defense. In such a scenario the team that possesses the best defense and a much better and diverse attack is likely to thrive more often than not. I do not see Tuesday night being any different. It should be pretty straightforward victory for Spurs.
Sunderland 1 – 3 Tottenham Hotspurs