Not for the first time at the tail-end of a Premier League season, Tottenham are at risk of suffering a crisis of confidence.
After losing three games in a week, even with one being the Europa League second leg, Spurs won’t have it easy when they travel to a Swansea team who need to get back on track after their big League Cup triumph.
While Michael Laudrup’s side are far from freefall, their league campaign has felt almost like cruise control since Wembley and Michael will want a more assertive finish to 2012/13 than that.
In a way, it’s a high-pressure game for both sides but the visitors will certainly be feeling it more and if my former employers can get anywhere near their full passing flow we saw more pre-League Cup final, Andre Villas-Boas may see his side’s current slump continue.
I imagine Spurs right now feel uncertain. They have enjoyed some great runs of form and even when other sides and critics have accused them of being reliant on Gareth Bale, they’ve been good enough as a team to ignore the spite.
Now that results have dried up a bit, however, those words can creep into your mind and cause dangerous levels of uncertainty. When results come in it’s great to see Bale on centre stage, but after a few defeats the other players will ask themselves ‘What do we do if Bale does not step up?’
Even when Tottenham were winning games left, right and centre, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a layer of fragility over the whole ‘one man team’ moans from opposing supporters.
Bale is one of the top 10 players in the world but there are more questions now than ever before over how good the side are if he’s not at his best.
Two of the Easter weekend Premier League fixtures suddenly become a lot more interesting when you take into consideration the FA Cup quarter-final replay between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Easter Monday – the league leaders’ trip to Sunderland in particular.
With such a huge lead, the game at the Stadium of Light really doesn’t matter to Sir Alex Ferguson, whereas Chelsea will travel to Southampton desperate for points because there are still a number of teams who can overtake them.
In fact, I think Fergie could well play two different teams for his two Easter games. Not only because of their comfortable position in the league, but because as far as development is concerned United have more young fringe players capable of stepping in than the Blues.
Because of this, an upset is probably more likely at Sunderland than Southampton because on a number of levels, United can afford to take their foot off the gas more than Chelsea can.
Despite both Sunderland and Southampton having 31 points from 30 games, it’s probably the Black Cats who will feel more desperate for a shock result, especially considering the above factors. But the problem they’ve suffered this season is that they’ve never really got a run going.
Even if Sunderland can take a 1-0 win over the champions elect on Saturday, Martin O’Neill hasn’t been able to propel them onto the next level and you doubt that they would actually build on such a result and steer themselves away from danger, even if they did pull it off.
Their inconsistency combined with the injuries mean it’s going to be a really tricky end to the season. The likes of Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole are big players to lose when you’re not playing well.
With all of the potential banana-skin away trips for the top sides, Arsenal should be licking their chops over hosting Reading with Nigel Adkins now in charge. Not anymore, however.
A few years ago, you’d fancy Arsene Wenger and his boys to run over any struggling side at home by three or four goals. That doesn’t happen anymore. Arsenal do not create as many chances as they used to and have been stifled at home in so-called certain win fixtures on more than one occasion.
They’ve already scored 12 goals in two games against the Royals this season, but there’s no measuring the lift Reading will get from their new manager.
And Sunday’s game between Aston Villa and another old team of mine, Liverpool, will be a tough one to call as they each have recorded countless unpredictable results so far this campaign.
Liverpool have entered some dazzling performances as of late, and when Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho are all on song they’re a great side. But at Villa I think they will need to focus on just sticking with the game for an hour because the hosts will make it a high-intensity, physical game.
If Brendan Rodgers starts with a more gritty line-up than he usually prefers before going for the win in the last half hour, I can see them leaving with three points. But it’s important above all else that what happened at Southampton does not happen again.
- Sports & Recreation
- Gareth Bale
- Europa League