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Friday, March 29, 2013
ESPNsoccernet: March 29, 4:59 AM UK
Weary Tottenham in danger of fading

James Dall

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Tottenham: A familiar itch

Tottenham have wheels (apparently) and they could be about to come off. For Andre Villas-Boas, he of all handsome humans, has seen his team's mojo trickle down into the North London sewers, and lurking beneath those grates has been Arsene Wenger gleefully catching what he can in a test tube like some mad professor. After Spurs followed their win over Arsenal with the convincing scalp of a frankly rank Inter Milan team, trumpets were being parped, as, with Gareth Bale in tow, no-one could stop them now. But there was this nagging itch between the shoulder blades of Tottenham fans. It feels familiar. Last time it spread, made them all sticky with anxiety, and ultimately resulted - not for the first time - in a dizzying sense of deflation. Last campaign, under Harry Redknapp, Spurs won just four of their final 13 matches of the season, meaning they slipped to fourth and missed out (by virtue of Chelsea winning the Champions League) on qualification for the competition where the reward is money ladle-fed into greedy mouths. Cue that thing about the wheels: Tottenham have lost their last three matches in all competitions, meaning the seven-point advantage over their neighbours is now four, while those pesky Gunners have a game in hand. The cause(s) for this downturn is for Villas-Boas to solve, but a case can be made for avoidable fatigue, with the Portuguese at times being guilty of failing to rotate his starting XI. For example, after looking at numbers and doing something called 'counting', only one Arsenal player has started 25 league games or more this season. At White Hart Lane, on the other hand, that figure is four. Not a huge difference, but perhaps a telling one nonetheless, particularly as Spurs' involvement in the Europa League means an unfavourable fixture list in terms of schedule and recovery time. But hey, guys, wipe away those tears! There's still eight games remaining for Tottenham. All is far from lost - although for the purpose of a weekly column every droplet of fabled crises has to be squeezed, you see/understand. The chance to put things right, get those wheels back on track if you will (analogy stretched, sure), comes on Saturday against a Swansea side that were beaten by Arsenal last time out and appear to have donned their flip-flops already, with relegation not a threat and a League Cup win accrued.

Sunderland: Yikes

Sunderland aren't in a 'spot' of the brown stuff, per se - more a swamp of it. Their 1-1 draw at home to ten-man Norwich City sees the club bottom of the form table with three points garnered from a possible 21, while they sit precariously above the drop zone, with just four points separating them and Wigan Athletic. Further whipping up this s**tstorm, the Black Cats lost their top goalscorer Steven Fletcher for the remainder of the season due to a serious injury during the international break, while their next Premier League games are against Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton. We'll write no more, for now.

Stoke: Net spend

This column has been quietly tapping its foot to the rhythm of Stoke concern over the last few months. The following words were written (yep, we're into the egotistical realms of quoting one's self this week): "...for the club not to evolve from the, at times, knuckle-dragging football, asks whether Tony Pulis is content with Stoke's current lot or ambitious to take them further." Since then, Stuart James has written an excellent piece in the Guardian which highlights that their "net spend over the past five seasons is not far off 80 million", which turns the tapping to beating of a drum. At a glance, 11th place doesn't seem all that bad. Yet, look closer my pretties, for they are just three points off struggling Southampton, have won one of their last 11 top-flight outings and have averaged less than a goal a game this season. It is Everton away next.

Man City: Owe it to the fans

Have they clocked off already? Day-dreaming of being poolside at a Dubai hotel in only March? When you spend 40 hours of your week in a soulless office for no reward waiting for the clock to strike 5.30pm, then you can empathise with a constant longing for time off. You've earned it, you see - it's temporary escape from the drudgery. But these guys, they play football for a living. For a living! And get paid a mint for it. So excuse this page for not feeling sympathy with a loss of focus after a title surrendered with a quarter of the season remaining. To put into actual context how shoddy Manchester City have been of late, the division's most expensive squad are presently 13th in the form table after their loss at Everton. Because Roberto Mancini was "angry" after the slump at Goodison Park, his assistant David Platt was sent out to front the media. And, you'd hope what he was intimating here was that they owe it to their fans to put the graft in until the campaign's end: "We have still got to be professional and go out and win football matches."

Nigel Adkins: Welcome back

Mr Positive's back, all right. Adkins, sacked by Southampton in January, conducted his first press conference as Reading boss this week. Of the positivity bingo that ensued, there was thus: "belief", "desire", "spirit" and "dream". We like Nigel. He'll have the bit between his teeth, you'd imagine, after what was arguably a harsh sacking by the Saints. His first game in charge of his new club, who are joint-bottom of the division, is against Arsenal, so that's a write-off. His first match in charge at home though? Oh, that's versus Southampton next weekend.

Manchester United/Chelsea: Busy boys

Fixture pile-up! Congestion! After an international break, too! Let's see how this pans out.
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