Saturday, October 25, 2008

EPL Week Nine Preview: A Guide to Spurs vs. Bolton, Harry Redknapp's First Game...

The two biggest matches of EPL Week Nine take place on Sunday. And while one features teams on top of the league, the other features teams at the bottom.

And with the news that late last night Juande Ramos was sacked only to be replaced by Harry Redknapp, most Spurs fans will head into this game with renewed optimism. Harry still has it all to do to motivate this team, but he's performed miracles before...

Spurs remain in free fall and badly need a win against Bolton. A much needed three-point injection is paramount, as Spurs face Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City in their next three fixtures.

Spurs go into battle against Bolton on Sunday on the back of their worst-ever start to a league campaign. They are rooted to the bottom of the table with two points from 24 (eight games) and need a win on Sunday, by any means necessary.

Spurs' point total is alarming, and fans will be worried to know that only one team has survived relegation with the same points total after the same amount of games. That was Southampton in 1999, and they finished 17th. Whether Spurs fans would be happy to finish so lowly after being tipped to break the top-four monopoly is any ones guess. But surely relegation never even entered their worst nightmares.

They go into this match fresh from another defeat midweek. On Thursday, Udinese, who have found themselves in second place in Serie A, beat a poor Spurs team 2-0. Gomes, who looked like a fantastic signing from PSV, made an absolute howler when he misplayed a pass back and then took Quagriella down as he tried to regain control.

Jamie O'Hara became the third Spurs player in as many games to be sent off as Spurs hit the self-destruct button. Woodgate got injured, and Darren Bent produced their only shot on goal in the 86th minute before Udinese wrapped it up late on.

On a plus side—and it's getting harder to find a plus side at White Hart Lane—Luka Modric was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch after he came on at half time. Giovani Dos Santos came on for the inept Aaron Lennon and provided some much-needed penetration. And that's about it on the positives.

Spurs are in real danger of relegation, and Johnathan Woodgate spoke out, midweek, about the need for Spurs to pull their socks up as "they weren't too good to go down, I was with Leeds when we went down and we had a better side than Spurs."

So, motivation is not Woodgate's strong point.

Interestingly, bookmakers have Spurs at 4/1 to be relegated and are 4/9 to finish above Hull. So bookmakers reckon this Spurs team are good enough to avoid relegation. As a Spurs fan, I have my doubts.

Going into battle against Bolton, Spurs are short of a full-strength squad. Gomes is carrying an injury and under normal circumstances would probably be dropped after his midweek error. Harry will be loathe to leave their big-money signing on the bench as it could have a catastrophic effect, confidence wise, on the Brazilian.

One thing that should be noted was that on Thursday, he showed what a big character he had. He could have shrunk and gone missing after the error but showed his bravery to make critical decisions time and time again to keep Spurs in the game. I expect him to start.

At fullback, Hutton continues to impress since his comeback. He defends well and is brilliant going forward, and for Spurs to avoid relegation, he will be an essential cog if he can stay injury free. Bale will sit this one out, as he is suspended, so Redknapp will have to decide on who fills in at left full, the in effectual Assou Ekotto or O'Hara.

Zokora will probably partner Woodgate, as King is still unfit and Dawson will also be suspended after his idiotic tackle on Fuller last week.

Midfield is where Spurs' problems lie. No matter what combination you use, you just can't see any "steel" in there. Jenas, Modric, and Bentley should feature in the centre of a five-man midfield, with Dos Santos and Lennon featuring out wide.

Whether Bostock will eventually get called up is any one's guess, but the youngster must surely be close to making the bench at least. Ramos had showed a lack of faith in all the new signings, bar Hutton and Modric, but now that Redknapp is in charge everyone will start with a clean slate so Bostock could feature.

Bent and an injured Pavulychenko will battle it out up front. Spurs lack goals, and while no team has really turned them over, they look odds-on to concede at least one goal per game.

And if Spurs don't score first, you just can't see them scoring twice. Ramos and Poyet had both gone on record saying Bent and Pavulycheko are too similar to pair, but at this stage, it doesn't matter and Redknapp may deem otherwise.

Goals win games, and Spurs need goals. Frazier Campbell seems guilty by association to Comolli, and Ramos had chosen to freeze the Manchester United youngster out while his internal battle with Comolli intensified but with the changing of the guard at White Hart Lane, Campbell could have a big part to play yet.

Bolton, by contrast, goes into this match with a fully fit squad and are looking to win their second game in the capital this season, after they hammered West Ham 3-1 two weeks ago.

Bolton boss Megson is aware of the troubles at White Hart Lane and is trying to keep his team focused ahead of the vital clash. "I think with all the going on, it's made a difficult game even more difficult from our point of view. That's going to galvanise them and get them playing in a way they haven't so far this season and we have to be aware of that."

Gary Megson goes into this match one day short of his first anniversary, while Juande Ramos is only three days short of his. Spurs have only won 10 of Ramos' 36 games in charge and this is Tottenham's longest winless streak since 1912 (13 games).

Bolton will be buoyed by the fact that they're Tottenham's bogey side. They've taken 26 points and scored 24 goals against Spurs in head-to-head matches in the Premier League—more than their record against any other team.

Spurs will have it all to do against a Bolton side that likes nothing better than a battle, especially against a light-weight team.


Spurs 11/10 Draw 23/10 Bolton 13/5