After an intense month playing two games every week, Tottenham have enjoyed something of a luxury with a match-free midweek. Having won just twice in that period, including the FA Cup replay against Leeds, it has been a welcome chance to recharge batteries for the Spurs squad.
The resumption of festivities on Sunday sees a trip to the DW Stadium to play Wigan. The Latics will not need to look far for an incentive to take the points in front of their fans having been utterly humiliated in the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane in November. It is highly unlikely that the Wigan defence will capitulate in such extraordinary fashion again and the team as a whole will be highly keen to prove a point, so Tottenham cannot afford to take the game lightly. Wigan are a much more durable team at present – a result of suffering the 9-1 battering to Spurs and two 5-0 hammerings to Manchester United. Roberto Martinez has had to sacrifice some of his desire to play attractive, flowing football and build from the back in order to put things right. A tougher core has seen a plethora of draws and tight games of late as Martinez searches for a balance that will see his team keep out the goals at one end and score them at the other. Neither team will go into the game in peak form and it will be much tougher to call a result than the White Hart Lane walkover would suggest.
One man for whom the game will be of particular interest is Wilson Palacios. A year on from his move away from Wigan, the Honduran returns to his old stomping ground for the first time and will hope to be on the winning side, just as he was the last time he appeared in this fixture. That last game was played in January 2009, just days before Spurs swooped to sign him. It is likely his performance in that match helped convince Harry Redknapp to splash the cash and it is a decision the manager will not be regretting. On that occasion, Palacios demonstrated a creative streak that has not been seen too often since his move south but also his combative nature that has boosted the Tottenham midfield greatly. The game also marked the second coming of Jermain Defoe who had just re-signed from Portsmouth and was making his second debut for the club. Defoe did not have a debut to remember as he and Spurs drew a blank and he will dwell instead on the memories of his five-goal haul at the Lane earlier this season rather than his last trip to the DW.
In the 1-0 defeat a year ago, Redknapp sprung a surprise and utilised a 3-5-2 formation. It is not something that has been seen much since and will not be a realistic option until Spurs can boast a more attacking right-back. The two wing-backs that day were the two players currently playing full-back for Tottenham, Vedran Corluka and Gareth Bale. Whilst the more attack-minded Bale would be at home in a 3-5-2, it simply does not suit Corluka. The tall Croat professed to fans at his previous club Manchester City that he feels he is a better centre-back than right-back and his hesitancy at getting forward supports his claim. Corluka has been a solid influence in the wider defensive role for Spurs but with Aaron Lennon missing from the right flank, a greater willingness to attack would have been very valuable in recent weeks. Alternative options are hardly in abundance for Redknapp, although that is arguably his own fault having let the more adventurous Alan Hutton exit the club on loan in January. Hutton has never really settled in-to the Spurs side and certainly has not shown the Rangers and Scotland form that made him so in demand when he joined. Yet he would surely have been worth keeping for the second half of the season with Bale proving a run in the side can be all that is needed to bring about an improvement in form. Younes Kaboul – another re-signee – can play at right-back, but he too would rather be playing in the middle.
The trip to Wigan brings back a variety of memories from nine-goal wins to debut defeats but it is important that Spurs travel to the DW Stadium focussed on the three points at stake. Sunday’s match will bear more resemblance to the tight game a year ago than the chasmal affair in North London three months ago. Tottenham should be refreshed after a week without a game and will hope the relative period of rest will see them come some way to rediscovering the form that so destroyed their opponents the last time they met.