With both teams kicking off at the same time, Saturday afternoon will be a big period in the race for the Champions League between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. For Spurs, a home game against Bolton is on the agenda and Harry Redknapp’s side will go in to the game with confidence despite the late defeat at Old Trafford last weekend.
Having beaten the Trotters 4-0 at White Hart Lane in an F.A Cup replay in late February, Tottenham will have little to fear ahead of the match but will still not take anything for granted. Man of the moment Michael Dawson has reiterated the importance to concentrate solely on taking the vital three points, acknowledging the need to focus only on what Spurs themselves do and not what is happening elsewhere. Bolton will travel south safe in the knowledge they will be playing Premier League football again next season, a factor that could work either for or against the hosts. With nothing to lose, the relaxed visiting team may benefit from the absence of any tension that has at times hampered them. On the other hand, Bolton have slowly moved away under the guidance of new manager Owen Coyle from the sheer physical approach that has been their calling card over the years, and they may not fancy putting up a significant fight now that their fate has been decided. Redknapp will have to plan for the former, but if Bolton arrive with the latter approach, it is crucial that Tottenham take full advantage. Spurs have looked particularly impressive in recent weeks when faced with teams that play on the front foot, and they may find it harder to get in to stride if the opposition offer a less demanding threat. Tottenham are quickly becoming a team for the big occasions and will fast learn it is important to be properly motivated against the lesser lights. Goal difference could yet be the deciding factor and this could be the perfect opportunity to rack up some strikes.
City face their own tough challenge with the visit of the Aston Villa, a team who have won their last three games to cling on to a role the battle for fourth place themselves. A two-horse race still looks likely as Villa have played a game more with matches fast running out. Villa’s hopes rest on beating City, a result that would do Spurs a massive favour provided they keep up their own end of the bargain by beating Bolton. If Tottenham come away with the three points then they need not worry overly about the threat from the Villains as one further win would be enough for Spurs to finish above Martin O’Neill’s side. For the Citizens, a match with Villa is a potential stumbling block, but could also provide a morale boosting victory just days ahead of the potentially winner-takes-all clash with Tottenham at the City of Manchester Stadium on Wednesday. With Saturday’s games taking place concurrently, neither side will know how their rivals have fared before they take the field, removing some of the mind games that have been prevalent in the battle between Chelsea and Manchester United for the Premier League title.
With the World Cup just weeks away and places in the England squad up for grabs, there will be a further chance for Dawson to impress Fabio Capello. Ledley King has been touted for international duty by Redknapp, but is unlikely to play so close to the key clash with City, leaving all eyes will on Dawson. The centre-back was not as impressive against United as he had been against Chelsea and Arsenal but is well-equipped to deal with the aerial prowess Bolton still possess. King’s hopes may rest on the fitness of Rio Ferdinand, with Capello unlikely to take two players with long-term injury issues, but Dawson must surely have climbed the queue with his displays over the past months. At the other end of the field, Jermain Defoe will be looking to send out his own messages to the England boss with his desired starting roll still far from certain. Defoe has been out of the spotlight of late, but showed his confidence has not dipped with the emphatic penalty opener against the Gunners, and will have plenty of reason to celebrate if he finds the net again at the weekend. The 27-year-old will play his 400th career club game, a remarkable achievement considering the competition for places he has experienced at White Hart Lane in his two stints. Defoe believes he is just approaching his peak age, and the next year could be the biggest of his career with the chance to play at the World Cup and in the Champions League up for grabs. Defoe could boost the likelihood of achieving both feats with a match winning display against Bolton, and it would be a timely return to form with the huge clash at City coming up.
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