Harry Redknapp of Tottenham Hotspur gives instructions during the UEFA Europa League match between Shamrock Rovers FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC. Tottenham play Sunderland on Sunday, December 18, 2011.
And now it starts. A five-game stretch that will prove the worth of almost every club. Everyone will see how they do with a run of five games in a two week period. Players will get injured. Points will be dropped. Football fans and pundits alike have ideas in their heads at the moment about what teams will finish where. Without question, some of those ideas are about to change. /dramatic opening paragraph
Martin O'Neill is a man who seriously needs to change everyone's view of his team with a couple of victories during the holiday football stretch. He replaces the sacked Steve Bruce, whose record was disappointing. Sunderland looked dire in O'Neil's first game in charge last week, but somehow found two goals for a dramatic 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.
Tottenham Hotspur were not as lucky in their last match. A poor first half performance and an excellent second half performance against Stoke City probably should have resulted in a draw, but the bounces and refereeing decisions did not go their way in a 2-1 loss to Stoke City. At home, against a struggling side, they're in serious need of a convincing win to get some momentum back before a match against Chelsea.
That match will be in the back of the head of Harry Redknapp already, so Tottenham supporters can only hope that the match is not lingering in the back of the heads of the Tottenham players. Sunderland are struggling, but they're not so poor that Tottenham won't get burned if they're looking ahead. "We're taking things one game at a time" is a cliche in sports, but it would be good if it was one that Spurs believed in at the moment.
While Martin O'Neill hasn't had enough time to completely make his mark on Sunderland last week, they looked a a bit like Aston Villa under O'Neill, unsurprisingly. They're going to play a wide and rigid system, getting crosses into the forwards and doing very little passing on the ground through the middle.
Earlier this week, Nicklas Bendtner and Lee Cattermole were arrested after an investigation into a December 6 incident turned them up as suspects. Apparently, the two have something to do with a few busted up cars in Newcastle city center. There's been no word on whether or not Martin O'Neill intends to bench the players.
Thanks to Tottenham's injuries and suspensions, as well as Sunderland's relative incompetence, the matchup between the Sunderland strikers and the Tottenham central defenders should look like one between second division clubs. Sebastien Bassong and William Gallas are the expected center back pairing for Spurs. The former has not been good in his Spurs career and the latter is past his peak. Sunderland don't have much in the way of firepower up top. Expect lots of gifted chances and missed sitters.
The battles elsewhere on the park should be a little less laughable, and Tottenham will like how they match up with their opponents. One spot where Sunderland will be confident, however, is on their right. While John O'Shea isn't the world's best right back, Seb Larsson is an excellent two-way winger and will help to keep Gareth Bale in check.
Sunderland's defense as a whole is not good, however, with the other three players being bigger liabilities than Larsson. Big things will be expected of Emmanuel Adebayor, Rafael van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon, who will have no excuses if they don't perform.