Sunderland-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
Tottenham Hotspur will look to get back to their winning ways as they host Sunderland at White Hart Lane in the Premier League's early kick-off Saturday.
Top-four contenders Tottenham (9-9-3) were even linked with a title bid following three straight wins over the Christmas period, but a league draw versus Everton and deadlock against Leicester City in the FA Cup that forced a replay slowed Spurs' progress. And 2016 was given a further sour note for the north London Lilywhites after they were beaten 1-0 by Leicester in a top-four showdown at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.
The Spurs conceded a late Robert Huth header having dominated for much of the 90 minutes against their prospective Champions League rivals.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino described the defeat as "disappointing and undeserved," but it was centre back Jan Vertonghen who spoke most eloquently about the need not to panic with so much of the season still to play.
"We have been playing very well this season so every time we don't win it becomes an 'incident'," Vertonghen said. "That's a very good sign I think. We know we will be ready again come Saturday when we will be doing everything we can to win again.
"We wanted to win obviously so yes I am very disappointed. They played their same game. They play the ball up to their strikers and are good from set pieces. And when they don't have the ball they all defend. We knew they would do that, but it works for them."
Spurs are likely to come up against similar tactics Saturday when they face Sunderland (5-3-13), who have developed an increasingly direct style since Sam Allardyce took over in October.
The Black Cats' style of play may not be the most palatable, but they are picking up points, and Wednesday's 4-2 win over fellow strugglers Swansea could prove a pivotal result in the race to avoid relegation.
"It's an enormous, enormous, enormous three points, which gives us a lot of encouragement and hope going forward," Allardyce said. "Playing against ten men, we had to shut Swansea down in their own half every time they tried to play. That's what worked for us in the end and the clinical Mr. Defoe has won us another game."
'Big Sam' reserved special praise for his centre forward Jermain Defoe, who has been Sunderland's main goal threat this season and will be hopeful of adding to his tally when he returns to his former stomping grounds Saturday.
"We're putting the myth to bed that he can't play up front on his own, because he's won us two games now," Allardyce said of Defoe, who scored 91 goals in nine years at Spurs. "I think his goals are going to be key for us. Anybody who is going to succeed in getting out of trouble needs that."
Defoe has nine goals in 17 league matches after netting just four in as many games in 2014-15.
Fellow Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher is a doubt for the game after picking up a knock, while Jack Rodwell and Younes Kaboul remain out. Spurs have concerns over the fitness of Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason - last year's first-choice central midfield partnership who have barely featured due to injury this season.
Spurs have not lost any of their last 11 league meetings (8-3-0) with the Black Cats, and Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen has scored in all three of his previous league appearances against the Wearsiders.