How quickly things can turn in football.
This time two weeks ago, Andre Villas-Boas was a man coming under scrutiny. His Tottenham Hotspur side had suffered a derby-day mauling at the hands of north London rivals Arsenal and were underwhelming in the Europa League, a competition that the Portuguese boss has taken extremely seriously from the get-go.
In eighth position in the league, there was a feeling that AVB was heading for the type of fall that he succumbed to at Chelsea, with performances and results below the standard that was expected of him and niggling rumours of unrest emanating from the camp.
But as we know, results change everything and three wins on the spin have made the picture of Spurs look a whole lot rosier. Successive Premier League victories against West Ham United, Liverpool and Fulham have catapulted Tottenham up the table into the final Champions League position, level on points with third-placed Chelsea, to give Villas-Boas breathing space and the fans some evidence that things are going in the right direction.
The very least expected of the ex-Porto boss is a top-four finish, which is, after all, what Harry Redknapp achieved last season, only to be usurped by Chelsea’s Champions League victory and relegated to the Europa League.
But the difference between Villas-Boas and Redknapp (well, one of the differences, we’d be here all day listing the chasm between their respective outlooks) is whereas ‘Arry treated the Europa League with disdain, AVB is trying to win it, just as he did with Porto in that incredible treble season.
So with qualification to the last 32 of the tournament still to be secured, Spurs will be at near full strength when Panathinaikos travel to White Hart Lane in the final Group J match.
Spurs need just a draw to get into the knock-out stages, whereas the Greeks require a win to leapfrog their hosts to qualify at their expense, but the odds at bwin show just how unlikely that is.
You can only get 3/10 on a home win, with the draw at 17/4 and Panathinaikos at 8/1, which isn’t the worst price you will ever see for a side who are under new management and have won four of their last five matches.
As mentioned earlier, Villas-Boas has picked consistently strong line-ups in Europe and even though his side haven’t really been at their best – as a run of four draws and one win suggests – the importance of the match and the Greeks’ good form will ensure he takes no chances once again.
I expect Tottenham to be as strong as possible – even if Gareth Bale will miss out with the hamstring injury he picked up in the weekend win over Fulham – and they should have too much for the visitors, who don’t travel well.
Panathinaikos have lost five of their last six away games in the Europa League, including both of this year’s ties (both 3-0) and it means I’ll be on the 21/20 that Spurs win a match that sees under 3.5 goals.
Seven of Tottenham’s ten matches at White Hart Lane have seen three goals or fewer and with Panathinaikos certain to want to keep things as tight as possible for as long as possible in a bid to get the crowd nervy before a late flurry, I don’t expect a landslide win for Spurs.
But with their extra quality they should prevail and that slight odds-against price is a much better way to go about it than the 3/10 on a straight Spurs win.