What can you say about Gareth Bale that hasn’t already been said? I suppose you could say that the Tottenham Hotspur star isn’t playing well and that he currently doesn’t look like the best player in the Premier League, but then again you’d be showing contrariness for the sake of it.
The truth is that Bale has not played any better, and as the scramble for the top four has become a three-horse race for two places with Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal separated by just two points, that will have to remain the case if the side from White Hart Lane are going to cement their place in the Champions League qualification spots.
It was the remit for Andre Villas-Boas upon taking over from Harry Redknapp in the summer, and having spent the last few months in the top four, anything less would be a huge disappointment for everybody at the club – not least chairman Daniel Levy, who dismissed Redknapp despite a fourth-placed finish last term.
That Spurs should have finished third and therefore avoided their fate – a Chelsea Champions League win relegating them to the Europa League – cost Redknapp his job.
But in an irony that will not be lost on Villas-Boas, Spurs now have Chelsea in their sights and go into their next assignment, a trip to Upton Park to face West Ham United tonight, able to leapfrog the Stamford Bridge side with a victory.
AVB will no doubt be having a secret smile about that, but the reality is that Spurs are well capable of finishing third this season.
Rafa Benitez is fighting a losing battle at Chelsea and with the current Arsenal vintage also looking well short of some of their illustrious predecessors, Tottenham can win the all-London race for third place and an automatic Champions League spot.
Because with Bale, anything is possible. The Welsh wonder has 13 Premier League goals and a further four in the cups and is in the richest vein of goalscoring form of his career, having hit seven goals in his last six games for club and country.
It’s not just his goals – as spectacular and frequent as they are – but his all-round play that is elevating this Tottenham team to a higher level, and Bale can once again be the catalyst for a Spurs victory at Upton Park.
Tottenham are the 23/20 favourites, and that has to be the bet. Both the draw and West Ham are priced at 23/10, but I don’t see anything other than an away victory here.
After all , Spurs travel to east London on a great run of just two defeats in 20 matches, the latest of which, Thursday’s last-gasp 1-1 draw with Lyon in the Europa League, keeps their hopes of a trophy alive and kicking.
And with an extra day of rest than they would usually have after European action, Spurs can get the better of a struggling West Ham side.
The Hammers are in the exact opposite sort of form to Tottenham – they have won just three of their last 17 games in all competitions – and Sam Allardyce will be nervously looking over his shoulder.
West Ham are just six points above the relegation zone and not clear of danger by any means, especially as, to this observer anyway, they seem to lack quality in many departments.
Allardyce is a specialist at ekeing out results with limited players, and limited is how I would describe most of the Irons’ squad.
I don’t see much in the team at all, especially going forward, where they have scored more than one goal just six times in 26 league matches, and there is nothing in their record against the better teams that gives you hope they can beat Spurs: West Ham have won just two of their 12 games against teams in the top half, losing seven.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have won ten of their 15 games against the bottom-half teams, losing just two, and boast a 5-2-1 record in away matches against those sides.
Allardyce will no doubt be hoping a Monday night atmosphere certain to be loud and boisterous as the Boleyn Ground celebrates the life of Bobby Moore, who died 20 years ago, will inspire his players, but the truth is Spurs are a far better side and can outclass a poor Hammers outfit.
They should be backed at 23/20 to do just that.