There has been much discussion about Tottenham Hotspur being a one-man team of late, with the theory being that if you took Gareth Bale out of the equation, Andre Villas-Boas’ men would not be in the mix for a top-four finish.
Whether that is unfair or not is certainly open to debate, but if the bookies’ reaction to his absence against Everton this weekend is anything to go by, then Spurs are as reliant on him as Andrew Ridgley was on George Michael.
Before the Welshman got injured against Basel on Europa League duty on Thursday, the match odds for Everton’s trip to White Hart lane looked like this: 13/20 about the home win and 13/4 on an away victory.
Fast forward a few hours and with the news that Bale will miss Sunday’s match – he has been ruled out for at least two weeks – the odds have changed in an extraordinary manner.
Tottenham are now 6/5 to pick up a vital three points, with Everton cut to 11/5 (the draw is 23/10). And on top of that, the Bale news prompted the bwin bookies to push Spurs out from 3/5 to 17/20 for Champions League qualification, while Arsenal, Chelsea and the Toffees all saw their prices slashed in the same market move.
I find that remarkable. Are we saying that Tottenham are THAT reliant on Bale that they would shift in price to such a degree?
That his absence makes them go from strong odds-on shots to odds-against?
Admittedly, Spurs have not won a game in which Bale has failed to score since New Year’s Day, which must be a slightly troubling statistic for Villas-Boas.
But would any other side in the country drift like that if they had their best player absent? Possibly Liverpool without Luis Suarez, yet even then I don’t think you would be getting odds-against about the Reds at home to Everton, regardless of whether the Uruguayan was in their line-up or not.
And what it does is make this game between two sides that have their eyes on the Champions League places an even tougher one to call than it already was.
Spurs are four points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal having played a game more, while Everton are just two points further back in sixth, and David Moyes will think his top-four hopes (or otherwise) could well hinge on events on Sunday.
Beforehand, I would have been saying that Tottenham have better players and have generally been strong over recent months, but fatigue looks to have set in and the fact they played Basel on Thursday gives Everton an advantage. In short, the odds on Tottenham looked too skinny.
Yet the movement in the prices changes the dynamics. All of a sudden, you are getting 11/5 about an Everton side that have won just four of their 14 games on the road all season and are missing their two most potent attacking players in Steven Pienaar and Maraoune Fellaini, who are both serving the second match of their suspensions.
They are also sweating on the fitness of another key attacking weapon in Kevin Mirallas,as the Belgian is rated as doubtful with a groin injury.
And I am not very keen on that price. For Everton to get victories against the best sides, especially away from home where they tend to struggle to pick up wins against the big boys, they generally need to have all of their best players on the pitch.
It might be a good time to play Tottenham, but then Villas-Boas will probably view it as a more favourable time to face a Blues side that has picked up just one point from their last nine on the road.
So I am leaning towards the draw at 23/10, which would pay out £66 for any new bwin customers successfully backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
Tottenham have won just eight of their 15 home league games, and without Bale and the injured Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, it is dependent on the erratic (to put it mildly) Emmanuel Adebayor to prove his worth – not a situation you want to be in.
But Moyes’ side just don’t win enough on the road to have me interested in the away victory – a record of one win from five trips to the sides currently in the top half of the table (Swansea in September) does not breed confidence.
With both sides shorn of a great deal of their creativity, it makes picking a winner difficult and the draw looks like the sensible call.