You could forgive the Tottenham Hotspur fans making the long journey to Wales to face Swansea City doing so with a certain amount of trepidation about what the remainder of the Premier League season has in store for them – because the answer at this stage is usually nothing but disappointment.
With no more international disruptions, the Premier League is now in the home straight, the period when Tottenham have tended to fall apart at the worst possible moment, and Andre Villas-Boas will be hoping his public declarations – that Spurs are well equipped to make the most of Arsenal’s ‘negative spiral’ – don’t come back to haunt him.
Just a month ago, this looked unlikely. On the back of a derby day victory over Arsenal, Tottenham sat in third place, ahead of Chelsea and seven points above their north London rivals in the race for Champions League qualification.
Yet three straight defeats – two in the league, one in the Europa League – have caused some disconsolation among fans who are beginning to get a sense of déjà vu.
Because if the 4-1 loss to Inter Milan at the San Siro was a fruitful one, with Spurs eventually prevailing on away goals, the reverses away to Liverpool and at home to Fulham have caused serious damage to Tottenham’s top-four aspirations.
Spurs are now in fourth, just four points above the Gunners, who have a game in hand, and Villas-Boas will be hoping to avoid the fate of Harry Redknapp, who oversaw a late-season collapse last term that cost the White Hart Lane club a chance to compete with Europe’s elite, as well as Redknapp his job.
And that is before we even get to Martin Jol’s ‘lasagne-gate’ class of 2005/06.
In contrast, Swansea have enjoyed the greatest season in the club’s history and having won the Capital One Cup on the back of a fine league campaign, Michael Laudrup can afford to put his feet up between now and May. And for me, it is this fact that makes this one really tough to call.
Spurs are the 5/4 favourites to repeat Arsenal’s victory at the Liberty Stadium a fortnight ago, with the draw and a home win both chalked up at 9/4, and this is a game where no result would be a surprise.
Will a pressure-free Swansea play without restraint, or will a focused Tottenham have an extra edge?
Laudrup has created a fine side at Swansea, but I do question their motivation now their season is essentially done.
History is littered with sides that win the League Cup and then mentally switch off (Liverpool last year, Birmingham in 2011, Tottenham in 2008, Middlesbrough in 2004) and I fear the Swans might fall into that category.
It isn’t like City have been winning many games as it is: since beating Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg, Laudrup’s men have won just four of their 12 fixtures, including the 5-0 victory over League Two Bradford City in the final, and have drawn seven blanks in that sequence.
But I want to err on the side of caution with Spurs at the moment. In hindsight, last-minute goals against Lyon (twice) and West Ham have given Tottenham’s results a gloss their performances perhaps didn’t merit, and it could even be argued that they were not all that impressive in beating Arsenal at White Hart Lane.
So what I am going to do instead is play the 33/20 that Tottenham score more goals in the second half than in the opening period, which would return a cool £53 for new customers backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
It is a trend that has followed AVB’s men all season, and it can continue on Saturday.
Tottenham have scored 69% of their Premier League goals after the interval – which is a huge portion and the sort of statistic that is too big to be ignored.
The numbers tell you everything. Out of their 30 league fixtures, Tottenham have struck more often after the break 18 times (nine times on the road) and their 35 goals in the second halves of matches (compared to 16 in the first half) is the most prolific record in the division.
Out of those 35 second-half strikes, 20 have come on the road, which is the best record in the league, comfortably ahead of Manchester United’s 14 and significantly more than the nine they have managed in the first halves of their away fixtures.
It means that Spurs have been averaging 1.33 goals per game after the break away from home, compared to just 0.6 goals in the opening period, which is particularly eye-opening when you consider that the average time of the first goal that Swansea have conceded in league games this term is 49 minutes.
Add in the fact that the Welsh side haven’t let in a first-half goal in their last six outings at the Liberty (yet went on to concede six goals after the interval) and the 33/20 that Spurs do their damage after the break suddenly looks like a very interesting play indeed.