According to Everton manager David Moyes, Stoke City’s trip to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham Hotspur pits two sides against each other that are capable of finishing in the Champions League qualification places come the end of the season.
Which does beg the question – what exactly has Moyes been smoking and could I have some of it please?
In fairness, knowing what we know about the Scot, it is extremely unlikely he has been on the wacky baccy (or if he has, he needs to find himself a new dealer because he still has a face like a man who has stubbed his toe on the gravestone of a dead relative).
Instead, he was genuinely talking up Stoke’s top-four potential in the aftermath of his side’s 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium last weekend.
But unfortunately, I do have to question his logic. I mean, I am all for giving the opposition due credit and everybody in football being nice to each other for a change, but you have to draw the line somewhere and I am drawing the line at suggestions that Stoke can qualify for the Champions League.
Yes, one spot (and possibly two) is definitely up for grabs with just seven points separating Chelsea in third and Liverpool in 12th. And yes, Stoke are enjoying a very fine season, currently in ninth position and boasting the best defensive record in the entire division, which is a great achievement at this stage of the season.
But Champions League? As the song famously goes, you’re having a laugh.
Look, Tony Pulis is doing a good job getting Stoke to do what Stoke do best: making themselves incredibly hard to beat and digging out results despite their lack of firepower, which doesn’t undermine them when playing at the Britannia, where they remain unbeaten in the league this season. Only two sides, Manchester United and Norwich City, have won more points over the last six games, too.
But you’re living on another planet if you think they can gate-crash the top four. Pulis has never managed to get Stoke to finish in the top half in four years in the Premier League, never mind the top four, and as strong as the Potters are defensively and as good as they are at home, they don’t have enough quality in attacking areas to secure a Champions League spot.
No side have scored fewer goals than Stoke’s 15 league goals this year and this isn’t an anomaly: Pulis’ side have scored a total of 36, 46, 34 and 38 times in each season since gaining promotion in 2008 and a side with such a paltry scoring record, not to mention such a poor away record, can’t possibly hit the heights that Moyes mentioned.
Tottenham, on the other hand, are well capable of finishing in the top four, just as they did last season before Chelsea’s victory in the tournament robbed them of a chance to play in this season’s competition, and they can maintain the status quo of Stoke’s away form by beating them and ensuring they go into Christmas in the top four.
Spurs are 3/5 to do just that (Stoke are 19/4, with the draw at 27/10) and although it may not be plain sailing, I fancy them strongly to eventually seal the win.
I always want to oppose Stoke on the road. This year, Pulis has managed to win just one of nine (at West Brom, the only team they can beat on their travels) and in total the Potters have managed just 14 victories in 85 away games in the Premier League – a very poor return whichever way you look at it.
Only 59 goals have been scored in those 85 fixtures, which has always held Stoke’s progress back. It is hard to win games if you don’t score goals and since beating Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on January 2nd, Stoke have won just one of their 18 away league games, scoring just ten goals and drawing ten blanks.
So I fancy Spurs to win a sixth straight home match in all competitions, but I don’t expect loads of goals. Only four of Stoke’s last 18 trips have seen over 2.5 goals, so the 5/4 that Tottenham win a match that sees under 3.5 goals is a stonking bet as far as I’m concerned.
Seven of Spurs’ league games at White Hart Lane have seen three goals or fewer, while the 17 games involving Stoke have seen just 28 goals, an average of 1.65.
Fifteen of those have seen under 3.5 goals and they are more than capable of digging in and making it hard for Spurs before Tottenham’s extra class eventually tells, so that 5/4 looks like must-bet stuff to me.