It’s a real Christmas cracker at White Hart Lane tonight as two title hopefuls go head to head in a London derby that holds a wider significance beyond the three points at stake.
Tottenham Hotspur host Chelsea and for once they are actually ahead of them in the table going into Christmas – not something you’ve often said in Premier League history.
Yet Spurs lie in third, two points above the Blues with a game in hand, and can open up a significant gap between the two sides ahead of a busy festive period.
The days when Chelsea celebrated wins at ‘Three Point Lane’ are long gone – they haven’t won there since 2005 after previously going 17 unbeaten – and it is a sign of Tottenham’s progress under Harry Redknapp that Spurs are arguably favourites for this match.
Whatever the result, I expect Spurs to get off to their now customary flying start at home. In five of their six wins at the Lane this season, Spurs have been winning at half-time, and in four of those they have been ahead inside 20 minutes.
So I’m going for Tottenham to score first and I’ll look to Rafael van der Vaart to be the man who does the damage. The Dutchman is going through a slight goal drought (he hasn’t scored in five) but he is undoubtedly a big-game player.
And having scored the first goal against Arsenal in October, one of six league goals to his name this season, at 7/1 to open the scoring and 2/1 to net at any time he represents good value for a Tottenham side who have scored in every home match this season – you have to go back to March to find the last time Spurs drew a home blank.
In five of their six wins at the Lane this season, Spurs have been winning at half-time, and in four of those they have been ahead inside 20 minutes.
As for Chelsea, you may find it difficult to believe but Fernando Torres is actually favourite to break the deadlock at 5/1 – the odds compilers must think it is still 2008! You won’t be surprised to hear I’ll be looking to back someone who will, y’know, actually be on the pitch when the match starts.
So that brings me to Daniel Sturridge, who has become an integral part of the Chelsea team under Andre Villas-Boas and can continue that fine form with another goal tonight.
Sturridge has been a revelation, carrying on from his loan spell at Bolton last season and at 6/1 to score first and 17/10 to bag at any time he can be the man for the Blues again.
The England striker has nine goals in all competitions to go with some scintillating displays but, tellingly, six of those strikes have come away from home.
This has much to do with Chelsea’s fine counter-attacking play, to which Sturridge is essential, and he can take his tally to double figures with another goal at the Lane.
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