Tottenham Hotspur host Aston Villa on Sunday as favorites to win their fourth consecutive Premier League contest. They sit seventh in the table, eight places ahead of Villa and a win will move Spurs to fourth, possibly even third.
Of course, Spurs don't always do so well in the "should win" matches. They proved that in Thursday's Europa League draw at Panathinaikos.
Spurs looked uninspired and disjointed in Greece, which isn't a rare look for them. It was exactly as they looked early in the season. They were active, sure, but activity means little without purpose and Tottenham were devoid of that. Worse, they drew themselves out with all of their running, much of it pointless, and paid for it.
If Tottenham show that same lack of purpose against Villa, a disappointing result like the ones they turned in early this season are on the way. They may go in front, but such play will bite you over the course of 90 minutes.
But then there is the other Tottenham. There is the team that has played terrific in the league and has found a fantastic central midfield in Sandro and Moussa Dembele. It is the same team that has found a marauding left back in Jan Vertonghen and is witnessing the continued growth in Steve Caulker. And then there is Gareth Bale, the unquestioned star of the team.
Which Spurs will show up at White Hart Lane on Sunday? For Villa's sake, the first one.
Aston Villa have failed to impress this season and tactically, play into Spurs' hands. Paul Lambert has favored a narrow shape, that will funnel attacks Sandro's way and open up space for Bale and Aaron Lennon. It also protects Spurs from another Kyle Walker defensive meltdown. In now way, shape or form does a Lambert special turn out well for Villa.
There is one positive for Villa, though, and that comes in the form of two newcomers. Matthew Lowton and Joe Bennett joined the team from the lower divisions and have been bright spots in a so-far disappointing season at Villa Park. Will that be enough to propel Villa over Tottenham? Probably not, but it does give the visitors some reason for excitement.
If Spurs have it their way, their excitement will come in the way of three points, and a lovely 30th birthday gift to Jermain Defoe.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa
Game Date/Time: Sunday; 10 a.m. ET, 3 p.m. local
Venue: White Hart Lane, London, England
TV: Sportsnet World Plus (Canada)
Online: Fox Soccer 2 Go (USA)