Tottenham Hotspur knew all along that they had themselves an easy run in. The goal all season was to be sitting pretty when thy got to their final eight games of the season, knowing that if they did that, they would be able to make a good run to finish the season and finish where they wanted to. That's because that run in only had one really difficult match -- away to Sunderland.
With the Black Cats having turned things around under Martin O'Neill, Sunderland has become a very good team and the Stadium of Light is never an easy place to play. The match away to Sunderland was always going to provide a big test for Spurs, but with it standing out as the only difficult match in their run in, it takes on greater meaning. Win at Sunderland, and they have a chance to take more than 20 of their final 24 points, putting them in a golden position to take third place.
This is what it comes down to. Win at Sunderland, send a message to the competitors -- "third place is ours." Arsenal will be watching. Chelsea will give up hope. This one could seal it for Spurs.
To talk about winning at the Stadium of Light is easy. Actually winning there, well, that's a whole other story. Even O'Neill knows it, spending several minutes slobbering over Spurs before adding, "It's a home game, though, a game to savor, and we're looking forward to it."
Sunderland are going to be in some trouble as they deal with some injuries. Lee Catermole and Frazier Campbell are both doubts as they battle injuries, but Wayne Bridge is back.
On the flip side, Ledley King is going to have to pass a last minute fitness test to play (where have we heard that one before?). The really interesting part will be what Harry Redknapp decides to do with Aaron Lennon. He has said that Lennon will only start in one of the two matches this weekend. Could this one be it? We saw last week what he gives the team and of the two matches this weekend, this is certainly the more difficult one.
The key for Spurs will likely be how they contain Nicklas Bendtner and no, I'm not joking. The striker has four goals in his last seven matches and actually looks mildly competent so he will be a threat to the Spurs defense. Having King out there to help out will be a plus, but this one might come down to whether William Gallas can beat the piss out of him enough to make him quit. Bendtner isn't exactly the most determined and strong-minded of players.
So is the Stadium of Light where Spurs make their statement? I see you, third place.