Stoke City-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
LONDON (SE) - Two of the form teams in the Premier League meet at White Hart Lane on Saturday, when Tottenham Hotspur host Stoke City.
Spurs have won four of their last five to move back into the top four (although Arsenal, Everton and West Brom remain just two points behind), while Stoke are unbeaten in seven games to find themselves in the top half and nine points clear of the drop zone.
Despite both teams' impressive recent run of results, the upcoming Christmas calendar of four games in quick succession will set the tone for the second half of the campaign, so both will be desperate to go into Christmas with three points in the bag.
"In this period, we have a lot of games and some players are tired," warned veteran Spurs defender William Gallas. "They have already played more than 20 games this season, which is a lot. It's very intense.
"If we want to stay in the top four, we have to get all the players ready for the matches over Christmas and New Year, because we are going to be playing four games in 11 days."
Conceding late goals has been a problem for the Lilywhites this season, but Gallas is hopeful that those troubles are in the past following the 1-0 win against Swansea last weekend.
"We've had a meeting with the manager because we've been conceding late goals and we have to be a little bit more focused, a bit more strong," said the French defender. "We've had a look to see what is good and bad, and against Swansea it was good to keep a clean sheet."
At the other end of the pitch Spurs have been strong this season, finding the back of the net in all but one of their matches. Andre Villas Boas' team have won three on the bounce at White Hart Lane, out-shooting their opponents 69-31 in those matches, and the Lilywhites have already racked up over 100 more shots than Stoke this season. However, the Spurs manager is aware that Saturday's visitors will be a tough test.
"It's an extremely difficult game," warned AVB. "Stoke have one of the best defences in the league. They are a very competitive team. It's not going to be an easy game for us but the boys are fresh and will be ready."
Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson are doubtful with hamstring injuries for Spurs, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto is back in training after a knee problem. Younes Kaboul (knee) remains out. Stoke City have doubts over Michael Owen (hamstring), while Rory Delap (hernia) and Marc Wilson (broken leg) are still sidelined.
The Potters were handed another boost this week when Tony Pulis announced that the club are close to agreeing a new contract with captain and central defender Ryan Shawcross.
"We are very close to doing a deal with Ryan," said Pulis. "If we get it done we will be absolutely delighted. He has grown with the football club. He joined us in the promotion year and has got better every year. His performances have been exceptional.
"Ryan is a lovely family man, he has got everything in order, he works as hard as anybody I have known. He trains properly, he eats well, he is a good, good professional."
Stoke took four points off Spurs last season, winning 2-1 at the Britannia and drawing 1-1 at the Lane - with only a 93rd minute equaliser rescuing a point for the Lilywhites. Stoke also knocked Tottenham out of last season's League Cup, winning on penalties.