When Peter Crouch landed there was frost on his hair. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
This is a really, really important match for Villa, and for Spurs as far as that goes. We've talked about the difficult stretch of opposition Villa are set to face in the coming weeks and the importance of nicking an unexpected result. The good news, at least where this game is concerned, is that Spurs provide perhaps the best opportunity to do so.
The bad news, of course, is that Villa probably shouldn't be expected to take even a point from this match. Their form so far to this point in the season notwithstanding, Spurs are a very good team. They are, in terms of the road they took to the top of the table, something of a model for clubs like Villa. They're a bigger club with greater financial resources at their disposal of course, but the general direction they've taken is smart and appears to be financially sustainable. Quality young talent is brought in before they have established themselves as stars, giving Spurs a strong, young core that is supplemented with savvy transfer market acquisitions. There isn't a lot of flash or massive star-power on this team, but the end result is a Champions League club with aspirations to stay that way.
This isn't a full strength Tottenham side that we will be seeing; as Kevin McCauley mentioned in his chat with Kirsten, injuries have played a role in the team's poor start. In addition to Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson and , Spurs will be without Johnathan Woodgate, Jamie O'Hara, Ledley King and William Gallas. The loss of Defoe is a particularly nasty bit of luck for Tottenham, as Defoe is their most dangerous threat at goal and someone that could give Villa's defense in particular fits.
Unfortunately for Villa, Spurs will not be without Gareth Bale (not that I would ever wish lasting harm on the youngster) and Bale is a player that absolutely terrifies me. Here's to hoping Harry Redknapp pulls a Harry Redknapp and keeps him at left back, as the thought of Bale one-on-one against Villa's full backs on the wing absolutely terrifies me. Bale is also not the most defensively minded defender in the world, and between Downing, Albrighton and Young his presence out wide defensively could allow some dangerous attacks down his flank. After his performance against defending Eredivisie champions F.C. Twente, however, I'd wager we see Bale at wide mid tomorrow.
Coming down the other side of the pitch making Stephen Warnock's hamstrings cry will be Aaron Lennon. Lennon is, for lack of a better term, a tricky little bugger. He's all of 5'5" tall but he thrives on his speed, and if he can get behind the defense and send crosses towards anthropomorphic Balsa tree Peter Crouch, it could be a long day for Villa. The wide areas of the attacking zone are going to be crucial to this game, and if ever there was a time to play Carlos Cuellar at right back this would be it. Villa will need to make Lennon come inside and force Bale to stay wide, as Bale's real danger is in the long range shot, difficult to produce when you're horizontal to the keeper.
Where Villa are concerned, Gabriel Agbonlahor is still out of action and Richard Dunne is still a question mark. I've been critical of bunker-and-counter as a strategy at times in the past, but on the road against this opposition, it makes a great deal of sense. Spurs can have all of the possession in the world as long as the central defense can maintain its composure, something we've seen them do twice in a row now. They haven't faced this quality of attacking opposition to this point, but no matter what strategy is employed without a heady performance from whichever center backs start the day things won't turn out well. Keep them out of the box and beat them on the break. That's Villa's best chance in this one, and though it makes for a nerve-wracking hour and a half it's what needs to be done.
Villa don't need three from this one, but a point would be big. If you want to compete in this league you've got to get the results that you should and a few that you shouldn't. Villa have been on the wrong side of too many of those "few that you shouldn't" games already this season. Time to switch that around.