By Jay Jaffa
The door marked 'Champions League' has very kindly been left ajar once more following another weekend of dramatic and unexpected results. As Tottenham and Chelsea each claimed three points on Sunday, Arsenal stuttered at Stoke whilst Newcastle were floored by in-form Wigan.
As the situation stands, if Spurs return from the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday night with a win, they will be just a point away from Arsenal with two games remaining. That is, of course, unlikely given Tottenham have never won a Premier League game at Bolton but fans can dream, right?
The race, or marathon as it has turned out, is once again open to all four clubs. But much like the scenario in Italy's Serie A where their four pretenders are tied on 55 points, it has become hard to tell if anyone actually wants that top-four spot. Each English club have systematically imploded at some stage, casting doubt on their credentials.
|AS IT STANDS...
Andre Villas-Boas was doing the worst impression of Jose Mourinho since that ridiculous puppet on the talkSPORT parody show as Chelsea flitted between the absurd and the downright dreadful.
Spurs had it sewn up by February didn't they? Mind the gap and all that 'banter'. Fast forward to just a week ago and they'd bottled it, plummeted and were calling for Redknapp's head.
And what of the Magpies? Newcastle found that life without Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan was actually quite pleasant. But after initially laughing off suggestions of relegation via the amiable mixture of a strawberry syrup-sipping goal-machine and their croissant-loving midfield, the loss at Wigan and the prospect of a trip to Stamford Bridge suggest they may fall short as they negotiate the final hurdle.
They say a week is a long time in football and that doesn't ring truer than right now. Forget a battle for fourth place – third is still fair game after Arsenal's draw at Stoke.
With Monday's top of the table clash being billed as one of the most important Premier League games of all time, it would be futile to compare the race for the title to the race for the Champions League.
|ARSENAL'S REMAINING FIXTURES
||West Brom (A)|
|TOTTENHAM'S REMAINING FIXTURES
||Aston Villa (A)|
|NEWCASTLE'S REMAINING FIXTURES
||Manchester City (H)|
|CHELSEA'S REMAINING FIXTURES
||Liverpool (N) (FA Cup)
But as the media wrote the obituaries for Messrs Ferguson and Wenger, the two pretenders stumbled. As City relinquished top spot, so Spurs did with third and as we approach the final few games of the campaign it remains to be seen whether either team are capable of reclaiming what was once considered theirs.
But at least it is still possible. Two weeks ago, Manchester United led the league by eight points and Spurs trailed their arch-rivals Arsenal by five. Give the underdogs a midweek victory and both contests will run to the wire.
Tottenham coasted to victory on Sunday against a Blackburn team totally devoid of ideas and belief. It was the ideal game for Redknapp's side, particularly following a damaging run of form that had clearly sapped his players both mentally and physically. With three points safe and secure, the prospect of finishing the campaign with another three wins looks far more plausible.
A trip to Bolton has always been problematic for Spurs but, although their away form this year has been patchy at best, the Trotters have not offered great resistance at the Reebok Stadium. Aside from relegated Wolves, no team has conceded more goals on their home patch. Coupled with Aston Villa, they have mustered a meagre four home wins – a suitably convenient statistic given a trip to Villa Park is Spurs' penultimate game of the season.
Though Martin Jol would undoubtedly like to get one over on the employers who so ungraciously gave him the sack, Fulham look to already be on their holidays – an understandable offence given their campaign began on the July 7.
So, where despair flooded over Tottenham supporters one week ago, there is now renewed faith that nine points and Champions League football will be delivered to White Hart Lane.
After the game on Sunday, the players left the stadium exuding a sense of elation, as if a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. There was a spring in the step of Younes Kaboul as he joked with reporters that his English wasn't good enough to talk to them, despite numerous interactions in the past.
Jake Livermore and Ledley King were in good spirits and Kyle Walker struggled to hide his smile as he nursed his man of the match bottle of champagne.
The Tottenham team look happy again and that may well be a reflection of the weekend's results. In a season that has thrown up some truly wacky plots, it is encouraging to know that the best is still yet to come.
Of course four teams do not fit two places but whichever way the final weeks play out, one thing is for sure: unless you are a Chelsea supporter, the Champions League pretenders will be rooting for Bayern Munich.
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