Gary Neville disagrees with dream Tottenham scenario after ...

18 days ago

Tottenham Hotspur were possibly the big winners over a weekend that saw things end as it began at the top of the Premier League table. Ange Postecoglou's side, after their late winner against Brighton on Saturday, kept pace with Arsenal and Manchester City (both five points ahead) as well as matching Liverpool's result, ensuring it is all to play for.

Tottenham - Figure 1
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The outcome is that with 14 games to play, they are seven points off top spot - though that could become eight if City win their game in hand - as well as six ahead of Manchester United on the outside of the Champions League places. After Aston Villa were defeated by the Red Devils in the weekend's biggest clash, it's advantage Spurs.

Perhaps the ideal result would have been a draw, ensuring that the gap to both teams remained the same - level with Villa, behind on goal difference, but a sizeable nine points in front of United - but ultimately anything but a win for Unai Emery's side was beneficial (or was it?)

With some uncertainty still over just how many English sides will play in the Champions League next season, having a buffer to fifth is even more important than ever. The general belief that Premier League teams will be able to secure an extra spot for next year's remodelled tournament still exists, though.

In this case it is still Tottenham's to lose. They ensure that the gap to United is at a two-match swing, at minimum, as well as holding a small lead over their closest rivals.

Meanwhile, United's win kept their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive. A loss would have seen the gap stretch to 11 points - something surely too big. When asked of United could overturn the deficit, which started at eight points before the game, Roy Keane said, "Yeah, I think so. It’s been important for United over the last few weeks to gather that momentum, especially if fifth place gets them into the competition.

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"The most important thing is that their attackers are starting to score goals again, there still might be some questions about their performances defensively but now they’re in good form going forward." Making it three wins a row now alters that perception again.

Erik ten Hag's men now have a new lease of life. Tie into that the drop off for Villa in recent weeks and the tide is turning. Tottenham have done their bit to stay out of the conversation for now, though.

Villa Park, once an unbreachable fortress, has been the venue for three away wins in a row now. Cracks have started to appear for Emery and, as they get dragged into a battle for fifth, Spurs are just about staying away from it for now.

Paul Merson thinks that even though table reads nicely for the current top four, that could all change. "I think they [Villa] need to look at winning this game and putting Man United out of the race for top four in my opinion," he said prior to kick off. "It’d be 11 points then, it’s out of them and Tottenham in my opinion, they have some nice fixtures coming up.

"If I was them, I’d be aiming for top four. I wouldn’t get carried away because we know how quickly things can change given their last few performances at home."

Gary Neville thinks that the result was the last thing Spurs wanted, though. "It was a huge win for United, they couldn’t afford to go 11 points behind Villa otherwise that race would’ve been over. Now, I think the pressure is off of those Manchester United players and the manager even though the barometer for the end of the season will be achieving Champions League football.

"To get within five points of Villa means there’s serious pressure on them now, and even some on Tottenham as well. I actually think Tottenham may have wanted Villa to beat Man United today to keep them further away and to take it from a three-horse race into a two-horse one."

However, as said, the argument will now be that for now it is Villa being hunted, not Spurs, and that if the game had gone a different way then the fourth spot would have been lost - for now. Such is the new situation, Tottenham and United are the form teams, there is a gap already to Villa, and with a meeting between the sides in four weeks time, the complexion could change massively again.

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