London (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur will begin the task of repairing their faltering season when Stoke City visit White Hart Lane this weekend.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have seen their Premier League title hopes fade in recent weeks and were hit by another blow on Thursday when their failure to beat Gent at Wembley ended their hopes of success in the Europa League.
Now, having won just one of their last four league games, Spurs need a result against Mark Hughes’s side to consolidate their hold on a top-four place.
Having appeared capable of catching Chelsea when they ended the Blues’ 13-game winning streak in early January, Pochettino’s team have slipped 10 points adrift of the leaders and their primary focus now is fending off the challengers for a Champions League place.
They face Stoke in third place but just two points separates them from Manchester United in sixth.
United are occupied with the League Cup final this weekend, fourth-placed Arsenal have a free weekend and Liverpool, currently fifth, face Leicester City on Monday night.
Tottenham are therefore presented with the chance to open a more significant gap.
But if they are to do so, they will have to avoid the mistakes that cost them against Gent, and in particular, the loss of discipline that resulted in a first-half red card for Dele Alli against the Belgians.
Midfielder Victor Wanyama said: “It’s a big game on Sunday. We need to get back to winning ways and hopefully we can fight again how we did in the second half and then we’ll be on the right track.”
Alli will learn the extent of his punishment next week but the expected three-match ban will apply to European games next season. Erik Lamela and Danny Rose remain sidelined through injury.
– Start for Berahino? –
Saido Berahino could be set for his first start for Stoke City against Tottenham.
The £15 million ($18.7m, 17.7m euros) striker –- a target for the White Hart Lane club in recent seasons — has made two substitute appearances since his move from West Bromwich Albion but he has topped up his sharpness on the team’s week-long trip to Dubai.
And City manager Hughes believes the former England Under-21 international may feature from the off at White Hart Lane in what would be his first start since September 10.
“I know he’s itching to start and he’s not a million miles away I’m sure,” said Hughes.
“There’s no doubt he will play a part, but whether or not it’s a start, we’ll have to wait and see.
“He’s looking really sharp, so if not this weekend then he’s very close to it.
“We’re really pleased with what he’s producing. He’s doing extra work -– predominantly finishing and movement around the box, just for sharpness really because if you haven’t played for too long, it affects your timing.
“Strikers like to hear the ball hitting the back of the net so he’s getting plenty of opportunities during training and with the extra work he’s doing after.
“So he’s doing very well and we’re really pleased with what he’s showing.”
Tottenham failed in four bids for Berahino in the summer of 2015 but Hughes believes that history won’t affect the player this weekend.
“I’m sure he’s not thinking about Spurs any more -– he’s very much a Stoke player and we’re really excited about what we think is ahead for him and for us,” he said.
“He’s a good player, his finishing in training is first class and that augurs well for the future.”
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