Tottenham Hotspur host Wolverhampton Wanderers, both pushing for a top-six Premier League finish or better, on Sunday (9am ET).
Just a single point separates them coming into this fixture. Spurs are sixth, four points behind Chelsea in fourth, one behind Manchester United in fifth and level on points with Sheffield United in seventh. Wolves are eighth, still in striking distance of those above.
Chelsea have a bit of a margin at the top of the group, but the rest of the teams, plus Arsenal and Burnley just a couple of points back from Wolves, are so tightly packed that any of them could reasonably finish the season in any of the positions between fifth and 10th. Not least because they have all struggled for consistency.
Tottenham are a case in point. It took them until earlier this month finally to secure more than two consecutive victories in the league with wins over Norwich, Manchester City and Aston Villa. Even that streak was then quickly ended with a 1-2 defeat away to Chelsea last weekend in a match that if won would have seen them leapfrog the Blues into fourth.
Jose Mourinho clearly came into the fixture with his mind on maintaining defensive solidity and hitting Chelsea on the break. Spurs were never able to get the ball to stick long enough in opposition territory to get numbers forward in support of their two roving forwards. Chelsea’s early opener put pay to hopes of just hanging on for a draw. A second home goal in the opening exchanges of the second half finished things off.
Spurs have improved since Mourinho came in to replace the sacked Mauricio Pochettino, but that was their third limp defeat to a team near them in the table under his command. While injuries to first-choice forwards Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son have recently deprived him of firepower, there still hasn’t been enough sign of improvement to think his side will now be able to force their way into the top four.
The bonus for Spurs and all the other teams in the aforementioned pack is that fifth might be enough to secure Champions League football next season if Manchester City’s two-season ban from European competition is upheld.
That could have a potentially transformative effect on a team like Wolves. One model had their chances of qualifying for the elite European competition increased from nine percent to 21% the moment Man City’s ban was announced. That same model predicts that Manchester United, Spurs and Wolves will be spanned by just two points in fifth, sixth and seventh come the end of the campaign.
That is such a small difference that just a few unexpected points either way could be enough to get Wolves into that fifth spot. An unexpected result like a win away to Spurs, for example.
It was Tottenham who came out on top when the two sides met in Wolverhampton earlier this season. Wolves triumphed in their last meeting in North London, with three goals inside the final 20 minutes of play seeing them to a 3-1 win.
This season, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have again shown themselves to be awkward visitors for clubs near the top of the table. They won 2-0 away at Manchester City and have secured 0-0 draws at Leicester and Man Utd in two of their last three matches. Those results were followed by a 3-0 home win over Norwich last weekend. Diogo Jota scored twice inside the opening half hour before Raul Jimenez added a third early into the second period.
Wolves progressed in the Europa League on Thursday, losing to Espanyol away 3-2 in their second leg. It meant they went through 6-3 on aggregate thanks to their dominating 4-0 triumph in the first home leg at Molineux.
Our Preview’s Spurs vs Wolves Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
With Spurs lacking their regular goal-getters up front, Wolves have a solid chance of keeping a clean sheet on Sunday. If they can do so, the likes of Jimenez, Jota and Adama Traore provide enough of a threat going the other way to think that a repeat of last season’s victory could be on the cards. Here are the Spurs vs Wolves predictions for this preview: