Ahead of tomorrow's game against Spurs we talk to Bryan Ashlock from one of the best sites around the SB Nation network, Cartilage Free Captain, to get his views on all things Tottenham, and a look at how they view the upcoming game too.
How have things been for Tottenham this season, and are you where you thought you'd be at this stage?
Bryan Ashlock: Things are going pretty well. I think if you talked to any Spurs fan before the season and told them that they club would be tied for third (fourth on goal differential) they would have pleased. We've dropped a few points thanks to late-game fragility, but all-in-all I think Spurs are exactly where I had hoped they would be in December.
A while back there were plenty of calls for Andre Villas-Boas to be sacked. Have things calmed down a little bit now?
BA: I don't know how serious any of those calls for his head were. They certainly weren't coming from within the club. The English media just finds everything Andre Villas-Boas does detestable. He doesn't make things easier on himself, but I think most fans are quite happy he's in charge and will be content to have him in charge for quite some time.
What do Spurs fans think of Daniel Levy? He seems to have a reputation away from White Hart Lane as someone who drives an incredibly hard bargain.
BA: Daniel Levy is polarising figure. On the one hand, he's presided over the most successful period of football at Tottenham since the early 80's and he's been a big part of getting the Northumberland Development Project (Tottenham's new stadium) up and running. However, as you said he does drive an incredibly hard bargain. Sometimes this works out really well for Spurs. We scored some major coups in the transfer market thanks to him, Rafael Van Der Vaart springs to mind. When it doesn't work out we start the season with two senior strikers, like this season. The fact that so much of our transfer business is done on deadline day is incredibly frustrating, but as far as chairmen go he's pretty good.
What will Spurs be looking for in January, if anything?
BA: Rumors coming out of White Hart Lane are that Tottenham won't be spending any money in January, but if they do the club needs a litle bit of everything. Cover at left back, cover on both wings, a third striker, perhaps another midfielder. No one knows how much money the club has to spend, but I can't imagine it's more than £25 million. If there are any additions I really hope it's Klas-Jan Huntelaar or Fernando Llorente. Both strikers will be available on a free this summer and could be had for cut rate prices.
Danny Rose is really rubbish by the way. For the good of Spurs you might as well just sell him to us for a nominal fee... In all seriousness though, can we keep him?
BA: I honestly didn't think much of Danny Rose coming into this season. He was a 22 year-old winger who was being converted into a fullback. His defensive skills were just ok and I never thought he'd develop enough to be a meaningful contributor at Tottenham. His performances for Sunderland, though, have changed my mind. When Benoit Assou-Ekotto was hurt for much of the fall Tottenham had to play Jan Vertonghen out of position at left back. It sure would have been nice to have Rose. I suppose we could let Sunderland have him...for £5-8 million.
Looking ahead to this game, do you see an area of the pitch where Sunderland have the upperhand?
BA: Honestly, there aren't many areas that I see the Black Cats having an advantage in. If Fletcher is healthy, then he could cause the Tottenham defense problems. Normally, Sessegnon would scare me, but his form dipped a little at the start of the season. I know he's scored 3 goals since November, but the way Sandro has been playing for Tottenham Hotspur this season I think he can mark Sessegnon out of the game. I suppose the one area to watch is on the Tottenham left. If Assou-Ekotto is 100% healthy then Adam Johnson will see fewer chances, but if Vertonghen has to play LB then Johnson could get in behind the Tottenham defense and cause some problems.
Equally who needs to be on form for Tottenham if you're to win this one...
BA: Tottenham's midfield pivot of Moussa Dembele and Sandro is one, in my biased opinion, on of the best in the Premier League. I believe that they have the requisite quality to control the game and I don't see Larsson and Gardner giving them many problems. When Dembele is controlling the tempo and Sandro is breaking up play there's not much can stop Spurs. Tottenham will still probably need Gareth Bale to score, but the key will be in the central midfield.
And finally, what's your prediction for this game?
BA: I know this game is at The Stadium of Light, but I just can't see Tottenham getting anything but 3 points from this match. I'm sure someone (probably Larsson from a freekick) will score a late goal, but Spurs will have put it away by then. Tottenham 3 - 1 Sunderland.