Tottenham vs. Sunderland: 5 Talking Points Ahead of Monday's Clash
Despite the fact that neither side are involved where they'd like to be, there are still ample interesting sub-plots going on in this tie to keep the neutrals, and the loyal fans, more than interested.
Both sides still have plenty left to play for and although the reasons for victory are vastly different for each team, there can be no denying that they have one thing in common; this is a must-win game.
With that, it's time for Bleacher Report to take a look at five talking points ahead of the clash.
A Spurs Win Would Salvage Some of Their Reputation
Having possessed so much self-belief and promise at the beginning of the campaign, Tottenham Hotspur look a shadow of the team that they could have developed into by now.
Yet, with what looks like an easy task on paper scheduled for Monday evening, the London club have a fantastic opportunity to regain a certain amount of pride and self-belief.
Make no mistake, Tim Sherwood's charges are desperately in need of a change of fortunes after a series of poor and unconvincing displays both at home and when travelling on the road. Notching up a big win against struggling Sunderland would be one way to get back on the right track and even though it wouldn't solve all their woes, it would certainly be welcomed by the fans.
Losing four of their last six games in the league as well as recently being dumped out of the Europa League by Benfica on aggregate, it's been quite a dispiriting few weeks for Spurs as they continue the trend of north London capitulations.
But perhaps a more alarming reason for a win is to salvage their sullied reputation.
If they are to continue to attract some of the continent's best talent—something that's key to their sustainable growth—it's vital they put together a positive string of results starting with Monday; it might just be the injection they crave to get out of their slump.
With rumours abound from the Guardian's John Ashdown that they are in the hunt for Romelu Lukaku's signature, they desperately need a win against basement-dwellers Sunderland to prove their worth.
But before they start worrying about their prestige in the transfer market, it's vital Sherwood gets his men playing good, effective football. After all, he needs to prove to the players Andre Villa-Boas brought in that he can get them gelling as a unit, because he's not done it so far.
If they can't manage that, there might just be a mass exodus from White Hart Lane over the coming months.
Black Cats Need More Than Luck to Survive the Drop
With crunch time well and truly upon the Black Cats, now is the moment for them to stand up and be counted.
A quick reflection on last Saturday's surprise result between Chelsea and Crystal Palace, which saw the Blues fall to a 1-0 defeat at Selhurst Park, will be a timely reminder to all Sunderland players that David and Goliath ties do still occur in England's top flight.
Whether or not Gus Poyet's men can learn from and emulate the Eagles is another thing entirely.
As reported by the Sunderland Echo, speaking ahead of Monday's match, influential defender John O' Shea issued a spine-tingling battle-cry:
We’re not going to give in. We’re going to give everything possible to make sure we stay a Premier League team.
Unsurprisingly then, the Wearside outfit are prepared to fight tooth and nail to retain their top-flight status—as they should. But will it be enough? And can they procure something magical out of the bag?
Stranger things have happened, particularly with the hosts going through a poor patch of form. However, it's difficult to see where they'll create the chances or just how they propose to finish them.
They have the third-worst offensive record in the league this season having scored a paltry 28 goals. But games like this one are made for club legends to write themselves into folklore. So, with Adam Johnson having scored just as many goals as Spurs' leading scorer Emmanuel Adebayor, he might just be the catalyst they need to produce an unlikely victory.
After all, he netted against them in the reverse tie back in December. Could it be that he'll repeat the feat?
Europa League Is Still a Possibility
While the majority of Spurs fans will feel disappointed and frustrated with their side's overall performance throughout the 2013/14 season, there are still some glimmers of hope remaining.
What started out as a brightly burning fire that saw the club re-invest the cash from the sale of Gareth Bale has since transformed into a pile of embers.
Thankfully for the players that were drafted in, though, they can make up for their below-par performances by stoking the smouldering remains of their campaign with a convincing Monday night display—frankly it's the least they owe the club.
With Europa League football still a distinct possibility for next season the team will vie to group together as a unit, and Sherwood will do his utmost to ensure they give themselves every possible chance of tying down that all-important qualification spot.
If things go their way, Arsenal will beat Everton to fourth place (although this is far from a certainty) and they will secure sixth spot to qualify for the Europa League alongside the Toffees and the FA Cup runners-up.
Granted, there are a lot of twists and turns left over the coming weeks and there might yet be a sting in the tail for the Lilywhites, but it will be up to them to remain focused on their own task. No doubt, it will have been already drilled in to their heads by the coaching staff that there is still much for the players to remain focused on.
Their performance in the Sunderland showdown will no doubt be used to gauge their mentality and hunger for the task that lies ahead. If they pass it with flying colours it might just be that Christian Eriksen and company will have enough left in the tank to fend off the advances of a resurgent Manchester United.
Time will reveal all.
Sherwood Is out to Prove Himself
Before he took on the job, 45-year-old Sherwood had plenty of admirers in the football community. His passion for the game was clear to see and his leadership qualities were well-known; he had guided Blackburn Rovers to their first and only Premier League title back in 1995 as captain.
And his long-standing association with the club who call White Hart Lane home, as a coach for five years, meant that he had a connection with the team and would likely better identify with their long-term goals and plans than many of the other candidates back in December.
Now it seems the former England international can do no right as Tottenham have cut an increasingly direction-less and weak figure on matchday.
What started as an encouraging foray into management at the highest level, with a six-match unbeaten run in the league, has since developed into a farcical implosion.
Since the end of January, Sherwood's side have lost heavily against City, Liverpool and Chelsea, while they also went down against the Gunners to a score-line of 1-0.
In truth, it's been their complete deficiency in experience challenging the league's top four that has really put a sizeable dent in their confidence. And while it would be unfair to place the blame solely at Sherwood's feet, he's certainly played his part; he wasn't proactive enough with his tactics and decision-making in stopping Liverpool's danger from the flanks when they travelled to Anfield, for example.
And he hasn't extracted the best from the huge pool of talent he has at his disposal. The likes of Paulinho and Roberto Soldado continue to underwhelm without any real readjustment on the cards from the sidelines.
Nonetheless, for all his flaws and inexperience, the Spurs supremo can still demand his players to make one last push for their final flurry of games, and he can still have a positive effect on the club even if he gets the sack come the summer—pretty much all of their remaining matches are winnable.
Make no mistake, like any club inside the top half of the table, Spurs need to avoid stagnating—and Sherwood needs to guarantee that doesn't happen.
Tough Sunderland Run-in Means a Loss Is out of the Qestion
With Sunderland facing arguably the most arduous run-in of all the relegation candidates, there aren't very many games that they seem like getting points out of at the moment.
With terribly difficult clashes to come against Everton, City, Chelsea and United, Gus Poyet knows his side are well and truly up against it. Truth be told, however, Monday is a fixture they can realistically pull some points out of.
Despite being rock bottom in the country's top-tier, their survival is going to depend on their ability to play the best football they've managed all season and while that may seem a daunting task their only option is to go out and play with as much gusto and energy as possible and to take each match as it comes.
No doubt the Black Cats have been sluggish for the past month and have nobody to blame but themselves for their current predicament but as Louise Taylor reported in the Guardian earlier this week, the Black Cats boss knows full well what needs to be done:
In January we were winning so many important games and it was bringing the players together. Now we need a shock to get us going again.
Waking up on the morning of the Tottenham match, when they look at the league table, they'll see themselves holding up the rest of the table in 20th position.
That might just be the shock they need.