x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A test of Spurs' aspirations

The FA Cup is within reach but the Champions League is the main target and the contest for the Premier League's fourth place has become more intriguing.

As he left Leeds following his match-winning hat-trick, Jermain Defoe was alerted to one particular message on the match ball he clutched proudly to his chest. "I expect nothing less," it read. The No 8 underneath identified the writer as Jermaine Jenas, his Tottenham and England colleague. With 20 goals in just 27 games, Defoe has set standards that have increased his, and his team's, expectations. The FA Cup is now within reach after his three strikes at Elland Road booked a fifth-round trip to Bolton.

But the Champions League is the main target and the contest for the Premier League's fourth place has become more intriguing with every game. Spurs are in the coveted position, but just one point ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool and two in front of Aston Villa, today's visitors to White Hart Lane. "It's a big game for us," said Defoe, whose side are also strengthened by the arrival of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Younes Kaboul. "Villa are playing well and won at Fulham which is always hard to do. But the way we are playing, we are confident going into every game. Personally, I am too. For goals, this is my best season and I will be disappointed if we don't get something at the end of it."

This match should indicate whether Defoe has reason to be optimistic. Spurs, like Villa, have a plethora of gifted players, but also grit to go with their grace. Harry Redknapp's side displayed that determination against Leeds, and at Birmingham last weekend Spurs were in control for most of the game and were only denied victory by an injury-time leveller from Liam Ridgewell, the left-back who had been spent most of the match attempting to shackle the rejuvenated David Bentley.

Following his first-team return, Bentley has provided defensive cover and an attacking threat. Defoe added: "Even at the end of the Leeds game he was flying down the wing. Defensively as well, he was brilliant." How Bentley fares against Luke Young, the former Spurs right-back now deputising for Villa at left back for the injured Stephen Warnock, could help decide this crucial encounter. @Email:akhan@thenational.ae

Tottenham v Aston Villa, 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2