Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Villas-Boas under fire from all angles
To consider sacking Tottenham Hotspur head coach Andre Villas-Boas either now or even after a potential defeat against Manchester United on Sunday is ludicrous. Sure, it is acceptable for there to be the losing of some heads in the wake of a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City, a side Spurs are meant to be able to give a competitive game.
A result like that jars the senses of those on the receiving end and leads to a short-term dislike of the sport and everything to do with it, including the man making the team decisions. And there is a case for Tottenham to be doing better than they have been. The nine goals scored from 12 games -- the same number as striker-less West Ham United, for example -- had been softened by their impressive "goals against" column prior to last weekend's public pants-pulling-down.
But now that their concession total has been doubled, the lack of firepower is highlighted further. Any 6-0 loss, no matter the money plundered on building the opposition, is reason to be "ashamed," as Villas-Boas noted. He should take some blame for persisting with such a high line against a City side so devastating in attack on their home soil this season.
Yet are these reasons enough to part company with a manager whose side are two points off fourth place? In short: no. It has been well-documented that Villas-Boas is working to integrate seven new signings, all of whom are settling in a new country and division, and that point stands. As does the absence of the Premier League's best player last campaign, Gareth Bale, without whom any team would feel the weaker, not to mention the unwanted fixture pattern that comes with being in the Europa League.
Regardless of this defence of a man who has been on the receiving end of hyper-criticism, there is no question that he needs a Premier League win after three matches without one. Against United last season, Villas-Boas claimed one of his most defining results, as they ended a 23-year wait for a victory at Old Trafford. That type of performance, where character was shown, is needed at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
The timing is not great for Tottenham, though, as United seem to be finding their groove under boss David Moyes, as Wednesday's 5-0 spanking of a rubbish Bayer Leverkusen made it 11 games unbeaten in all competitions.
Praise for unfashionable Pardew
It does not come naturally to admire Alan Pardew. His antagonistic fist-pumping by the dugout when his Newcastle United team take the lead is enough to make even the most serene football fan twitch in angst. But credit where credit is due. Newcastle are second in the Premier League form table, having won their last three in a row. Two of those triumphs came against Chelsea and Tottenham, which beefs up the call for praise.
Spurred on by the eight league goals of only summer signing Loic Remy, a largely unnoticed momentum has been built, with the club just a point behind Everton and two from Southampton -- two teams that have been showered in kisses so far this term. So Saturday evening's opponents, West Bromwich Albion, better watch out.
Welcome back, Tony
Former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis returns to management this weekend in charge of Crystal Palace. Also making a comeback are news conferences conducted standing up, a baseball cap glued atop his head and football so direct that the football hipster term "vertical" is for once acceptable to use as an adjective, as the ball is quite literally sent up into the air.
Thing is, after a month searching for a successor to Ian Holloway, the team have recently not done too badly. They are off the foot of the table on goal difference, after a first top-flight win since August made it four points from their last two matches. Norwich, who are below Palace in the form table, await at Carrow Road on Saturday, when attention will be on how the visitors' playing style has varied.
Sunderland need to remedy homesickness
There are many swear words which could be used to describe Sunderland's away form, but none of them are acceptable for these pages. Instead, let's plump for "diabolical." In six trips away from the Stadium of Light, the club have managed one point and scored two measly goals, not even coming remotely close to rewarding the fans that have made the journeys from the North East.
The chance to right that wrong comes against Aston Villa this weekend, a team that has garnered better results on the road this term. And ahead of matches against Chelsea and Tottenham, manager Gus Poyet could well do with some respite.
West Ham vs. Fulham: Strugglers meet
Two out-of-form sides meet on Saturday, so brace yourself for either a game replete with mistakes, making for a rip-roaring contest, or a match suffocated with fear of making said errors, making for a snoozefest. To put into context Fulham's woes, the good people at Opta state: "Ten points after 12 matches is the club's worst ever start to a Premier League campaign -- they had 16 points at this stage last season." Martin Jol's men have lost four on the spin, while West Ham are without a win in five. Both sides are on 10 points in the table, with the Cottagers sparing the Hammers a place in the drop zone on goal difference.
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