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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa: Taking Enjoyment From Mismatches

Spurs are just plain better than Aston Villa, but that doesn't mean the game has to be all that unpleasant. If you believe Paul Lambert has things moving in the right direction, games such as these should be viewed as little more than opportunities for pleasant surprises.

Alex Livesey - Getty Images

One of the most difficult things about a season like this is keeping each result in the proper context. I've found myself falling increasingly out of love with baseball over the past few years, but one of the things I really miss about following the sport obsessively is the relatively minor emotional swings; during baseball season, there's a game very nearly every day and given the relative un-importance of each individual outcome, it's pretty easy for a season to slip away without even the most hardcore fans really taking notice of what's going on. In football, where there's only one game per week most of the time, and the importance of whatever happened in that last match is invariably blown out of proportion. That's less and less true when a team is winning consistently, but even the most optimistic Villa fan would admit that this team isn't likely to win consistently this season.

Some days Aston Villa will play as well as they did against Swansea and Manchester City, and folks will start looking into the cost of a trip to Belgium or the Netherlands. Other days, they'll play as poorly as they did against Everton and Southampton and people will try to find friends with spacious couches in Ipswich or Hull. The dizzying optimism and crushing depression are equally silly (though one is slightly more understandable and significantly more enjoyable than the other) but to some extent those reactions are understandable. This team looks excellent on good days, and they look absolutely horrendous on bad days. That's the nature of the beast at the moment, and removed from the situation it makes sense. But in the moment it's difficult to put things into their proper context, and it's quite easy for the moment to devolve into the prevailing narrative.

I bring all of this up because I don't much fancy Villa's chances against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Stranger things than a Villa win today have happened of course, but not only is the gap in talent between the sides quite large, Spurs also match up quite well against this side. Their high-pressure style is similar to that favored by Southampton and Everton, while their tactically disciplined central midfield of Willaim Gallas and Jan Vertonghen will make it difficult to find much space through the middle. Spurs are weakest on the flanks; despite his tremendous quality going forward, Kyle Walker is an absolute horror-show at the back, while Spurs are missing Benoit Assou-Ekotto's presence down the left-hand side. To this point Paul Lambert has tended to favor a somewhat narrow shape through the center that favored central midfielders over out-and-out wingers, but given Tottenham's weak points it will be interesting to see whether or not he gives Marc Albrighton and/or Charles N'Zogbia the nod.

But realistically, outside back is the only spot on the field where Spurs don't hold a decisive edge in terms of quality. Tottenham's attacking talent is, in a word, terrifying; Lennon, Adebayor, Bale, Defoe, Dembele, Sigurðsson; each of those players could easily walk into the Villa team. Sandro is a disturbingly clever vacuum cleaner, sucking up loose balls and springing counter attacks seemingly at will. There's a clear distinction between the elite and the also-rans in the Premier League, and though Spurs may well be near the bottom of the elite tier they're stil very much a part of it, while Aston Villa is quite clearly not.

That's certainly not to say Aston Villa is without a chance in this game. Spurs have their moments of severe ineptitude in spite of their superior talent, and on their day Villa has shown themselves to be a match for nearly anyone. But if you happen to be a betting person, you'd likely be a bit foolish to wager to much on a Villa win. And if the more likely result comes to pass-even if it's unpleasant-that, in and of itself, shouldn't do much to detract from the way anyone feels about the way things are progressing. And realistically, neither should a win. At least if you think things are going well, because teams on the ascendancy are almost certain to pull off a shock now and again.

In short: it's just one game. It's a game in which Villa are the clear underdogs, and unlike the past few seasons where Villa entered the game in a similar position but lacked a cohesive plan to turn the team back towards a more positive future, a plan is evident. At the worst, what we already know is confirmed; this side is a work in progress, unpleasant game will happen, on to the next one. But at best, we might find that the timeline for renewed relevance has been moved ahead just that little bit more. I used to look at these games as something of a chore. Now, with faith in the man taking this club forward, I look at them with genuine excitement. When you're prepared to absorb the occasional thrashing with good cheer, the prospect doesn't seem nearly so daunting. But that doesn't make the good days any less enjoyable.