Tottenham Hotspur have the opportunity to crank up the pressure on Chelsea in the battle for fourth place in the Premier League this weekend as they emerge from their mini mid-season break.
Jose Mourinho’s side travel to relegation battlers Aston Villa on Sunday on the back of consecutive league wins, knowing another one will move them one point behind their stuttering London rivals who host Manchester United on Monday.
Another slimline Premier League programme also has Arsenal hosting Newcastle United, with the London club hoping to snap a run of four successive draws that have left them meandering in mid-table.
Liverpool’s procession towards a first title for 30 years looks likely to continue at bottom club Norwich City on Saturday, when the only other game is Southampton’s home clash against Burnley.
A victory for either side at St Mary’s will go a long way to banishing any lingering relegation worries.
With Manchester City enjoying a week off, Leicester City can move second if they win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday.
When Mourinho arrived at Tottenham in November in the wake of Mauricio Pochettino’s surprise sacking, the north London club were in 14th place after 12 games, 12 points behind Chelsea.
Seven wins and four defeats in their 13 league games since the celebrated Portuguese arrived is hardly a spectacular turnaround but with Chelsea stalling and other teams falling away it has been enough to push Tottenham back in the race to secure Champions League football with a top-four finish.
It has not been pretty, with Tottenham scrambling points in unconvincing fashion, although a smash-and-grab 2-0 home victory over Manchester City in their last league game showed much about the galvanising effect Mourinho has had.
Tottenham, who remain without injured striker Harry Kane, have lost only once in all competitions in the last 12 years against Villa, a 1-0 home defeat in 2015.
While another win will move them within touching distance of Chelsea into fifth place, Mourinho knows the battle for fourth spot is not just with his old club, with several other sides vying for the spot, none more so than Sheffield United who moved fifth by beating Bournemouth last week.
“Wolves and Sheffield United are fighting for the top four, (the managers) they can say no, and I understand if they say no but the reality is that they are,” Mourinho said.
“Not just because of the position that they are in the table, but because of the power and quality.”
If Saturday’s match represents a chance for Tottenham, who have 20 points fewer than at the same stage last season, to advance their top-four claims, Villa know a win would give them some precious breathing space in the relegation scrap.
They are one place and one point above the bottom three.
The Villa Park clash will see Mourinho come up against his former Chelsea skipper John Terry, who is cutting his teeth in coaching as Dean Smith’s assistant.
Smith said he has been “picking Terry’s brains” for some insight into Mourinho’s likely tactics.
“There is a lot of mutual respect between Jose and John,” Smith said. “He’s played under Jose twice and they celebrated a lot of success, so that respect is natural.”