AVB wants Spurs to open gap
Andre Villas-Boas has called on Tottenham to open up a gap on their rivals so that they do not slip away and miss out on Champions League football again.
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Tottenham travel to Sunderland on Saturday looking to cement their place in the top four in their first season under the Portuguese manager.
Wary that just five points separate Tottenham from eighth-place Stoke, Villas-Boas knows his team must go on a winning run to separate themselves from the likes of Everton, Arsenal and West Brom, who lurk just below them.
Although Chelsea's victory in Munich proved to be the final nail in Tottenham's Champions League dream, they could have secured qualification much earlier had they not fallen away in the second half of last season under Harry Redknapp and Villas-Boas does not want a repeat this time around.
"At the moment everyone is packed together, which is very dangerous," the Tottenham manager said.
"What we want to do is have a stronger second half to the season than last year.
"We have to continue our progress to hopefully open a gap between us and the rest of the teams that sit near the top.
"Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United will compete for the title between them.
"For the top four Everton are there, Liverpool will come back strongly definitely and there is always a surprise team - last year it was Newcastle, this year it is West Brom. What you want is to finally settle into the top four, opening up some kind of gap if possible."
Villas-Boas can have few complaints with the way his team have performed on the road this season.
Spurs have won five away games, the latest one being Saturday's 4-0 crushing of Aston Villa.
In Sunderland, though, Villas-Boas knows Spurs will come up against one of the form teams in the league.
The Black Cats have flirted with the relegation zone for much of the season, but they are now seven points clear after wins over Reading, Southampton and champions Manchester City.
Villas-Boas said: "Their form is improving. They have come out a little bit from that pressure zone and in some ways we would have been better off playing them a couple of weeks ago.
"It is a major boost of confidence for them, so we will expect an extremely difficult game.
"It is always difficult playing there, particularly when they have just won against the champions. They can't find better inspiration than that.
"We are on a good run, but we expect a run for our money, a difficult game.
"Hopefully we can get this festive period out of the way with good results."
Gareth Bale was key to Tottenham's victory at Villa Park, where he put in a stunning display to leave with the matchball following a classy hat-trick.
Reports in Spain claim Bale could move to Real Madrid in January, but Villas-Boas has repeatedly stated that he will not sell the talented winger.
The Portuguese is more likely to ship out back-up players David Bentley, Heurelho Gomes, Tom Huddlestone and Carlo Cudicini in the winter window.
And the 35-year-old is also sticking to his line that there will be no new arrivals at White Hart Lane in the transfer window.
"Regarding January, I think it is very unlikely that we would do anything," Villas-Boas added.
Clint Dempsey and Huddlestone could return to the fold for Saturday's lunch-time kick-off after missing the win at Villa due to their respective groin and knee injuries.