Football: Spurs hope Bale can fit billing against Saints

LONDON (AFP) - Tottenham Hotspur are hoping Gareth Bale can put in a performance worthy of the Premier League's best player when Southampton are the visitors at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Andre Villas-Boas's side currently occupy fifth position in the table, which would see them back in the Europa League next season. Chelsea and Arsenal, the two sides above them, remain within touching distance however and Tottenham have a game in hand over the Gunners, which happens to be against Chelsea.

Victory against Southampton is therefore imperative if they want to qualify for the Champions League and Bale will go into the game against his former club having added the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year award to the Professional Footballers' Association Player and Young Player of the Year accolades he was handed at the weekend.

That represents a remarkable achievement for the 23-year-old, who joined Tottenham in May 2007 from Southampton.

Villas-Boas also knows, however, that a world-class player deserves to be seen on the biggest stage and the Welshman has constantly been linked with moves to bigger clubs.

But Villas-Boas denied that Tottenham would be forced to sell him should they not finish in the top four. "The player is here to remain, independent of the objectives of Champions League qualification being achieved or not," he said.

"This is the information I have, which I have shared with you through all of the season. We understand that the more awards (and) the more recognition the player will have, the more media attention, but the club has to move forward by holding on to its best players."

Villas-Boas was still confident Champions League football could return to White Hart Lane next season. "I firmly believe that points will be dropped by all of these three teams that are competing - four if you include Everton, who are in the frame because they are still in with a shot," he said.

Tottenham have already seen Arsenal overturn a sizeable points advantage since beating them 2-1 on March 3. Arsenal have won five and drawn two of their seven Premier League fixtures since then while Spurs have stumbled, recording just two wins and two draws from six encounters.

"We had a blip in terms of results - they were not negative but they were inconsistent," Villas-Boas admitted. "We couldn't get that streak of wins that Arsenal, for example, have had and that put us in a different position. Anyway we are still in the frame. The final sprint is the decisive sprint, for sure."

Tottenham hope midfielder Mousa Dembele will be passed fit in time, with Jake Livermore and Emmanuel Adebayor already expected to be available for comebacks following injury.

Southampton are enjoying life back in the top-flight having been a League One outfit just two seasons ago and are close to avoiding relegation.

Yet, some supporters cannot help wonder what life might have been like at St Mary's had cash problems not forced them to sell Bale for an initial fee of 5 million pounds (S$9.6 million), rising to 10 million pounds, and then accept an additional payment of just 2 million pounds a year later.

Stopping Bale on Saturday is manager Mauricio Pochettino's most pressing concern and the former Argentina defender may have to reshuffle his back line as left-back Danny Fox is banned and Luke Shaw, who also plays in that position, is doubtful because of an ankle injury.

The little-used Frazer Richardson is one option available to Saints, who will go into the game on 39 points.