American Exports: Clint Dempsey dreams of Champions League, but can Tottenham reach promised land?
AMSTERDAM – Clint Dempsey came to Tottenham Hotspur last summer in search of Champions League soccer, and now he's got two Premier League games to help his club chase it down.
Spurs are bringing up the back of the pack in a three-team race between London rivals for two berths in Europe's showcase club tournament. Dempsey has never appeared in the Champions League, perhaps his penchant for the big goal can play a part in what Tottenham hope will be a rally into the top four.
Dempsey, Brad Friedel & Co. may have the easiest remaining schedule, if only because their opponents have the least left to play for over these final two matches. Nevertheless, let's break down the tests ahead for all three clubs.
Tottenham Hotspur (66 points, +18 goal differential)
On Sunday, Spurs will travel to Stoke (8:30 am ET, Fox Soccer), who have all but clinched safety. Geoff Cameron and the Potters have come alive the last few games, but typically struggle at home against Tottenham.
This weekend's visitors will arrive having posted five wins and a draw from their past nine Britannia visits. What's more, Stoke have conceded three goals and two assists to Dempsey in 10 meetings.
The North Londoners will close the season by hosting Sunderland, who may well have secured their EPL place by then. Our man Deuce has hit just once in nine games against Sunderland, a buried free kick one year ago this week.
Though traditionally a thorn in Spurs' side, the Black Cats have more recently been tamed to the tune of nine losses in their last 11 at White Hart Lane.
Chelsea (69 points, +34 GD)
While Aston Villa are now four places and five points clear of the drop zone, the Blues have had only hot-and-cold luck against Brad Guzan. He backstopped a Villans heist at Chelsea last season and actually managed to keep the damage "down" with several big saves in an 8-0 Stamford Bridge loss last December.
This one's at Villa Park, though, where the outgoing Champions League holders have three wins from a four-game unbeaten run. Their last defeat in Birmingham also happened at the hands of an American, with Guzan watching from the dugout as Brad Friedel starred in a 2-1 decision back in October 2009.
Chelsea will finish up with Tim Howard's Everton, who have a small chance of being alive for England's last Europa League slot on closing day. Either way, the American netminder has proven to be a real obstacle for the West Londoners in recent seasons.
Howard is 3-3-6 in his last 12 league matches against the Blues, and has notched a win and five draws in his previous eight trips to Stamford Bridge. Though they dropped the season's home meeting, Everton haven't been swept by Chelsea since before the US 'keeper arrived in 2006.
Arsenal (67 points, +31 GD)
Tottenham's closest rivals would seem to have the toughest remaining schedule, with Wigan and Newcastle currently on opposite sides of the trap door. The trailing Latics should be at their most desperate when they visit Arsenal on Sunday, though they may be knackered physically and emotionally after the FA Cup final on Saturday.
The Gunners, who will come in with seven wins from a nine-game unbeaten streak, were stunned at home last spring by a Wigan side scraping to avoid relegation.
The Magpies, meanwhile, could be out of trouble when Arsenal visit St. James on closing day, but only if they halt a slide that has seen them win but once in nine. If they are still fighting for survival when the Gunners show up, short memories will be their order; Newcastle have lost 3-0 and 6-0 in their last two home games.
Arsenal is undefeated in their last half-dozen games away to the Magpies. Earlier this season, they thumped Newcastle 7-3 in the friendly confines of the Emirates.