Weblog: The football punter

Premier League giants may need time to settle

FA Cup fifth round
BBC1, 4pm Sunday

Tottenham were nearly made to pay for their slow start against Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday and they may need time to get going in the far less glamorous surroundings of Rochdale.

Spurs can have no complaints over the pitch for their FA Cup fifth-round tie - the Spotland surface has been relaid following harsh criticism in recent weeks - and eventually Mauricio Pochettino's men should secure a path through to the quarter-finals in what is a monumental occasion for the small Sky Bet League One strugglers.

Pochettino's side are understandably short odds to progress, although for a better bet maybe choose the time of the first goal to come after 23:00 minutes.

The Tottenham boss is expected to make wholesale changes following the 2-2 midweek draw in Turin, but such is the depth of his squad that Pochettino could change the entire starting 11 and still be able to field the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose, Victor Wanyama, Harry Winks, Lucas Moura, Heung-Min Son and Fernando Llorente.

However, disjointed cup performances have been par for the course for Spurs, and an early League Cup exit at the hands of West Ham denied Pochettino a potential path to breaking his silverware drought.

Before that Hammers defeat it took Tottenham 65 minutes to break the deadlock in a 1-0 Wembley win over Barnsley, while in the FA Cup AFC Wimbledon held out for an hour until Harry Kane's quickfire double helped Spurs to a 3-0 success.

Kane, who is a doubtful participant because of an ankle knock, also saved Tottenham's blushes in the last round with a late equaliser at Newport, who had led on 38 minutes. Spurs needed 26 minutes and an own goal to break their resistance at Wembley.

The Newport scare will give Dale hope, as will their victory over Millwall in the previous round, and this cup run is a welcome relief from their relegation battle in League One.

Dale are bottom but on expected goals and other shot-related statistics they are seen as significantly better than the league table suggests, yet Keith Hill's men were still turned over 3-2 at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday to increase their drop fears.

Despite that, Rochdale have shipped just 11 times in 12 league games at home this season and Hill, a legend of the club, usually fancies himself to come up with creative tactics to nullify opponents.

However, at some stage - and it may even be when the heavyweights come off the bench - the Champions League quality of Tottenham should shine through.

First goal after 23:00 minutes

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