Football: Tottenham tempted by early taste of Klinsmann factor

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The cash registers will be jangling merrily for a Boxing Day programme with a localised flavour. The lolly and the rivalry are all very well, but as Phil Shaw reports, the sideshow of a returning hero could well overshadow the main attractions at the Premiership summit.

Jurgen Klinsmann will be able to exert a Christmas presence for Tottenham Hotspur after all. Alan Sugar, the Spurs chairman, yesterday received international clearance from the Italian FA for his budget-priced signing from Sampdoria, leaving the German captain free to make his second debut for the club at Aston Villa on Boxing Day.

Whether or not Klinsmann plays against Villa depends on whether Spurs' head coach, Christian Gross, considers he is match-fit. Gross may also be reluctant to change the side who beat Barnsley last weekend, while the master striker himself hinted that he might delay his comeback until Sunday's north London derby, saying: "I've never lost to Arsenal, so it will be good to play in that one."

Klinsmann does not have happy memories of Villa Park. Three years ago next month, he was knocked out by a reckless challenge by the home goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich. The incident occurred within an hour of Eric Cantona's violent clash with a spectator at Crystal Palace, making it an evening that should perhaps be immortalised as Kick-Boxing Day.

The temptation to plunge Klinsmann into the fray could be increased by the news that Villa could be without flu victims Gareth Southgate and Steve Staunton. Brian Little, the Villa manager, who has also been suffering from the virus, said: "It's a great move for Spurs. His arrival will really boost them, which we'll have to watch."

Liverpool, having led Manchester United by five points at the same stage last Christmas, go into their home match with Leeds 12 points adrift of the Old Trafford club.

Recent form - apart from aberrations at home to Barnsley and United - offers some encouragement to Roy Evans. Liverpool have won the other six of the last eight matches. And since Tony Yeboah's wondrous winner of two and a half years ago, they have emerged victorious five times and drawn one of the six League and Cup games with Leeds by a margin of 16- 0.

Leeds, however, are unbeaten in seven, and the Scrooge-like tendencies for which George Graham's teams are renowned have delivered three consecutive clean sheets. The way they respond to the menace of Messrs McManaman, Owen and Fowler will give a strong indication as to whether the spiteful display at Chelsea was a one-off or a taste of things to come.

More than anyone with the possible exception of Liverpool, Barnsley desperately need a point-laden Christmas. They have failed to build on their success at Anfield, prising a solitary point out of 12 and remaining rooted to the bottom.

Danny Wilson's team face a sell-out match at 17th-placed Bolton knowing that further defensive generosity could leave them trailing their opponents by nine points. History offers them little hope: Nottingham Forest, in last place 12 months back, were still there come May.

For Everton, fresh from their first away win in a year, the computer could scarcely have come up with a more unkind cut than a trip to the champions. After the victory at Leicester, Howard Kendall rejoiced in three clean sheets in a row. But Everton need more than mere draws, and with two goals from six games, both penalties, look unlikely to trouble United unduly.

Blackburn's rise from the relegation zone last December to second place today is a tribute to astute management, by "caretaker" Tony Parkes as well as Roy Hodgson. Rovers have reacted positively to their mauling in Manchester and will be confident of winning at Sheffield Wednesday. After a bright start under Ron Atkinson, Wednesday have reverted to the feebleness that cost David Pleat his job.

Third-placed Chelsea receive Wimbledon, who make a festive habit of dropping in on the neighbours and making off with the points. All in all, remembering the altercation between Ruud Gullit and Vinnie Jones a couple of Christmases back, it is not the return to Stamford Bridge Chelsea might have wanted after the battle with Leeds, especially in view of their vulnerability against attackers who hustle and play at pace.

Meanwhile, can Boxing Day's traditional knack of producing shock results trick Crystal Palace into winning before their own supporters? Apart from an "away" fixture with Wimbledon, they have not taken three points at Selhurst Park since April.

The arrival of Southampton, albeit an improving force now that David Hirst and Carlton Palmer have taken some of the strain off Matt Le Tissier, offers the best opportunity so far for a chorus of that seasonal favourite: "Oh what fun it is to see Palace win at home..."

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