Spurs are fourth on the English Premier League table, level on points with fifth-placed Everton and surprise contenders West Bromwich Albion, who are sixth.

Tottenham appeared to have third place wrapped up at this stage of last season, and were even touted as title contenders for a time under Harry Redknapp before falling away to finish fourth.

The race for the Champions League places appears even tighter in 2012/13, meaning Villas-Boas wants his players picking up points whenever possible, starting with Saturday's match at home to Sunderland.

"At the moment everyone is packed together, which is very dangerous," he 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."

This week's visitors to White Hart Lane will arrive in north London on a high after surprising champions Manchester City 1-0 at home on Wednesday.

And Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill feels winger Adam Johnson, who netted the only goal against former club City at the Stadium of Light, can be the key to launching his team further up the table.

"If we can get the ball out to Adam sometimes a wee bit more quickly than we do, then he can cause problems," he said.

"He had a wee bit of difficulty early on, but he is overcoming that and he's now starting to show in longer patches, anyway, the sort of form I think he is capable of."