Tottenham Hotspur v Everton. The Everton Forum Preview

Before I get stuck in, I’d like to wish everybody a Happy and Prosperous 2018! I apologise for the lack of match previews over the festive period but, as you know, the games come thick and fast and so do the family commitments – so something had to give.

Anyway, since the last preview… Everton drew 0-0 against Chelsea, drew 0-0 at West Brom, lost 2-1 at Bournemouth, lost 0-2 to Manchester United and got knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Liverpool, 2-1.

I don’t know about you, but I read those results back and think that represents a dreadful Christmas period for Everton. In fact, looking back on 2017 as a whole, I’d say it was overall a poor calendar year for the blues, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised it ended the way it did.

Thankfully, now 2018 is now upon us and having just been knocked out of the FA cup by a Liverpool side who didn’t even play well, surely the only way is up…right?

Spurs

Everton’s first Premier League away match of 2018 takes place at Wembley Stadium, where the blues will be up against 5th-placed Tottenham in a 5.30pm kick off (live on BT Sports).

Our hosts welcome the toffees to their temporary home in good form, having comfortably progressed to the 4th round of the FA Cup last time out and achieved 10 points from 12 over Christmas.

Spurs have taken 20 points from the last 24 available at Wembley, so despite much being made of their temporary move there – life at the national stadium hasn’t been the nightmare many Spurs fans feared.

Yet, despite that strong home form, it should be noted that Spurs home record doesn’t compare favourably to what they managed in their last season at the old White Hart Lane, where the Londoners went unbeaten – remarkably dropping only 4 home points all season.

So, whereas Spurs were the best home team in the division last term, this season they’re only the 6th best (so far) – and among a very tight top 6, that downturn in home form could easily cost them a place in next season’s Champions League.

In their last Premier League outing, a weary Tottenham side were held at Wembley 1-1 by London-rivals West Ham United. I watched the match and whilst it was a game that Spurs dominated, they struggled to carve out clear-cut chances against a dogged Hammers side.

Still, the game came 48 hours after an away trip to Swansea so I’m not inclined to pay too much attention to Spurs toils there.

A few days later, Tottenham then won 3-0 against League 1 AFC Wimbledon. I’ll admit, I took zero interest in the FA cup after Friday night’s disappointment for us, but looking at the Spurs tie from afar, it seems Spurs took their time to break through but once they did, they coasted home with ease.

Ominously for the blues, Spurs’ main man Harry Kane notched a cheap brace against the League 1 outfit to maintain his form in what looks like being another outstanding individual season for the Spurs hit man.

As ever, the striker is sure to provide a real test for the Everton defence on Saturday. I’ve already praised him to the hilt in a match preview so I won’t list all of his qualities again, but ultimately, the lad is top class and in my opinion, if he hangs around in this country – I he will break Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record.

In addition to the main man Kane, Spurs attack is likely consist of; the Danish maestro Christian Eriksen (who I’d still have over Coutinho), the annoying, insufferable (but good at footy) Dele Alli and the underrated South Korean, Son Hueng-Min.

Behind that talented attacking 4, Spurs play 2 athletic, dominating central midfielders. In their last match, these were Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier, however there are also the options of Harry Winks, Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama.

At the back, Huge Lloris will be in net, with a sturdy central defensive pairing of Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen (Toby Alderweireld remains sidelined) in front of him.

On the defensive flanks, Spurs have 4 great options in Davies, Rose, Trippier and Aurier. All of them are more than capable in the offensive third and have the athleticism to get up and down all evening.

On top of those I’ve already mentioned, Spurs have the likes of a fit-again Eric Lamela and the ‘plan B’ striker Fernando Llorente. You wouldn’t say the Spurs squad is the biggest in the league (compared with their top 6 rivals) but what they do have is quality in every area.

Overall, Spurs are a very good team, athletic from front-to-back, lethal in the final third, well-drilled, high energy and blessed with quality throughout. Aside from Hugo Lloris, who’s capable of the odd moment of madness, I don’t see a glaring weakness with this Spurs team. They’ll be very hard to beat.

The Blues

Despite the ultimate (and predictable) final result, I thought the blues actually played quite well at Anfield last Friday – or certainly much better than they did against Manchester United on New Year’s Day.

The intent was right from the get-go and for a time in the second half, I actually allowed myself to believe we’d do the unthinkable and emerge from Anfield victorious.

Ultimately though, it was all in vein and the blues were eventually sent packing due to a refereeing decision and a defensive lapse. So in the space of a month, with Everton’s downturn in league form over Christmas and early FA Cup exit, it sadly seems our 2017/18 campaign is in tatters – in the first week of January.

Anyway, there’s 4 more wins to get to secure our Premier League safety and we begin that quest on Saturday against Spurs…

Despite a rubbish month or so for the blues, we arrive at Wembley with a new striker to lead the line and give us a fresh sense of hope in this damp squib of a season.

The highly-rated Turkish hit man, Cenk Tuson arrived from Besiktas on Friday evening (announced at half time of the Merseyside derby – what’s that about?!) for a fee of around 25m.

Without wanting to rain on the parade, I’ve got to admit, I’m loathe to get over-excited about Cenk so I’m keeping my powder dry for the time being. We’ve seen a variety of players come to L4 from overseas in recent years with big reputations and so far we’ve mainly seen struggle after struggle.

I really hope Cenk is the answer to our problems and given the alternatives, I’d like to see him thrown straight in here against Spurs – who knows, I remember a certain Nikica Jelavic playing and scoring against this opposition on his Everton debut (and we all remember how good he was for that first half season!).

Behind our new Turkish predator, I’d like to see a similar team to that which started and on the whole, did well against Liverpool.

Pickford, despite his costly error at Anfield, will certainly continue in goal and given the break between games, I think we’ll see the same back 4, meaning Jonjoe Kenny, Phil Jagielka, Mason Holgate and Cuco Martina will resume.

Of course, there’s the possibility Michael Keane will have recovered from his ongoing foot problem or Ashley Williams will be preferred to Phil Jagielka, given the partnership he stuck up with Holgate for a few matches however, I thought Jagielka was excellent at Anfield, so deserves to retain his place.

As an aside, it’s a real credit to Mason Holgate and his progression that I’m talking about 3 senior centre halves and which 1 of them will partner him. Mason has been superb at centre half and given all of his problems amidst the recent racism/homophobia spat, I hope Evertonians support him.

Despite Wayne Rooney being poor since his illness over Christmas, I just can’t see Allardyce dropping him for this – even though I fear his legs will struggle against such an intense opposition. Therefore I think he’ll continue in midfield, with the welcome/ticking time-bomb legs of James McCarthy and Morgan Schneiderlin.

Personally, if Gana was fit, I’d play him over Rooney here as I feel we’ll be playing a containing game, however if 1 of those 3 were to see the bench – I still don’t think it would be Rooney.

Yannick Bolasie was really good for 60 minutes at Anfield before his lack of match fitness caught up with him, so hopefully a nice long break between games will have done him good, meaning he’ll be raring to go for this.

On the opposite flank, I think we’ll see Gylfi Sigurdsson, who worked hard on Friday, without really creating a lot (until he moved centrally to take Rooney’s position). I know many will suggest playing Sigurdsson centrally here – pointing towards his Anfield goal as a reason why, but I just can’t see Allardyce doing it against strong opposition like Spurs – even if Gylfi’s legs are stronger than Rooney’s.

If Sam were to be brave and dispense with Rooney, Sigurdsson could operate in the midfield 3 (as he did on Friday in the second half) and the pace of Ademola Lookman could enter the fray on the flank – giving us another way of troubling teams.

But, I can’t see that happening on Saturday, so my predicted 11 is this –

Meaning the likes of Lookman, Calvert-Lewin, Lennon, Sandro and Niasse should be available from the bench to try and impact the game.

Two players who won’t be available for this are Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley. I won’t go into each departure, but I will say I think it’s a disappointing end for both at Everton and as far as Barkley is concerned – I can’t believe what he’s done to his boyhood club.

There were monents in both of their Everton careers that I felt they loved the club and both certainly excelled for us at times, but sadly, the flame went out somewhere along the line and more and more departure looked the only viable step.

In terms of Allardyce’s approach to this match, I would be very surprised if we saw anything other than a defensive stand put up in search of a 0-0. I know that isn’t the type of attitude that we want to see from an Everton manager, but I just can’t see Allardyce ripping up his principles here.

I’ve said a few times I feel he’s too small-time for Everton and his continual relegation battle mind-set could, if he’s not careful, lead us unwillingly back into trouble.

Hopefully, the unknown element of Cenk Tuson, the set plays of Sigurdsson, the pace of Bolasie, the know-how of Rooney and the impact of Lookman can get us a goal or two here as I think we’ll need them.

Prediction, an optimistic 1-2 to get our 2018 going!

The referee is Craig Pawson, a man who’s already sent off an Everton player this season (Idrissa Gueye against Arsenal), yet, decided not to give Spurs’ Dele Alli the most blatant red card you’ll see all season against Manchester City a few weeks back.

Anyway, that’ll do for this preview… let’s continue the intensity we showed against Liverpool, look to out-work these and see what happens… COYB!!

Want somewhere online to discuss the match, Everton, transfers, sport or just about anything else? Join The Everton Forum. It’s quick, dead easy and we’re a good bunch (mainly). Here’s the link – http://www.theevertonforum.co.uk/forum/

If you’d like to follow me on twitter for more ramblings about Everton among other things, feel free it’s @gigHaWatt.

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