The Boxing Day installment of Tottenham Hotspur's festive fixture list did not turn out quite as hoped for the North London club and its newly appointed manager, Tim Sherwood.
Coming off the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion, the plus side of this almost frenetic period is the swift opportunity to try to return to winning ways with Sunday's game versus Stoke City.
Tottenham will be confident of doing so—though Stoke's 5-1 loss to Newcastle United on Thursday should be viewed with slight trepidation. A highly motivated Potters side could be just as likely to turn up as a demoralised one.
Spurs battered West Brom for large periods of their encounter. The final possession tally read as 64 percent in their favour, via Sky Sports. Perhaps the more telling statistic of a match in which they could not find a way through was the fact that 10 of their 20 shots were blocked.
In similar fashion to home games versus bottom-half opposition under Andre Villas-Boas this season, Spurs had trouble finding a way through. The combination of a largely absent touch of guile in front of goal and admirable resistance from the Baggies left them searching in vain for a winner with the score tied.
"We didn’t carve them open enough and didn’t show enough quality in the final third, that was disappointing," remarked Sherwood post-match, per TottenhamHotspur.com.
"It’s important we believe and risk a little more, playing one-touch in around the final third might open things up for us."
Sherwood also noted things "just didn’t fall for us," and he was right there, too.
Despite failing to score after Christian Eriksen's 36th-minute free-kick, Spurs were a little unlucky, with Lewis Holtby, Roberto Soldado and Kyle Walker among those going close from varying distances in the second half.
Crucially, the spirited disposition that marked last Sunday's performance versus Southampton was on display, too. Spurs could not be accused of not going for a win versus West Brom, and that adventurous style is likely to inform their approach and lineup versus Stoke, too.
One hoped for difference, in the foundation of a positive result this time will be greater concentration in defence.
Who should cover for Kyle Walker at right-back versus Stoke City?
Vlad Chiriches let Jonas Olsson go to score West Brom's equaliser (though Emmanuel Adebayor was lucky not to be punished for similarly letting go unmarked), and will be challenged not to slip up in similar fashion again. With Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen still injured, the Romanian will again partner Michael Dawson in central defence. First-choice keeper Hugo Lloris will play in goal.
Perhaps other than Emmanuel Adebayor, no two players have embodied the renewed hunger shown in Sherwood's early tenure more than full-back pair Danny Rose and Walker. The pair were up and down their flanks like shuttle buses, straining to turn defence into attack with just about every sinew of their being.
With Walker suspended after receiving a fifth yellow card of the season, Sherwood will choose between Ryan Fredericks and Kyle Naughton to replace him. The former's courage and positivity in his recent return to first-team action against Anzhi Makhachkala could see him get the nod ahead of the more-restrained Naughton.
Eriksen is all set to continue in centre midfield, a role the Dane told Tottenham's official Twitter page he is enjoying:
Christian on playing centrally: 'It’s my favourite position, I like playing there, getting the ball, trying to dictate the game.' #THFC— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 27, 2013
Eriksen has done to little to suggest he should not retain his place there. Having completed his three-match suspension, Paulinho may return for this one as Sherwood asks more penetration from his team—something the Brazilian's runs from midfield might help provide.
Stoke's own flimsiness here may allow a more offensive approach, though more solidity will certainly be required for Manchester United and Arsenal who follow.
Sherwood confirmed to TottenhamHotspur.com that Aaron Lennon "has a chance" of being involved after missing the last two games through injury. Even if is he is available, Erik Lamela might get the nod this time after a quietly encouraging 15 minutes versus West Brom. Gylfi Sigurdsson is likely to continue in left midfield, if only for the decent job he does in allowing Rose space to work on that side.
The changes to personnel in wide midfield may not be doing the players individually any good. But with no one clearly stating their case for a continued run on either wing (barring perhaps Lennon), the changes will continue until someone makes a winning argument.
Up front, the pair of Adebayor and Soldado are all but certain to continue with Jermain Defoe a doubt with a hamstring injury.
Neither Adebayor nor Soldado shone versus West Brom, but their presence did at least serve to occupy the attention of the latter's defence. Not to mention, it provided more options for their own teammates.
More will certainly be needed from them, and the rest of the side, in fact, if Spurs are to win a first home Premier League game since October. With a trip to Man United following, three points here will be vital in keeping touch with the teams fighting for Champions League places above them.
Predicted Tottenham line-up versus Stoke: Hugo Lloris; Ryan Fredericks, Michael Dawson (c), Vlad Chiriches, Danny Rose; Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho, Gylfi Sigurdsson; Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado.