Hugo Lloris will be back between the sticks for Tottenham against Everton. The Frenchman will hope to avoid injury of any kind after his last meeting with the Toffees was marred by a nasty blow to the head.
Including that game, the only loss Tottenham had suffered against a top-four rival to that point was to Arsenal back in September. A tie with Chelsea could have gone either way, and the Goodison Park stalemate was there for Spurs' taking in a first half they dominated.
If the North London club's hopes of genuinely competing with their fellow Champions League chasers were very much alive then, they have subsequently diminished amid the harsh realities of a Premier League winter.
Everton this weekend presents Spurs with a chance to reaffirm their candidacy to be in the highest echelon of the division. A win would not only help keep them well within reach of Liverpool in fourth, it would serve to strengthen confidence further undermined by the recent hammering at the hands of Manchester City.
Last weekend's 1-1 draw with Hull City reiterated the need to do well against teams throughout the division, a task sixth-place Spurs have largely handled well. It is these battles with the best, however, that are definitively looking like deciding their destiny come the end of 2013-14.
The Toffees have fared slightly better in this regard. Roberto Martinez's team beat Chelsea 1-0 and, like Spurs, also beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Their nine draws (the most of any club in the top 10) have shown they too are some way off the table-topping standards currently being set by Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Looking back on the previous meeting between Sunday's opponents at the Spurs' official website, Christian Eriksen said:
Last time we started really well and I think in the first half we should have been in front.
Then they got into the game but we still had our chances, especially in the first half when we played really good. So I think there are possibilities this time to make our chances count.
Plenty has gone on since then, of course, but Spurs should take from that match a belief they are capable of beating Everton. Tim Sherwood is certainly stressing as much, telling the club's official Twitter page:
Tim: “I don’t think we have to adjust to Everton, they won’t adjust to us. If we win our personal battles, we’ll come out on top."— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 7, 2014
His starting line-up is likely to reflect that positive mentality.
First, though, at the back and in goal will be Hugo Lloris. His decision to play on with a head injury against Everton caused a furore in the autumn—chiefly that he was allowed to do so. The Frenchman will be happy for an altogether quieter afternoon this time out.
In front of Lloris the back four of (from right to left) Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose should remain unchanged from Hull.
After some early issues, they did well in keeping the hungry Tigers' frontline of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic at bay. Everton will present a more flexibly advancing challenge going forward, one which will require substantial help from the midfield in front of them.
Speaking of which:
Mousa Dembele's availability could be seized upon by Sherwood, reuniting the Belgian with last week's goalscorer Paulinho.
Nabil Bentaleb's recent selections have combined for an overall positive introduction to the first team. His manager clearly rates him and will not hesitate to play him if he sees fit; however, he may view the more experienced aforementioned combination to be better equipped with nullifying and hurting Everton's own talented midfield (though this writer's similar hunch prior to Hull did not prove accurate).
Sherwood has been unable to call on Andros Townsend since his first game in charge—the Capital One Cup loss to West Ham United in which the winger was injured late on.
The manager's reference on TottenhamHotspur.com to Townsend as a player who can "turn a game in an instant" could be interpreted as him being prepared for a potential impact role. For the time being, Eriksen and Aaron Lennon seem likely again to be deployed around his central midfield with freer roles to work in.
Emmanuel Adebayor is almost certain to start up front. After two games without a goal, he will be keen to return to scoring ways, as too will his fellow forward Roberto Soldado.
The Spain international is less guaranteed of a start, but Sherwood has publicly backed him this week—via Sky Sports. Soldado has generally been getting in the right positions and, if he can find his scoring touch, could yet be a pivotal player for Spurs this season.
Tottenham will require others besides Soldado to shine this weekend, and beyond, if they are to prove themselves worthy of the ambitions they put so much stock in fulfilling.
Predicted Tottenham line-up vs. Everton: Lloris; Walker, Dawson (c), Vertonghen, Rose; Lennon, Paulinho, Dembele, Eriksen; Adebayor, Soldado.