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Tottenham vs. Everton: Belgian Contingent at the Heart of a Close Contest

Tottenham's Mousa Dembele, centre defends the ball from Everton's James McCarthy during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton at the White Hart Lane stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 9,  2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press
Thomas CooperFeatured Columnist IVDecember 31, 2016

With all due respect to his compatriots on show in Tottenham Hotspur's 1-0 win over Everton, it is Eden Hazard who will be claiming the title of Belgium's best player of the Premier League's weekend (trophy design ideas can be addressed to the Belgian ambassador to Great Britain).

Hazard's hat-trick in the Blues' 3-0 win over Newcastle United put Jose Mourinho's side on top of the table. It was the latest sparkling display to be found on the 23-year-old's increasingly impressive resume.

Yet while this was the standout showing, the Belgian contingent at White Hart Lane were integral in their own rights to a keenly fought contest with its own repercussions for the division's top four.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

The quickly taken free-kick by Kyle Walker that led to Emmanuel Adebayor's 65th-minute winner had been won by Mousa Dembele. He was brought down by Steven Naismith in a general area at the edge of the centre circle, where he is often found at the thick of things for Tottenham.

That positioning was a comparative rarity on Sunday. Instead, Dembele was seen predominantly operating in an advanced role that shaped Tottenham's attacking output for the majority of the game.

His manager, Tim Sherwood, had opted to revert to a one-striker system with an extra man in midfield. Goals had not been forthcoming against Hull City last weekend using a more recognisable attacking approach. Given the potential capacity of Everton's own midfield to control a game, the decision to match them for numbers was a reasonable one.

Despite the sense behind it, it was not smooth sailing for Spurs. Everton were on the front foot for most of the early going, pushing at and pulling apart the home side as they threatened to score through the lively Leon Osman.

Amid the sloppiness of Spurs' work going forward at this stage, Dembele provided a sense of where their moves would flow from when they settled. And it was, even more so than Christian Eriksen or Paulinho, the Belgium international who chiefly instigated Spurs' more penetrative moments thereafter.

Tim Sherwood had told Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves in a televised pre-match interview that he wanted to see more of Dembele's dribbling ability in the game. He certainly showed that (completing six of his eight attempted take ons, as per and might have got more for his efforts had there been more movement from the stationary attackers situated in front of him.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jan Vertonghen (R) of Tottenham Hotspur tackles Kevin Mirallas (L) of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton at White Hart Lane on February 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The 26-year-old's performance was reminiscent of his second half against Chelsea earlier this season, one of the few other occasions in 2013-14 when attacking responsibilities have been placed ahead of defensive duties. Sherwood's continued faith in Nabil Bentaleb—repaid against the Toffees with some alert work anchoring his side's midfield—could mean Dembele further being allowed to harness the more glamorous aspects of his game in an altered attacking look for Spurs.

Allowing him to do this against Everton was a mostly flawless display from the Tottenham defence, in particular Jan Vertonghen.

The other of Spurs' two Belgians combined well in his second game back at centre-back with Michael Dawson. His decision-making in possession certainly impressed:

With Dawson and Danny Rose doing decent work mopping up either side of him, it was Vertonghen's timing and positioning that most significantly contributed to Spurs' win, though.

He covered well for Rose 23 minutes in, veering to the left to block Kevin Mirallas' attempted cut inside. Such moments helped to stifle Everton's advances on goal, and it was the same again early in the second half when he denied Naismith in the penalty area.

It is intriguing to wonder how Sherwood might have handled bringing Vertonghen back into the Spurs team following his own injury had Vlad Chiriches not been sidelined last week. Alas, he did not have to make it, and instead can share in the centre-back's own clear delight at being back in action.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Kevin Mirallas of Everton in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton at White Hart Lane on February 9, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In truth, Vertonghen and his fellow defenders might have had a harder afternoon's work had his international teammate Romelu Lukaka been available for Everton. The powerful striker was clearly missed, and it was left to Naismith, Osman and the third of the afternoon's Belgian trio, Mirallas, to find a way through for Everton.

Mirallas was their biggest threat as the match wore on. He tore through Spurs with one run in the first half and was almost played through on goal after Rose left him unmarked 20 minutes later.

For all of the flair and skill at Roberto Martinez's disposal, he is missing Lukaku's ability to occupy and damage the division's better defences. On loan Lacina Traore might tide them over in his absence, but the Ivorian is still untested in England.

Tottenham are back up to fifth, and Martinez and Sherwood will be pondering what is next for their respective teams in the ongoing battle for a top-four place. Whatever is in store, it is likely to have a Belgian twist.

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