Premier League: How Tottenham Hotspur Will Line Up Against Sunderland
For Tottenham Hotspur, March was the month their season rested on. With fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool (plus the last 16 of the Europa League), Tim Sherwood and his team had the opportunities to establish their credentials as one of the division's strongest in the hunt for Champions League football.
An exit from Europe and three Premier League defeats later, hopes of a top-four finish are hinging on a near-perfect finish to the season, and for Everton and Arsenal to slip up later.
Sunderland's visit to White Hart Lane is not to be underestimated, what with former Spurs player Gus Poyet's side desperate for points in their bid to avoid relegation. Still, it is the first of six remaining fixtures Spurs will feel more confident of winning than some of their recent matches.
"We’ve six games remaining and they are all cup finals," Sherwood told Tottenham's Twitter page. "It’s important for pride and for the fans."
Speaking to the club's official website, Emmanuel Adebayor echoed the sentiment:
You know, if we had 10 games left, I would say let’s try to win them all. So the target is to win all six games. It won’t be easy. We have to give everything, to play with heart, defend well, attack well and believe we can do it.
We have great players here, we just have to put it together as a team, work for each other and that’s the way we can start winning games.
As for who will be in the starting line-up for this renewed push to the season's finish line, we begin with Sherwood's potential selections in goal and defence...
Goalkeeper and Defence
As usual, Hugo Lloris is the first name on Sherwood's team sheet—and not just for purposes of convenience. The goalkeeper has been as reliable as could have been asked for in some tough weeks behind a leaky defence.
With Kyle Walker still out, Kyle Naughton is also a safe bet to start his 12th match in a row and continue at right-back. At left-back should be Danny Rose.
Sherwood confirmed to Tottenham's official website that Jan Vertonghen would be absent with the ankle injury he suffered against Liverpool. Club captain Michael Dawson is likely to come in, hoping to replicate the better, latter parts of his return last week rather than the inauspicious start which contributed to Luis Suarez putting the Reds 2-0 up.
Dawson and Younes Kaboul have—for whatever reason—never quite clicked as a satisfactory duo for more than a game or two. Given the Frenchman's own tough time at Anfield, do not be surprised to see Vlad Chiriches make his first appearance since late January.
At least up until getting injured following the 5-1 belting by Manchester City, he and Dawson had formed a good partnership. The Romanian enjoyed a good workout in last week's Spurs Under-21s win over Arsenal.
Kaboul missing out would be a little harsh—he alone was not culpable for the 4-0 defeat up on Merseyside. Nonetheless, he might prove to be the odd man out in Sherwood's mind for Sunderland on Monday.
Tottenham's midfield struggled to match their Liverpool counterparts on both sides of the ball last time out. With all due respect to Sunderland, the 19th-placed Black Cats could be the ideal palette cleanser to remove the sour taste left by that performance.
The inconsistency of Spurs' midfielders this season has made it difficult to nail down any combination in a given week. Assuming Sherwood sticks with five in support of a lone recognised striker, the following may line up at the Lane on Monday.
Sandro could be restored as Spurs' central defensive midfield presence after missing the last two matches. Had he not just returned from injury, the Brazilian would likely have started against Liverpool.
Ahead of him, despite relatively quiet showings against the Reds, Nabil Bentaleb and Nacer Chadli may keep their places having been two of Spurs' brighter midfield performers of late.
Coming in off the left is likely to be Christian Eriksen. Sherwood may yet change his mind, but it seems likely the Dane will have to live with this more peripheral role until the end of the season.
Out right, Aaron Lennon's poor display against Jon Flanagan may see him make way for Andros Townsend.
The latter was not especially effective when he replaced Lennon after an hour. But he had a little more joy, giving Liverpool something to think about with his mazy running style.
The Togo international has not scored since netting a brace at home to Dnipro in late February, and missed Tottenham's last two games with a heel problem he suffered against Arsenal.
Sherwood may yet revert to a front two before the year is out. With Spurs looking to finish on a high, a slightly more adventurous approach may become part of the manager's thinking.
If he does, do not be surprised to see Harry Kane get a chance to impress in the Premier League. The young striker has not featured since a terrific second-half cameo away at Benfica almost saw Spurs rescue their Europa League hopes but may do so again now with some of Spurs' bigger games out of the way.
Either way, the first of Tottenham's "six cup finals" takes place on Monday. No medals for winning these ones, just regained pride, possible European qualification and the slim hope of sneaking into the top four.
Predicted Tottenham line-up vs. Sunderland: Lloris; Naughton, Dawson (c), Chiriches, Rose; Townsend, Chadli, Sandro, Bentaleb, Eriksen; Adebayor.