For Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, the way they concluded 2015 aptly reflected the year just past—the portion of it making up the current Premier League campaign anyway.
Not so much the late drama experienced by Sunday's opponents in their respective games against Stoke City (John Stones giving away a stoppage time penalty that led to a 4-3 loss) and Watford (Heung-Min Son's similarly late goal sealing a 2-1 win).
But in what it said about the Toffees struggles to make the most of often tremendous attacking work and the stamina and fight continuing to drive Spurs on.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez is well aware of where his bottom-half team needs to improve for fourth-place Tottenham's visit.
"It's just defensively we are putting ourselves in a very difficult position to get the scorelines reflecting what happens in our performances," the Spaniard said this week after his side blew a 3-2 lead against Stoke, per BBC Sport.
"That's what we're looking to improve, to become better and make sure the second half of the season we get the rewards from all the pain we've had to suffer in the last few weeks."
One of Everton's better defensive performances this season came in their last meeting with Tottenham— goalkeeper Tim Howard's heroic form, in particularly, as they earned a 0-0 draw. Eric Dier was one player to play his part in the the north Londoners keeping a clean sheet that day.
Primarily deployed in central midfield this season, Dier was back at centre-back for the win over Watford. The 21-year-old believes head coach Mauricio Pochettino's ability to alter his squad accordingly is playing a big part in their strong form.
"I think it helps that there’s a consistency in the team, but at the same time, there are a lot of good players who can come in and play at the same level," Dier told Tottenham's official website. "We have a very strong squad and we’re not just 11 players—far from it."
Date: Sunday, January 3
Time: 4 p.m. GMT/11 a.m. ET
Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
TV Info: Sky Sports 1 (U.K. and Ireland only)/NBCSN (U.S. only)
Live Stream: Sky Go (U.K. and Ireland only)/NBC Sports Live Extra (U.S. only)
|Everton and Tottenham's Last Five Results|
|Premier League, December 28: Stoke City (H)—Loss: 3-4||Premier League, December 28: Watford (A)—Win: 1-2|
|Premier League, December 26: Newcastle United (A)—Win: 0-1||Premier League, December 26: Norwich City (H)—Win: 3-0|
|Premier League, December 19: Leicester City (H)—Loss: 2-3||Premier League, December 19: Southampton (A)—Win: 0-2|
|Premier League, December 12: Norwich City (A)—Draw: 1-1||Premier League, December 13: Newcastle United (H)—Loss: 1-2|
|Premier League, December 7: Crystal Palace (H)—Draw: 1-1||Europa League, December 10: Monaco (H)—Win: 4-1|
|Both clubs' official websites|
As confirmed via their official website, Everton will be without James McCarthy who has suffered "a recurrence of the groin injury that caused him to miss five games last month." They could also be without the man who replaced him in the Stoke loss, Tom Cleverley, after he also went off injured in the same game.
Returning for Sunday's game is likely to prove too soon for centre-back Phil Jagielka who is close to recovery from a long-term knee injury, per the team.
Tottenham Hotspur @SpursOfficial
Mauricio: "He (@mousadembele) definitely misses Everton. We've no other injuries, everyone is okay." #COYS https://t.co/8eFJfeyTBa12/31/2015, 1:06:49 PM
Tottenham boss Pochettino has confirmed Mousa Dembele is unavailable, per the aforementioned tweet, following the groin injury that forced him off during the win over Watford. Clinton Njie and Alex Pritchard remain their only only other absences.
Jagielka will be a welcome return to the Everton defence when he is available. The England international is not impervious to mistakes himself, but his greater experience should reintroduce a measure of calm alongside the more impulsive instincts of younger colleagues Ramiro Funes Mori and John Stones.
If Jagielka is not ready, those two will be tasked with maintaining greater composure up against Tottenham's in-form attack. Shinji Okazaki's winner for Leicester City two weekends ago certainly might have been avoided had they shown even slight concern for the striker's position around them.
Funes Mori and Stones will point to a lack of protection in front and either side of them as being just as, if not more problematic in recent losses.
Leighton Baines is likely to return at left-back in place of Brendan Galloway—the latter's negligence so ruthlessly punished by Xherdan Shaqiri's goal of the season contender—with Seamus Coleman continuing on the right.
As the possible only defensive midfield holdover, Gareth Barry—whose giveaway led to Stones conceding that injury-time penalty against Stoke—will need to be much better denying Spurs the kind of space Everton's last two home opponents received in front of the box (see Shaqiri's opener for a damning examples of the confusion between the two back lines right now).
After making his first appearance since September in the win over Newcastle United, Muhamed Besic may be the man called on besides him.
In contrast, the Merseyside outfit have offered plenty more in attack in recent weeks. On-fire striker Romelu Lukaku will lead the way again, probably supported by Gerard Deulofeu from the right and Ross Barkley centrally. Kevin Mirallas could get the nod on the left in place of Arouna Kone, though Martinez may decide to call on ex-Spur Aaron Lennon for his first appearance against his former club.
Tottenham should revert to a back four again after switching to what was essentially a 5-3-2 formation for Watford.
Pochettino has to decide whether Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier's performances at Vicarage Road were enough for them to keep their places either side of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Or if Ben Davies and Kyle Walker will return at full-back. Given how he has mixed it up on the left especially, he may opt for a different combination of those four.
Dembele's absence and the likely decision to shift Dier forward again leaves plenty up in the air regarding the forward position too.
Given Everton's struggle to deal with the fluent, versatile attacking midfields of Leicester and Stoke, Pochettino may aim to focus on the offensive—Dele Alli beside Dier with license to join a more advanced trio almost certain to feature Monday's scorers Erik Lamela and Son.
Christian Eriksen could be back in the starting XI, though between Nabil Bentaleb, Nacer Chadli, Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason, Pochettino has options to mix things up behind front man Harry Kane.
Everton and Tottenham Players to Watch: Ross Barkley and Eric Dier
Prior to August's meeting between these two sides, this writer selected Barkley and Dier as that game's players to watch. The best part of five months on, their respective performances will once again be worth keeping a close eye on.
Barkley has maintained his strong start to the season. While subject to creative whims, his purposeful and often thrilling work has been vital in helping relieve his team's defence and in facilitating their best final-third work.
One of Barkley's quieter days was up against Spurs' Dier-led midfield at White Hart Lane. Like his new England team-mate, the latter has gone from strength to strength this season, providing a disciplined and tough central anchor.
The two will inevitably cross paths at Goodison Park. Either being able to perform their functions more effectively than the other will play a big part in their team being able to take hold of this one.
Key Battle: Can Tottenham Keep Romelu Lukaku Quiet?
Dier being moved back into midfield will be a decision taken with trying to stop Everton front man Lukaku in mind.
The striker is in the midst an excellent run of form right now. Along with Barkley he has led the way in stopping the team's defensive woes infecting other aspects of the team. The more recent of his 11 goals in 10 games (eight in seven in front of the Goodison faithful, as tallied by BBC Sport) helping ensure some festive cheer.
Tottenham forward Kane has been playing well of late too. But there is a feeling that shutting Lukaku down will go even further to stopping Everton than keeping the England international quiet will Spurs. As seen with Lamela and Son securing their previous victory. Everton provided a stat comparison for Lukaku and Kane:
STATS: Here's how @RomeluLukaku9 compares with @SpursOfficial's @HKane this season: https://t.co/o4icvsylqq #EFCvTOT https://t.co/XN5ODlLFXh1/1/2016, 12:06:55 PM
The Belgium striker provides an outlet for approaches both direct (see Cleverley's ball behind the Everton defence for him to score against Stoke) and intricate (his participation in the build-up to Deulofeu's goal against the Potters). He's a threat both on the ground and in the air, receiving from wide or in tighter confines.
Everton pose danger besides Lukaku. They are particularly useful at getting numbers in the box, whether in support of him or beyond his work dropping deep. But there would be few disagreements in crediting him as their main man right now.
His compatriots—Alderweireld and Vertonghen—did a good job marshalling him in August. They and their Tottenham team-mates will have to be fully focused this time if they are to stop a player who is playing even better now.
Odds (via Odds Shark)
Everton win: 17-10
Tottenham win: 31-20
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