Watford and Tottenham Hotspur's meeting at Vicarage Road in December was a tense, engrossing affair.
Odion Ighalo cancelled out Erik Lamela's 17th-minute opener just prior to half-time before Nathan Ake's sending off shortly after the interval looked to have tipped the balance in Tottenham's favour again. Instead, the resolute Hornets held firm and looked more likely to score during the remainder of the second half.
Cruel though the denouement of Spurs' stoppage-time winner—a clever backheel by Heung-Min Son—was for Watford, it did not detract from their fine effort. Now off the back of a strong showing in their 0-0 draw with champions Chelsea, Quique Sanchez Flores' men will be keen to show their mettle again against Mauricio Pochettino's high-flying north Londoners.
Watford defender Craig Cathcart is still disappointed at the aforementioned loss, one he believes they "were unlucky not to get anything out of." While aware of Spurs' continued good form, he is backing his side to give them another tough contest.
"They’ve been in really good form since then and carried on winning a lot of games, so we know it's going to be a really difficult place to go, the way they’re playing," Cathcart told his club's official website.
"But we’re full of confidence from the last few games as we’ve picked up some really good points and progressed in the FA Cup, so we’ll be going there with a really positive attitude."
Now one of Tottenham's longest-serving players, right-back Kyle Walker believes the mood around the club right now has inspired them to their current promising position of fourth.
"In my seven years here, now is the best it’s been and it’s a fantastic atmosphere to play in," he told the Spurs website. "The togetherness and the team spirit that we have here with the players and with the manager is making a big difference and it’s a pleasure to be part of it all."
Date: Saturday, February 6
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Venue: White Hart Lane, London
TV Info: No live UK broadcast, extended highlights from 10 p.m. on Sky Sports 1/NBCSN (U.S. only)
Live Stream: No UK stream/NBC Sports Live Extra (U.S. only)
Ticket Information: For ticket information on all Premier League games visit the official site or go to the ticket page on the home club's official website. Secondary ticket information for Tottenham can be found here.
|Premier League, February 2: Norwich City (A)—Win: 0-3||Premier League, February 3: Chelsea (H)—Draw: 0-0|
|FA Cup, January 30: Colchester United (A)—Win: 1-4||FA Cup, January 30: Nottingham Forest (A)—Win: 0-1|
|Premier League, January 23: Crystal Palace (A)—Win: 1-3||Premier League, January 23: Newcastle United (H)—Win: 2-1|
|FA Cup, January 20: Leicester City - replay (A)—Win: 0-2||Premier League, January 18: Swansea City (A)—Loss: 1-0|
|Premier League, January 16: Sunderland (H)—Win: 4-1||Premier League, January 13: Southampton (A)—Loss: 2-0|
Both clubs' official websites
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino confirmed his side have no new injury concerns.
Ryan Mason is back in training while Dele Alli is over the illness that saw him substituted at half-time against Norwich. Clinton Njie and Jan Vertonghen remain out.
For Watford, Nathan Ake is available again after missing Wedneday's game against parent club Chelsea. According to BBC Sport, Miguel Britos and former Spurs player Etienne Capoue need to be assessed following illness.
"It's very important our flexibility—you can see in different games how we play in possession of the ball and how we play out of possession," Pochettino said this week when asked about his use of three central defenders against Watford last time.
"We have a very clever squad in that they can adapt in different circumstances."
The different circumstance of home familiarity rather than an away test could see the Tottenham boss trust in his normal use of a back four. But for now, looking ahead to Saturday's potential lineups, it is reasonable to assume Pochettino again intends to use an extra body against Watford's simpatico front two of Troy Deeney and Ighalo.
Though caught out for the goal scored by Watford in the previous match, Eric Dier's switch into defence in between Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen mostly worked well. Until they overloaded Spurs late in the game, utilising set pieces and crosses, the home side had difficulty creating chances.
How Dier may fare this time in the role is subject to a couple of other changes.
He will also be alongside Kevin Wimmer—the Austrian's unfamiliarity in a back three with the Englishman and Alderweireld is a possible point of exploitation for Watford. That's something Jose Manuel Jurado may be tasked with capitalising on if he is deployed in the central role from where his nimble footwork and positive passing caused problems against Chelsea.
The flexibility of Pochettino's squad is such Dier can easily move forward into his more familiar (nowadays) midfield role if necessary (or back if a more adventurous approach is leaving Spurs exposed). If not needed here, the likely Spurs midfield two will be in-form man Alli and Mousa Dembele.
Their battle with the possible midfield trio of Valon Behrami, Capoue and Ben Watson will be competitive, to say the least. Both groups possess oodles of athleticism and drive.
Aiding them and Spurs' attacking trio (Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane just about nailed-on starters, perhaps Nacer Chadli to combat Watford's more imposing elements) will be the width provided by the team's full-backs.
Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier may again be called on after strong attacking displays at Vicarage Road and since. But Pochettino's thinking in terms of personnel in these positions is not so easy to predict of late.
Flores also has options in defence.
Cathcart could again be joined by Sebastian Prodl if Britos is not ready. Allan Nyom and Jose Holebas have been listed at full-back in the above graphic, but Ake and Juan Carlos Paredes have seen plenty of game time lately, too.
The Greek may be chosen to fight fire with fire against the similarly attack-minded Trippier.
Tottenham Hotspur Player to Watch: Eric Dier
As referenced earlier, Dier could be a key central figure tactically for Tottenham.
His could be the presence that shores up their defence and helps keep Watford’s attack at bay or perhaps an unintentional impediment to Alderweireld and Wimmer’s burgeoning centre-back partnership, upsetting the natural balance.
You would bet on the former being more likely.
Dier played with Wimmer against Leicester City in the FA Cup when the Austrian enjoyed his best Spurs performance yet. Bar the one false presumption of the ball being dealt with that allowed Ighalo in behind them in December, Alderweireld and the younger player did not get in each other’s way (nor Vertonghen’s).
Be it in central defence or midfield, the 22-year-old is a joy to watch these days regardless. He's one of the few such players in the Premier League capable of inflicting fair, hard and timely punishment on opponents.
Watford Player to Watch: Heurelho Gomes
Gomes’ excellent late saves against Chelsea midweek brought to mind his similarly strong work for Tottenham back in the spring of 2010. Against the Blues and particularly Arsenal, the Brazilian’s reach and inspired reactions helped the north London club to two vital wins in their successful hunt for a Champions League place.
The mistake-fuelled undermining of confidence that led to Gomes losing his first-choice status at Spurs happily appears to be a thing of the past. He was instrumental in Watford’s promotion and has been near impeccable back in the top flight.
One of the few misjudgements this season was in his positioning in the run-up to Son’s goal against him. Far from embarrassing, but it's a slight smudge on the clean slate he has earned for himself at his current club.
Gomes has responded as one of the experienced hands in the Watford ranks should. On Saturday, Spurs fans should give him the warm reception he deserves for his part in one of the most significant spells in their club’s recent history. Understandably they will hope it does not precede one of his very best showings.
Key Battle: Which Defence Can Stay Strong Longest?
See the predicted lineups and Dier sections for the outline of how Tottenham's possible tactical change in defence could affect things.
Even if Pochettino does not switch to a five-man defence with three centre-backs, how Spurs deal with Deeney and Ighalo will be important all the same.
Stop the creative, unencumbered imaginations of these two forwards from coming to life and it will go a long way to slowing Watford down. Let them have their way and Spurs could be in for a long afternoon.
Down the other end, look out for how Watford deal with Tottenham on the break and being assaulted directly.
Both against Spurs (Lamela's goal) and in recent games against Newcastle United and Chelsea, the Hornets have shown a susceptibility to such assaults. Between the long balls forward of Alderweireld and the quick-thinking work of those like Eriksen and Kane in transition, they will be provoked.
Odds (via Odds Shark)
Tottenham win: 10-21
Watford win: 25-4
Quotes and team news obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.