On paper there are bigger matches this weekend than Tottenham Hotspur vs. Swansea City.
The Capital One Cup final between Liverpool and Manchester City is a mouthwatering matchup between two of English football's most talked-about teams. Manchester United host Arsenal, their traditional rivalry lacking some of its previous animosity but a big game nonetheless.
Sunday's contest at White Hart Lane will feel just as vital to its participants as either of those fixtures.
Swansea are battling to retain their Premier League status and lengthen what is, heading into the weekend anyway, a three-point gap between them and the relegation zone.
First team coach Alan Curtis hopes they can end their winless run against Tottenham and, in the process, get over the "blip" of their defeat to Southampton last time out.
"We haven’t beaten them in the league during our five years in the Premier League, but this season results have been so unpredictable that it goes to show there’s no reason we can’t get a result," Curtis said, per Swansea's official website.
"The performances have been good and we didn’t see the Southampton performance coming. Unfortunately any defeat piles pressure back on you."
Tottenham are dealing with a more pleasant kind of pressure.
Following Swansea's visit, they take on London rivals West Ham United and Arsenal. Adding to the scale of those occasions, both carry title implications for the second-place Lilywhites (bragging rights from the Hammers game are also intensified by it being the two foes' last Upton Park clash).
Head coach Mauricio Pochettino is adamant his Spurs side will not overlook the Swans, though, once again bringing up their game-by-game mentality.
"The players are very excited to start to play again, after two weeks [off], in the Premier League," Pochettino said, speaking after Thursday's Europa League win over Fiorentina. "We are in a position in the table that you know the motivation is big."
Date: Sunday, February 28
Time: 2:05 p.m. GMT/9:05 a.m. ET
Venue: White Hart Lane, London
TV Info: No live UK broadcast, highlights from 10 p.m. on Sky Sports 1/Premier League Extra Time.
Live Stream: No UK stream/NBC Sports Live Extra.
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. The away allocation is sold out.
|Tottenham Hotspur||Swansea City|
|Europa League, February 25: Fiorentina (H)—Win: 3-0||Premier League, February 13: Southampton (H)—Loss: 0-1|
|FA Cup, February 21: Crystal Palace (H)—Loss: 0-1||Premier League, February 6: Crystal Palace (H)—Draw: 1-1|
|Europa League, February 18: Fiorentina (A)—Draw: 1-1||Premier League, February 2: West Bromwich Albion (A)—Draw: 1-1|
|Premier League, February 14: Manchester City (A)—Win: 1-2||Premier League, January 24: Everton (A)—Win: 1-2|
|Premier League, February 6: Watford (H)—Win: 1-0||Premier League, January 18: Watford (H)—Win: 1-0|
Both clubs' official websites
"We are happy in the way that he is now," Pochettino said post-Fiorentina of striker Harry Kane, who missed the 4-1 aggregate victory as he recovered from a broken nose. "We’ll see, but we hope that he’ll be available for Sunday."
Tottenham had not confirmed any other team news at the time of writing. According to BBC Sport, Tom Carroll remains out along with the known absentees of Mousa Dembele, Clinton Njie and Jan Vertonghen.
Curtis—covering for the unwell Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin in the pre-match press conference—confirmed the Italian has a fully fit squad to chose from.
Finding balance between consistency and freshness in the Tottenham team is a twice-weekly discussion for Pochettino and his coaching staff right now. The club are exacerbated by the natural wear and tear of a long season that of late has denied them the option of using captain Hugo Lloris and top scorer Kane for at least a game or two.
The dependable and increasingly talismanic Lloris returned against Fiorentina and will be back in goal again versus Swansea. Pochettino may not be able to resist calling on Kane if he is available. But the question of whether another day's rest would be better for the striker has to be asked.
In between these two positions, there are plenty more of the head-scratchers that could yet become more frequently posed in coming weeks.
Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer continuing in central defence is not one of them. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose coming back in either side of them seems likely but feels a little less certain with Pochettino's full-back rotation not set to a strict schedule.
Eric Dier is a vital protective presence in midfield, especially with Dembele injured. Besides him it feels like a coin toss between Thursday's scoring hero Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb.
Dele Alli might have been considered in a deeper role if his attacking contributions were not so valuable right now. Joining him in attacking midfield will probably be the in-form Christian Eriksen—rarely out of the team right now. Heung-Min Son starting could be one concession to freshness.
With no extracurricular activities to accommodate, Guidolin's Swansea's selections concern only the Premier League. Despite their loss to Southampton prior to last weekend's FA Cup break, it would be a surprise to see him mix things up just for the sake of it.
Swansea's recent bookend selections, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and frontman Alberto Paloschi (more on him to come), certainly should remain unchanged. Add to that former Spur Gylfi Sigurdsson in the playmaker role and captain Ashley Williams at centre-back.
The defence around the Wales international could perhaps do with some change-inspired motivation, though. Such was the laxness of their work against Southampton—Shane Long's free winning header capitalising on an ugly display of buck-passing.
This predicted lineup has another ex-Tottenham man in Kyle Naughton joining Williams, Federico Fernandez and Neil Taylor. Guidolin's solution for improvement (if any) will become clear soon enough.
The midfield working with Sigurdsson could do with some energising. Ki Sung-Yeung is a possible returnee after he made the bench last time, but on paper Swansea's recently used midfield four is still a nicely balanced one.
Tottenham Hotspur Player to Watch: Eric Dier
Without the dynamism of Dembele for the time being, Tottenham will require others to be proactive in shaping the team’s play.
Mason stepped in to provide some of the attacking thrust against Fiorentina. Alli, Eriksen and Erik Lamela all did well engineering moments of positive transition.
Reassuringly, Dier was as timely as ever with his defensive interjections. The versatile 22-year-old ably ensured Spurs did not lack for a formidable obstacle to the Serie A side’s own offensive intent.
Dier will not be alone here against Swansea and beyond. But sans Dembele, the onus is once again on him to lead the resistance when Spurs’ press is broken through.
Swansea City Player to Watch: Alberto Paloschi
The in-form Sigurdsson (five goals in seven appearances this year) is likely to be Dier’s chief adversary on Sunday. Andre Ayew scored and caused Tottenham plenty of problems in October’s 2-2 draw and will be a threat again out wide.
Spurs must also keep an eye on is Swansea’s most recent first-choice striker, Paloschi.
The Italian has not scored since his January transfer from Chievo but has not looked out of place in the Premier League.
He is a willing runner across the breadth of the pitch and with each game has looked more confident getting involved. With a couple of weeks since the Southampton loss to get even more familiar with the rhythms of his team-mates (and them, his), he will hope to see even more of the ball in areas he can affect the game.
Key Battle: Exploiting Possible Tottenham Fatigue
Not really a key battle this week but a key theme: How will Tottenham react post-Europa League?
They lost last week to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. But that was not so much to do with tiredness as it was having no luck in front of goal and getting caught out by a fine team move by the Eagles.
Before that Spurs lost just once after a European tie, to Newcastle United in December. Indeed, that was their only loss when playing just three days after any midweek fixture (unlike last week, they did not have the excuse of travel, either).
As the season progresses, wearier legs and a stretched playing staff could become more problematic.
With a similar turnaround next week awaiting between West Ham and Arsenal, we will get an idea here of just how Spurs may cope. That is if Swansea can exploit any fatigue.
Odds (via Odds Shark)
Tottenham win: 50-111
Swansea win: 15-2
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.