Since the meeting 8 games ago ourselves and Spurs form in the context of each side’s season has fluctuated. Spurs had only lost twice since their opening fixtures but have since lost 3 games albeit against sides placed in the top 4. The principal factor has been that a defence which beforehand looked watertight has shipped 8 goals in their last 2 league outings. In fairness, with the exception of the last 30mins at the Emirates, Spurs played really well in all 3 defeats. Perhaps their switch to 2 orthodox strikers since Saha has joined has led to them being more gung ho offensively and lighter in terms of midfield control – a consequence of 4-4-2 over 4-4-1-1.
The Blues in contrast have gone 8 games unbeaten since the Spurs defeat and whilst goals are still an issue – only Wigan have scored fewer in the league than the Toffees– we look a lot more durable at the back and able to grind out results – a key characteristic of the Moyes era.
It will be interesting to see how Moyes shapes up for this one. His usual gameplan against the top sides who play narrow – Chelsea and Citteh for instance – is to be solid through the middle and push them out to the flanks to encourage crossing situations and then overload the box to win headers i.e. getting sides to play to our strengths and not theirs. Spurs is potentially a different caper though in that their strength lies in wide areas with the likes of Bale and Lennon who looked against Man Utd last week as if he were coming back to form. Combating this will be key and dealing at the source i.e Modric’s long pass distribution from deep areas. Therefore I’d expect Cahill and Fellaini to take it in turns to press Spurs talisman. Our wide midfielders will also be required to put in ‘a shift’ in either doubling up with fullbacks or blocking off angles for passes to be fed into Spurs wide men. Stracqualursi should also be useful here in hassling the Spurs defence and stopping them playing out from the back which was a feature of Tottenham’s comfortable win against us last time out.
In the fixture at WHL, Bale predominantly played inside as shown by the average position chart (right) – perhaps a ploy from Redknapp to counter Moyes tactic of doubling up on Bale which neutralized his threat last season. With Cahill predominantly deep and midfield flooded there was little room for Bale to maneuver inside and he had one of his least effective games of the season.
The Chelsea win was achieved thanks to a solid defensive game plan and also a touch of quality in the final third from Pienaar and Donovan who got a goal and an assist between them. Neither are available for this one and the creative burden will rest heavily on the shoulders of maverick showman Royston Drenthe. Despite starting less than a third of the games this season, nobody has scored more or created more goals for the Blues this season as the Dutchman. Which wing he starts from will be interesting – the bulk of his damage has been done from the right side cutting in on his left side but with Pienaar out and Coleman pushing for a recall after injury the left flank would appear the more likely option.
Our form at Goodison post Christmas has been superb; we have won our last 3 including wins against Citteh and Chelsea and not conceded in any. Spurs defensive form has dipped a tad but they are still a tough nut to crack. Given the low amount of goals (2.08 average) at Goodison this season at either end – only Anfield sees fewer goals – I’m going for a 1-1 here.