Everton play the first of four crucial matches in their quest for Champions League football on Sunday when they travel to Tottenham Hotspur. With trips to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea to come, the end of the season is going to be decisive and David Moyes’ side will have to win at the home of at least one of their top four rivals.
Moyes doesn’t have a particularly good record at the Emirates Stadium, Anfield or Stamford Bridge, while results at White Hart Lane have been mixed. Throughout Moyes’ decade plus in charge those grounds have hosted the few teams to have regularly finished above Everton, and fewer managers still can claim to have won more often than they’ve lost when playing that quartet of top four or Champions League regulars.
But Everton have won recently at Spurs, a Vedran Corluka own goal giving the visitors victory in November 2008, while October 2010 saw a 1-1 with a Leighton Baines goal. Another draw maintains the gap to Liverpool below Everton but does little to help Everton climb above Arsenal.
The nature of the league at the moment means that one round of games without a win changes the picture entirely, and if the Gunners beat West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns then they could pull away from Everton, should Moyes’ side fail to beat Tottenham. And that’s before Everton return to north London in mid-April.
Tottenham have to contend with the Europa League and had a tougher time of it at home to Basle than would have been expected. Andre Villas-Boas also has to contend with a growing number of injuries, giving the Portuguese a squad the same kind of size as the one Moyes has had to work with all season. Tottenham may be tired from their European match in mid-week but Everton’s squad is so small that freshness is an issue at Goodison Park, too.
Moyes is again without Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini, each serving the final game of their two-match suspension, while he has to decide whether to revert to his usual 4-4-1-1 formation or stick with the 3-4-3 that was used in the win over Stoke City last time out. The smart money says he’ll go back to what he knows best, partly because getting a diligent right winger to double up with the right-back against Gareth Bale is a formula that has worked to stifle the Wales international in the past.
That’s assuming Bale is fit after seeming to injure his ankle against Basle. While it’s churlish to revel in the injury of any player it’s forgivable if there were a few wry smiles when the winger went down. Spurs are not a one-man team but Bale is so often the difference-maker that it’s fair to say Tottenham are a less fearsome prospect without the midfielder.
Everton’s Champions League hopes are not over if they don’t beat Spurs but they will take a hefty blow, and heap even more pressure on the rest of the matches to come against the chasing pack.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Tottenham