Everton host Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday as they look to follow up Tuesday’s 2-0 home win over Watford FC in the Carabao Cup.
Though the Blues have had a dreadful start to the campaign, Spurs have hardly fared much better - they have two more points than Everton with 12 and sit 11th, having won just three of their ten league matches.
Each of their victories have come at home, though - their last-gasp win at Fulham in January remains their most recent away triumph in the Premier League.
Under-pressure manager Mauricio Pochettino will likely take heart from Spurs’ recent record at Goodison Park - they have not lost at Everton since 2012 and have won this fixture 3-0 and 6-2 in the last two campaigns.
Ahead of Sunday’s match, we spoke to Dustin Menno, managing editor of SB Nation’s dedicated Spurs site, Cartilage Free Captain:
RBM: Firstly, much of the talk about Tottenham is that their squad is at the end of their cycle. Is that a fair comment?
Dustin: Absolutely, though you would not have thought so even this summer. Tottenham’s transfer window was a good one, with Spurs signing Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, and Ryan Sessegnon; all very good players that addressed specific areas of need within the squad. Unfortunately, all three of them have been injured already this season which, combined with the failure to sign anyone for the previous 18 months, has directly led to this current malaise.
Spurs’ squad, once one of the youngest in the league, is now old and stale. It desperately needs a squad clear-out and some incoming signings. Spurs can start to address it in January, but my guess is it probably will take a couple of windows until Mauricio Pochettino can get a newer, younger group of players in and settled. For now, he’ll have to find some way to continue to squeeze blood out of a pretty ragged stone.
RBM: How much pressure do you think Pochettino should be under currently?
Dustin: Honestly, I think Pochettino should be given the opportunity to turn things around with a refreshed squad.
When things go south as quickly as things have at Tottenham, the usual response is to sack the manager for the short-term burst of interim manager energy. That would, in my opinion, be folly. There’s no way that Tottenham could attract another manager as talented and committed as Pochettino in this present climate, and after everything Poch has done for Spurs over the past five years, we owe him the chance to play with the team that he wants.
I think many Tottenham fans would grudgingly accept a bit of a backslide from Spurs this season, if there’s evidence of a future plan and a clear communication of what Pochettino wants to do. If the poor results continue, however, I wonder at what point chairman Daniel Levy’s patience will run out.
RBM: Given Tottenham’s difficult start to the season, have you lowered your expectations for what you would consider a successful campaign?
Dustin: You’d have to, wouldn’t you? The expectation going into the season was to hang around third, try and close the gap behind Manchester City and Liverpool a bit, maybe make a sneaky (and ultimately futile) play for the title, and force another deep run in the Champions League. Instead, it looks as though Spurs will be fortunate to get the top four.
At this point, I’m not sure what would constitute a successful season, but I’ll start with not playing poor football. Champions League qualification would be nice, though.
RBM: Christian Eriksen’s future has been unclear for a while now, with his Spurs contract expiring next summer. If there is no chance of him signing a new deal, would you cash in on him in January, or let him go for free at the end of the season?
Dustin: After watching him sleepwalk through the 2-1 loss at Anfield, I’m ready to let Eriksen go in January.
If he was playing to the ability he’s shown for us over the past seven seasons it’d be a lot harder of a choice, and it’s sad that his incredible Spurs tenure is ending like this, but right now he wants out and he’s playing bad football. He needs to go, yesterday.
RBM: Dele Alli’s form has also been heavily criticised lately. Why do you think he has struggled more of late, and where do you think his best position is?
Dustin: I would challenge the premise of the question. I think Dele’s been quietly excellent and has been since he returned from injury last season. It’s trendy to look at his declining goal scoring record and conclude that he’s off the boil or whatever, but Dele is an extremely versatile player who was asked to play a much deeper midfield role last season than he has in the past, and to help shoulder the midfield creative vacancy left by the departing Mousa Dembele. And he did very, very well in that role, even if he wasn’t banging 180º keepy-uppy volleys into the net every other match.
Dele’s best role? Probably a second striker just behind Harry Kane, but Tottenham have a wealth of options in that role, including Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura, and in the meantime Dele has turned into a much better, well-rounded player playing deeper. We know he has that in his toolbox because he was a central midfielder at MK Dons. He’s only 23, his stats are already way better than Frank Lampard’s or Steven Gerrard’s at that age, and he’s only going to get better with time. He’s good.
RBM: Despite their great record in this fixture, Tottenham’s dreadful recent away run in the league is well-documented. Why do you think they’ve suffered so much on the road?
Dustin: It’s quite simple, really - they’ve been bad. Some of that isn’t their fault - they were decimated by injury for much of last spring, which puts the miracle run to the Champions League final in context - but this is also a Spurs side with some very real flaws that need fixing.
There’s also a mental thing that happens when you have a long streak like this that can kind of be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But streaks are made to be broken, and I hope that this one will be broken on Sunday.
RBM: How do you expect Tottenham to set up on Sunday?
Dustin: One of the hallmarks of Pochettino’s tenure at Spurs is that it usually takes a couple of months for him to figure out his best team. That’s extremely apparent this season -- the injuries to Lo Celso and Ndombele have meant that he’s been constantly tinkering, trying to find a lineup and a tactical system that works. Consequently, it’s become very difficult to predict his lineups.
Pochettino’s early lineups have mostly used a narrow 4-4-2 diamond, a tactic that has been roundly panned by Spurs fans who argue that it relies too much on the fullbacks (an obvious weak spot this season) and that it is ponderous and slow against teams who set up in a defensive low block.
Against Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League last week, Spurs reverted to a 4-3-3 with Ndombele, Moussa Sissoko, and Dele Alli behind a forward line of Son, Erik Lamela and Kane, and it was very effective. Ndombele was rested against Liverpool at the weekend, and Lamela missed out with a knock. I don’t know if Pochettino will use that system again against Everton, but I would like him to.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Dustin: Tottenham’s defensive line and midfield have been problem areas this season, but the attack is still very good when they can get the ball to the attackers in good areas. Everton will need to be extremely wary of the fast runs from Son and (if he plays) Moura, and Kane is the kind of striker that can drop in between the lines to play in wide attackers. Spurs also selectively deploy a high press that can be devastatingly effective, and they’ve been known to hit on fast counters via deep passes from Toby Alderweireld.
Conversely, Spurs have had the most problems when facing teams that sit deep and put men behind the ball. That gives Tottenham a lot of possession but they’ve found it difficult to pick this kind of lock. Everton may not want to sit deep and counter, especially at home, but it’s been a pretty good way to frustrate and neutralise Spurs’ scoring threat.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Dustin: The optimist in me thinks that the Spurs we’ve seen in the past two matches should be enough to take care of Everton on the road. However, “no away league wins since January” looms pretty large.
I’m going to go with a 2-1 win for Spurs, but I in no way feel comfortable with this prediction.
Our thanks to Dustin for his time.