Everton travel to north London knowing there is little margin for error in their quest to snatch a European place.
Last week’s battling win over Leicester made in back-to-back victories and seven points from nine since the restart, putting the Toffees within touching distance of an increasingly tightly-packed top half.
Just nine points separate Southampton in 13th and Wolves in sixth. Everton are in the mix, but they probably cannot afford to lose more than two of their remaining six games.
That Everton are in contention for a European place at all is of huge credit to Carlo Ancelotti, who has restored the team’s backbone and made them a very tough side to beat.
The Leicester game was a case in point, with the wily Italian repeatedly altering personnel and formation to outfox Brendan Rodgers and hold on for the win.
Another win on Monday would lift the Toffees above Tottenham and Burnley into ninth and within two points of seventh-placed Arsenal.
But, of course, this is Everton. We have been in similar situations before, when a win would see the team make real progress in the table, only for them to mess it up. ‘A win at Villa and we go top’, anyone?
But if they can take all three points it would be yet another measure of the progress made under Ancelotti, ending an eight-year wait for a win at Tottenham and seven-year wait for a win at any of the so-called ‘big six’.
It would also set things up perfectly for what could be a defining week for the club’s Europa League ambitions, with Southampton at home on Thursday and a trip to fifth-placed Wolves on Sunday.
Strap yourselves in.
The last time the two sides met in north London, Tottenham looked to be in a happy state. They were just settling into their futuristic new stadium, had a popular manager at the helm, one of the country’s best strikers upfront and were busily preparing for a Champions League final.
Scroll forward 14 months and things are not quite so rosy. They lost the Champions League final of course, with the hangover counting into the autumn. Mauricio Pochettino paid for that poor form with his job in November, with Jose Mourinho his high-profile successor. Harry Kane then suffered a hamstring injury one New Year’s Day that threatened to curtail his season. The only reason he is back playing is because of the three-month break caused by global pandemic, which means Tottenham have to play in their brand new £850-million stadium with no punters coming through the turnstiles.
Spurs fans I have spoken to pin their frustrations on chairman Daniel Levy and his failure to strengthen the squad over the past two years. Pochettino went 12 months without signing a player, which led to accusations that the squad had become stale while key players were not adequately replaced. Cristian Eriksen was also allowed to run his contract down, resulting in a cut-price move to Inter in January just six months after the club reportedly turned down bids of £100m.
It’s not all bad of course. The enforced break has allowed their injury list to clear up, with Kane and Son Hueng-Min now back to full fitness. Steven Bergwijn also looks to be an astute purchase from PSV in January.
Then of course there is the fact they have a fantastic record against Everton, not losing any of their last 14 league meetings going back to December 2012, their joint-longest unbeaten run against a single opponent.
In what will probably be known as the ‘Gomes Son’ game. Everton and Spurs played out a fractious 1-1 draw in November that will be remembered for that horrific ankle injury suffered by Gomes following a late challenge by Son, with overshadowed the rest of the game. Dele Alii was on target for Tottenham, with Cenk Tosun rescuing a point for Everton in stoppage time.
Sheff Utd (A) Lost 3-1
West Ham (H) Won 2-0
Man Utd (H) Drew 1-1
RB Leipzig (Champs Leg - A) Lost 3-0
Burnley (A) Drew 1-1
Leicester (H) Won 2-1
Norwich (A) Won 1-0
Liverpool (H) Drew 0-0
Chelsea (A) Lost 4-0
Man Utd (H) Drew 1-1
Carlo Ancelotti is hopeful Richarlison will recover from the ankle knock that forced him off against Leicester.
Djibril Sidibe and Yerry Mina are available to return, but Fabian Delph and Theo Walcott are still sidelined.
I have become used to Everton faltering just when they get into a position to make real progress, so my optimism for this game is minimal. But if they can get a result it would send out a real message and put them right in the mix for Europe, something that seemed a distant prospect over the winter, when survival seemed the only achievable aim.