Everton travel to White Hart Lane on Sunday looking to keep their slim hopes of a European place alive. The Toffees will be looking to make it four Premier League wins in a row against Tottenham, and they will be hopeful of a result against a team that could be jaded from European action.
But a result at White Hart Lane doesn’t come easily, and David Moyes must go there with a game plan. Here is what that might consist of...
Spurs Midfield and Everton Defensive Line
With Gareth Bale looking as though he will be out indefinitely and having seen Aaron Lennon also limp out of Tottenham’s tie with FC Basel, Andre Villas-Boas will be without two of his biggest threats ahead of the game. David Moyes will have surely been making special plans for Bale, but now has a completely different tactical conundrum to ponder.
With the two aforementioned Spurs players out of the side, expect Clint Dempsey to take up the central attacking midfield position, with Gylfi Sigurðsson and Lewis Holtby either side of him. Without Bale, Lennon and Jermain Defoe, Spurs look a side completely devoid of pace.
Adebayor isn’t a striker who likes to run in behind, whilst Dempsey, Sigurðsson and Holtby won’t really burst forward from advanced positions. Dempsey tries to find pockets in and around the edge of the box, whereas Holtby and Sigurðsson will drift off the wing and look to shoot or thread passes into the area.
With Everton also narrow in the midfield areas, expect this to be a congested area of the pitch. Unfortunately, this could lead to it being a scrappy affair early on.
With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how much license Moyes gives Everton to press up the pitch. Fulham and Liverpool have had success against Tottenham recently by sitting relatively deep, nipping the ball back and springing forward quickly. But without a threat in behind, there is no need for the Everton back four to retreat toward their own goal.
The Everton defenders would be better stepping up and closing off the space between midfield and back-four. Tottenham’s midfield will be tight, with all three of the advanced players looking to find pockets of space between the lines. Given time on the ball, they will hurt Everton. But if those gaps are plugged and these players are harried, Everton can frustrate them.
In their Europa League quarterfinal against Basel, Spurs were came up against two wingers in Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker who love to come off the line and link up with the centre forward. For long, long periods, Tottenham were unable to cope with the clever movement of these two.
The full-backs were unsure whether to track them inside or pass them on to the midfielders. Quite often they did neither. Put bluntly, Spurs were all over the place.
Kevin Mirallas should have been watching this with with a keen interest. He looks to be the perfect player that can exploit this area of weakness. The Belgian has been in dazzling form the past few weeks, netting three times in his last five outings. But his all-round play is what has really caught the eye. He is direct, pacy and exceptionally agile.
Everton must utilize this and give Mirallas the freedom to come off the line and influence the play. The same applies for whoever operates on the other flank, be this Victor Anichebe, Steven Naismith or Ross Barkley.
Baines and Coleman
With Mirallas and his fellow wide-man looking to drift inside, this will open up space Everton's marauding fullbacks, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.
Spurs have really struggled recently with opposing teams going after their full backs. Against Liverpool, the Reds were happy to take on the Tottenham full-backs time after time, as demonstrated here. Baines and Coleman should take note of this, as they will most likely be up against Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto themselves.
Coleman in particular is a very direct player who has given Assou-Ekotto many a problem in this fixture down the years. If Everton can get Coleman bombing forward on the overlap and one-on-one with the Tottenham left-back, expect the Irishman to get plenty of joy in that area.
On the other flank, Baines will be hopeful of influencing the play in attacking areas too. Kyle Walker will be his direct opponent, and whilst Walker is strong in the tackle and a menace going forward, he leaves a lot to be desired in terms of his defensive awareness.
Baines is a very savvy player who is excellent at negotiating space on the left flank. If he can link up with Mirallas in these advanced areas, Walker will have to be especially sharp to shut Everton down. Baines will certainly fancy his chances in that battle.
The England left-back will be quite relieved that Aaron Lennon looks set to miss this one out. Baines has been consistently brilliant for the past few seasons, but Lennon is always an opponent he has had trouble with.
But with no Lennon to worry about, Baines will be able to get forward on a more frequent basis without being too concerned about getting caught out defensively. This is a major plus for The Toffees.
The key for Everton in this one will be to stay patient. As I have alluded to already, the midfield with be congested and this could lead to a scrappy contest. But Spurs will tire late on and this might represent Everton's best opportunity to strike.
Moyes will be well aware that Tottenham have tired in the latter stages of recent games. They were put under massive pressure in the last 20 minutes against Swansea, whereas against Basel their pressing and harrying noticeably dropped off, this despite a morale-boosting equaliser.
Everton need to stay in the game, keep the ball and work Spurs across the pitch. If The Toffees go direct, as they have been prone to do at times this season, then this will play into Tottenham’s hands. Everton will look for Darron Gibson and Leon Osman to get their foot on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game.
How do you see the game going? How big a loss will Gareth Bale prove to be? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball