The football world remains, perhaps naively, shocked by the sacking of Claudio Ranieri by Leicester City on Thursday. As has become usual, most English teams have ensured a way out of Europe at the first opportunity available, although only confirmed drop outs are Tottenham, who could not get past Gent from Belgium, also on Thursday. In all this, the Premier League returns this weekend after a fortnight. It returns for at least sixteen of the twenty teams, as the other four have had their matches postponed due to the League Cup Final. Among the eight matches that are going to take place this weekend, on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspurs host Stoke City, in the first of four consecutive matches at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham have made a habit of dropping out of Europe at the first or at most second knock out opportunity available and they did not disappoint on Thursday night at Wembley, their European home for this season. A 2-2 draw versus the eighth-best team in Belgium ensured that they will not progress further. Tottenham’s recent record is indeed a bit worrying if you are Mauricio Pochettino. In the League, they have won only one of the last four matches and lost the last league match they played. But overall, their standing is pretty good and some might say par, as they stand third, in the league with the possibility of leaping past Manchester City into second, if they are able to get a win on Sunday. It should not be very difficult for them as they are in good home form and are the only team apart from Chelsea to not have lost or drawn even one of their last five home games. They have in fact won seven home league matches in a row and a win on Sunday would see them match a club record from March-August 2009.
Spurs’ opponents on Sunday – Stoke City, meanwhile did not have any cup engagements and are returning to action after a fortnight of rest. They themselves have a very similar record as their hosts in the last four league matches – one win, one loss and two draws. But for a team that should be targeting a mid-table spot this season (as always), such a run seems pretty good and not worrying at all. They return to league action after a refreshing break, unlike their hosts and should be able to trouble them. Two things that might worry Mark Hughes, however will be the Potters’ recent away record (four losses in five matches, having given away 13 goals in thos games) and also their travails in front of the goal, having scored only three goals in last four matches, including an opponent’s own goal.
Tottenham continue to miss Danny Rose at left-back and Erik Lamela due to knee and hip injuries respectively. Given that his team is shorthanded at left-back, Pochettino could continue with the three man-defense he put up against Gent. Although, Heung-min Son will be hoping for a start, it is possible that the manager persists with the same team that played on Thursday. If he does, he will need to substitute smartly to ensure that fatigue does not slow his team down.
Stoke City will be without their long-term injured trip of Stephen Ireland, Jack Butlan, and Jonathan Walters. Xherdan Shaquiri might also be fit to play a role on Sunday but it is possible that Hughes chooses to name him on the bench instead of the starting eleven. Stoke’s winter purchase – Saido Berahino might also warrant a start on Sunday but Hughes could name him as well on the bench.Mark Hughesss
- Stoke are unbeaten in their last two league games at White Hart Lane with one draw and one win each. If they manage to steal a point or three on Sunday, it will be for the first time in their history that they will manage three games at White Hart Lane without a defeat.
- Both Dele Alli and Kane have scored three goals in their last two league games against Stoke.
- The Potters have scored just three goals in their last four matches – and one of those came from an own goal.
- Stoke have won only one of their last 20 Premier League games in London (D7 L12), with that solitary win arriving at White Hart Lane in November 2014 (2-1).
The Spurs’ striker is in red-hot form, albeit he scored at the wrong end on Thursday, effectively knocking his team out of the Europa League. But despite that own goal, Kane is one of the most in-form goal scorers presently, having scored ten goals in last ten appearances for Tottenham. Despite Stoke’s recent generosity in goals, Spurs will be looking to score quickly and in a large volume to put Thursday’s demons to bed. And they will be challenged by a physical and tall defense. These kind of requirements and situations are sort of ready-made for Kane, who loves to score against Stoke (3 goals in last two league games, same as Alli).
When Mark Hughes must have bought Joe Allen from Liverpool, he must have thought that he was getting a midfielder whose key job was going to hassle the opposition, take hold of the ball and then pass it meaningfully. But Joe Allen has turned out to be Stoke’s most prolific goal-scorer in the league this season, with six goals. On Sunday, Mark Hughes’ team will be looking to score an early goal or two and then defend tightly. If Stoke succeed in scoring a goal, I think the Welshman will play an important role in creating the goal, if he is not the person tapping it in to the net. He will also be important in pressing and recovering the ball, as Spurs showed against Allen’s previous team in the last match, that if they are not given time on the ball, their attack gets thwarted. And before Allen discovered his scoring boots, he used to be pretty good in hassling opponents into turnovers.
Pochettino rightly said after the draw on Thursday that “the Premier League does not wait for you”. It is true and for Spurs to remain even slightly relevant in the title race, it is important that they beat teams below the top six-seven positions. With this inspiration and with Kane and Alli smarting from their respective goof-ups on Thursday, Spurs could prove to be too strong for Stoke at home. Stoke might trouble the hosts a bit but the incentives of Champions League football and a foot in the title race should drive the hosts to their eighth consecutive home win.
Tottenham Hotspurs 2 – 1 Stoke City