Coming off a needed palette-cleansing victory in the Carabao Cup, Tottenham Hotspur look to begin the business of closing the distance between themselves and leaders Manchester City on Saturday when they face struggling Wolverhampton at Molineux.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3) had a pair of matches to forget, first being held to a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven in Champions League play that all but scuttled their hopes for advancing to the knockout round despite having three matches remaining. The hangover continued Monday at Wembley Stadium, where the Lilywhites never fully recovered from a sixth-minute goal scored by Riyad Mahrez as they fell 1-0 to the reigning champions.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s lineup deserved some scrutiny, most notably in the form of selecting Moussa Sissoko for the left wing in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up when a creative tandem of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela was there in the offering. It was Lamela, though, who was left to rue his scuffed chance during the final quarter-hour, the ball taking a slight skip on the worn Wembley pitch before he sent his shot for the upper left corner well over the bar.
The loss dropped Spurs five points behind City, but for all intents and purposes, it feels like 50 given the chasm in quality the Citizens enjoyed for a good portion of the match before Spurs desperately chased – and nearly caught – an equaliser late. While it would be easy to use playing at Wembley for a second straight season as an excuse since the re-opening of White Hart Lane has now been pushed back to January, defender Toby Alderweireld said his team cannot lament what has been.
“We never used Wembley as an excuse and we will not do that now,” Alderweireld told Sky Sports. “But it has affected us. I am grateful to play at Wembley, it is a very historical place, but it is not the same feeling as White Hart Lane. There we had a special home feeling.
“But in that way, we did very well to be successful at Wembley. But I know the club is doing everything in their power to play as quickly as possible in our stadium.”
That is what made Wednesday’s 3-1 victory at West Ham United to reach the Carabao Cup quarterfinals so vital to getting rid of the negative vibes. Heung-Min Son had a brace on either side of halftime for his first two goals of the season, and the relief was palpable for the South Korea international as he celebrated the goal with Pochettino.
“You feel sorry when a player works hard and does not get rewarded and Sonny has been ready to work more and more to change his situation,” the gaffer told The Times. “I never usually celebrate the goal but was a little worried for him.”
Fernnado Llorente helped Spurs see out the match with a goal shortly after West Ham pulled within 2-1, and the spoils of the win included another London derby in the round of eight, this time against Arsenal and Pochettino’s old friend and new Gunners manager Unai Emery.
As the preparations continue to eventually move back to White Hart Lane, Spurs did lock up an important piece of the side’s nucleus to play there for years to come by extending Alli’s contract through 2024. He joins striker Harry Kane and keeper Hugo Lloris as the only players with a wage packet of at least £100,000 per week, and it may also put to rest the rumours of Pochettino taking the Real Madrid job that opened up following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.
“He’s a massive part of wanting to be at this club,” Alli said of Pochettino. “The fans are amazing, the chairman, everyone, the whole club is amazing. But as players, you work with the gaffer, you want to have a good relationship with the manager and we all feel like we’ve got that here.
“We all love the way we work. The style of play, we all want to be a part of it. He’s done a lot for me so far and hopefully he can keep helping me to improve.”
After an impressive start to the season in which they lost just one of their first eight matches, new boys Wolverhampton have come back down to earth some with back-to-back losses. The Wolves (4-3-3) continue to struggle offensively – their nine goals are the fewest of any club in the top half of the table – and have gone 214 minutes without a tally following their 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
“We’ve got a tough week ahead in training, improving on Brighton because we need to get back to winning ways,” centre back and talisman Conor Coady told the Birmingham Mail. “It’s been an OK start for us, we’ve won a couple but we’ve been beat the last two games which isn’t a nice feeling at all.”
Coach Nuno Espirito Santo may attempt further changes for the second straight contest after finally altering his starting XI for the first time last weekend. Adama Traore, however, failed to make much of an impact as right wing back Matt Doherty had the side’s two best chances at AMEX Stadium.
Traore, though, is likely to get a second bite at the apple since left winger Diogo Jota has been ruled out of this match with a thigh injury. Whether he stays on his preferred right side or goes left for a second consecutive contest with Helder Costa on the right remains to be seen.
Coady is hoping the prime-time kickoff will give a boost to the team through their supporters as Wolves have claimed eight points through their first five home contests (2-2-1) in the top flight.
“What it does do is get you looking forward to a game under the lights,” Coady told the club’s official website. “There’s nothing better than a game under the lights, it’s brilliant, especially here at Molineux, because the crowd are electric at the best of times.”
Wolves do not have any injuries of note, while Spurs continue to be without central defender Jan Vertonghen. With Eriksen and Alli playing 83 and 63 minutes, respectively, versus West Ham, Sissoko and Lamela are likely to be restored to Pochettino’s first XI.
This will be the first meeting between the clubs since Wolves were last in the top flight in 2011-12. Tottenham are unbeaten in the last four matchups (2-2-0) and are 4-2-2 against them in the Premier League era. Wolverhampton’s lone win in four tries against the Lilywhites at Molienux was a 1-0 victory in 2010.
Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are clear favourites to return to London with three points, currently getting 13/10 odds, while Wolverhampton are a 2/1 pick to regroup and consolidate their top-half status. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 9/4.
Tottenham are an 11/4 pick to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored, while there are 4/1 odds for both a Spurs win with less than 2.5 goals and a Wolves victory with more than 2.5. There are 16/5 odds on a draw ending in 0-0 or 1-1, and Wolverhampton offer an 11/2 return on a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.
Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the way for the first-goal options at 16/5, with understudy Llorente second at 5/1. Wolves centre forward Raul Jimenez is the top pick for the hosts at 6/1, with Spurs forwards Son and Lucas Moura at 7/1. Leo Bonatini squeezes in between that trio at 13/2, while Lamela offers an 8/1 return to make it 0-1.
Kane is slighty worse than even money to put one past Rui Patricio at 23/20, with Llorente at 15/8 and Jimenez getting 2/1 odds for Wolves. Moura and Son are again paired together, this time with 5/2 odds, while Eriksen and Alli lurk further down the toteboard at 10/3 and 7/2, respectively. Wolverhampton’s trio of Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Ruben Neves all have 3/1 odds to score at Molineux.
Though injuries did force his hand some, this space is still aggravated Pochettino didn’t “go for it” against City and put his more creative playmakers together in a bid to unlock City’s defence. Yes, there are a million different ways Guardiola’s team can beat a side, but there were periods of play when the Lilywhites were the better side and arguably deserved the equaliser Lamela fluffed his lines on, and that makes the Sissoko decision all the more agitating.
Pochettino’s rotation all but insures Sissoko will get another start in this match, though at the next international break, the Argentine will have the opportunity to reset everything in terms of personnel selection and try to climb back into the Premier League race.
While Jota’s injury forces Nuno into that Traore insertion for the second straight match, one has to wonder if Wolverhampton have been found out to a degree offensively in terms of style. Wolves were more unlucky than anything else in losing at Brighton — Glenn Murray’s goal was one that can be attributed to the nous of a 35-yard-old goal-scorer — and they did have seven shots on target.
But with the expectation Wolves will not see much of the ball versus Tottenham — Nuno’s team had 40 percent possession or less in both of their previous matches against “Big Six” sides — scoring chances could be few and far between, and when Spurs get flowing, they can be irresistible.
Wolverhampton have punched above their weight in getting draws against both Manchester sides and have the potential to nick another point in this contest. But Spurs are cagey enough where they can find a way to get space between the middle four and Wolverhampton’s back three, and that could be the difference against a side struggling to put the ball in the back of the net.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1.