For all of the drama that surrounds Tottenham Hotspur off the pitch, each week the players remind the world there is plenty of quality on it.
Refusing to concede the Premier League title to Liverpool and Manchester City as a two-team race, the Spurs look to continue their goal-scoring rampage on Boxing Day at Wembley against Bournemouth.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
The build-up to Sunday’s match at Everton largely centered around the speculation Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has been targeted as the next manager for Manchester United or potentially Real Madrid, price tag be damned.
As Tottenham (14-0-4) continue to put the finishing touches on the renovations for White Hart Lane with the hopes of a long-overdue opening in February, the rumours surrounding the Argentine were the latest way the oxygen got sucked out of the room regarding off-field goings-on.
Those distractions looked like they had taken hold at Goodison Park after Spurs conceded the opening goal on 21 minutes. That, however, appeared to snap the club to attention as the Lilywhites countered with a ferocious fightback the remainder of the half as Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli and Harry Kane all scored.
Spurs smashed home another three in the final 45 minutes as Son and Kane completed their braces after a goal by Erik Lamela. By the time the dust had settled, Pochettino’s team rolled up a 6-2 victory that kept them six points behind table-topping Liverpool and drew them within two of reigning champions Manchester City.
“Now we are close but we need to be cautious, go step-by-step, game-by-game. We need to be conscious about that, we need to fight a lot, and … be consistent,” Pochettino told the BBC post-match. “Being involved in four competitions will be tough but are going to try.”
It also marked the first time since 1985-86 there are three top-flight teams with more than 40 points at Christmas as Tottenham have won four on the bounce in league play and are unbeaten in six overall (5-1-0).
While Kane, who has a team-high 15 goals in all competitions, is the driving force of Tottenham along with Alli and Christian Eriksen, it has been the unheralded play of Son that gives Spurs the look of viable title contenders.
The South Korea international has six goals and two assists in his last nine matches in all competitions, and the Spurs are hoping to ride that lightning in a bottle through the holiday fixtures and into mid-January before he leaves for international duty.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kane told the club’s official website after noticing even the Everton supporters appreciated his efforts with applause when he was substituted on 79 minutes. “That doesn’t happen a lot, especially in England. We all know how good Sonny is, he scored another two goals today and assisted me as well, which was nice!
“He was brilliant and a nuisance for them the whole game. Hopefully we’ll continue, Sonny keeps doing what he’s doing and we’ll be in good shape.”
Alli is a question mark for this contest after being subbed off at halftime with a hamstring injury. Pochettino could give Moussa Sissoko a rest for this match, with Oliver Skipp the most likely replacement candidate. Juan Foyth could also be in line for a start as part of the rotations in central defence, while wide backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker-Peters are also available.
Bournemouth (8-2-8) are seeking back-to-back league victories for the first time since early October after David Brooks’ brace powered them to a 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. The summer signing from Sheffield United struck in each half for the Cherries, who stopped a three-match skid and won for just the second time in eight contests (2-0-6).
“They were two great goals from David. They were totally different from each other but he showed his quality in both moments,” manager Eddie Howe told the club’s official website. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised with his progress. We knew we were getting a very technical, intelligent player, but perhaps we didn’t know how good he was going to be for the team.
“He buys into the team ethic and the defensive component of the game. The tactical understanding of how we play, he has grasped very quickly so full credit to him for that.”
Like most clubs with designs on a top-half finish and an eye on European play, Bournemouth have been a flat-track bully who struggle against the perennials. The Cherries have lost all five of their previous games against the Big Six, getting outscored 13-3, and were thumped 4-0 at home by Liverpool in the last such encounter earlier this month.
Howe also got drafted into the Pochettino story as many consider the 41-year-old Spurs chairman Daniel Levy’s first option if Pochettino does in fact move on to a bigger club. For his part, Howe downplayed any interest in the job at his Monday press conference, saying, “Tottenham have an outstanding manager who is doing an unbelievable job. I do not pay it any attention whatsoever. It has got absolutely no relevance to me.
“I always manage like I’m going to be here for the next 100 years. It is absolutely foolish of me to think of anything other than this club. I am absolutely committed 100 percent to every minute here.”
Howe is likely to restore attacking midfielder Ryan Fraser to the starting XI after a niggling calf injury restricted him to a reserve role in the last two matches. The Scotland international is second to Chelsea’s Eden Hazard with nine assists.
Spurs are unbeaten in six Premier League matches versus Bournemouth (5-1-0) and swept all three at home without conceding. Eriksen’s goal on 47 minutes separated the sides in last season’s corresponding fixture, and the Lilywhites have rung up 17 goals in the six contests with only two in reply by the Cherries.
Per Bet365, Spurs are healthy 4/11 favourites to make it five on the bounce in league play while Bournemouth are 8/1 longshots to record their first Premier League road win over Tottenham. The odds of the clubs splitting the points are 9/2.
Given how both teams like to push on the front foot offensively, oddsmakers are accordingly pegging the match for more than 2.5 goals with 1/2 odds to clear that bar compared to 13/8 odds to finish from 0-2 goals. The odds of both teams to score are 7/10 compared to 21/20 for at least one clean sheet.
Kane is a 9/4 pick for first-goal honours, leading a list of eight Lilywhite players ahead of top Bournemouth pick Callum Wilson at 9/1. Son is third at 5/1 behind Fernando Llorente (4/1), while Lucas Moura (11/2) and Alli (6/1) round out the top five choices.
The blistering form of the Three Lions’ talisman has made him a 1/2 pick to score during the 90 minutes, with Llorente a 20/21 selection, with Son just off even money at 5/4. Moura and Alli are also strong options at 11/8 and 6/4, respectively, while the playmakers Lamela and Eriksen are tied together at 15/8. For the Cherries, Wilson leads the picks at 12/5, with Jermain Defoe (11/4) and Joshua King (3/1) completing their top three options.
Though Alli is a question mark for this match, Pochettino can seamlessly insert Lamela into the starting XI for this match, though it seems more likely the Argentine will revert back to his customary 4-2-3-1 formation for this contest. That is because Bournemouth have more pace through the midfield compared to the two sides Pochettino has utilised the diamond formation against in Chelsea and Everton.
Kane has been in stunningly brilliant form and working in tandem with Son with a ruthlessness seen in few spots in the league this term. How Pochettino rotates his back six will be something to watch for this match, with Tripper a possible candidate to be swapped out for Walker-Peters and the introduction of potentially both Foyth and Skipp as Sissoko appears most likely ready to at least be among the reserves if not dropped entirely to get a one-match break.
Bournemouth continue to be a difficult side to figure out. They have done a significant amount of damage against their peers, accumulating all 26 of their points against the “Other 14” compared to the Big Six, but the Cherries have yet to truly stand up and be counted against the big boys save their scintillating first half-hour against Manchester United and strong first 45 minutes at Manchester City
But even those results gave way to eventual losses, and if Bournemouth are going to vie for those European spots, these are the matches where they have to turn zero points into one. The only problem is right now, Spurs look to be too irresistible to have a slip-up at home and now have too much at stake to have a letdown.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Bournemouth 1.