In blistering form and now the primary stalkers to table-toppers Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur look for their sixth league win on the bounce Saturday when they host Wolverhampton at Wembley Stadium.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Spurs (15-0-4) have run riot on opponents the last two matches, smashing six past Everton at Goodison Park last weekend and then adding another five at home against Bournemouth on the short turnaround for Boxing Day. Heung-Min Son continued his scintillating form with a brace on either side of halftime while Harry Kane moved into a tie for the league lead with his 12th goal as the Lilywhites overtook Manchester City for second in the table and are six points back of Liverpool.
The 45 points at the halfway mark are the most accumulated by Spurs in the Premier League era, topping the previous standard of 42 in 2011-12. As impressive as Spurs have looked over their last 180 minutes, manager Mauricio Pochettino was quick to manage expectations for his side as they have now become the hunted by pipping the reigning champions for the moment.
“It is going to be tougher than before now,” Pochettino told The Times post-match. “Now you start to show your face and everyone wants to kill you. We must keep humble, working hard.”
Son embodies both of those characteristics as the South Korea international is enjoying the best form of his career with the Lilywhites. He has recorded back-to-back two-goal games and has eight goals in as many league starts. Kane raised his overall goal haul to a team-best 16 this term and has notched 71 in his last 86 league contests dating back to the start 2016-17.
“There’s a buzz around the team at the moment, we’re winning games and everyone is confident,” right back Kyle Walker-Peters told the Spurs’ official website after the 21-year-old became the youngest player in Premier League history to record a three-assist game since Jermaine Pennant accomplished the feat for Leeds United in 2003. “When I step on that pitch I have that confidence as well.”
The quick turnaround once again leaves playmaker Dele Alli’s status in limbo after he was held out due to a knee injury that forced him off at halftime versus Everton. Perhaps with an eye on this match, Pochettino rested Erik Lamela as a potential straight-up swap for Christian Eriksen in the middle of his three across in Spurs’ usual 4-2-3-1 set-up.
While Spurs pour in goals from every angle, Wolves (7-5-7) continue to graft their way to the first goal of a promoted side – safety for a second straight season. Wolverhampton bounced back from their loss to Liverpool with a 1-1 draw at Fulham on Boxing Day, snatching a late point through Roman Saiss’ goal on 85 minutes.
Still, there are some concerns for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side as they again struggled to deal with the second ball from set pieces. That led to Fulham’s goal in the 74th minute, and they were somewhat fortunate to salvage the point after centre back Conor Coady cleared a shot by Cottagers striker Aleksander Mitrovic off the line in stoppage time. Nuno, though, was pleased with his team’s fight in the second half despite failing to produce a clean sheet for the 10th time in 11 league matches.
“We had a lot of the ball and moved the ball around, but Fulham were so organised and there was no space. It was so tight, so compact, which made it difficult,” the manager explained to the club’s official website. “When they scored I really felt it was unfair because we had so much of the ball. Even though we didn’t have clear chances, we were closer to achieving a goal. I think we were rewarded when we scored, but it was tough, a tough game.
“I think it proves, that as the season goes on, these kind of games will be more and more likely because the results mean so much to the teams. The football is not so open and well played.”
Nuno will likely restore Ruben Neves to the starting XI after resting him Wednesday, and it is also likely Ivan Cavaleiro, who helped set up Saiss’ equaliser, will get the start this time in place of an ineffective Adama Traore at left wing in Wolves’ 3-4-1-2 formation.
Another key tactical decision will be whether he again uses Morgan Gibbs-White in a three-quarters role underneath the strikers against a high-quality Spurs side or reverts back to the 3-4-3 he used in the reverse fixture in which Raul Jimenez led the line and was flanked by Cavaleiro and Helder Costa.
Spurs looked to be easy winners at Molineux in November after Kane’s goal on 61 minutes provided a 3-0 advantage, but Juan Foyth – making his Premier League debut in central defence – had a meltdown with two fouls that Neves and Jimenez converted from the spot to draw Wolves within one by the 79th minute.
Tottenham, though, saw the match out to improve to 5-2-2 versus Wolves in the Premier League era. The Lilywhites are 2-1-1 at home against Wolverhampton in Premier League play, and the sides played to a 1-1 draw in 2012 in the last top-flight meeting in London.
Per Bet365, Spurs are 2/5 favourites to continue their roll and pick up another three points. Wolverhampton are 17/2 underdogs to pull off a shock upset and consolidate their top-half status, and there are 19/5 odds on the sides splitting the points.
Tottenham’s form has made the over pick for the 2.5 goals threshold a more likely outcome with 8/11 odds compared to 11/10 to finish with two or fewer goals. Oddsmakers do not seem all that convinced Wolves will find a goal at Wembley, however, with 4/5 odds on a clean sheet being posted compared to 19/20 for both teams scoring.
Kane leads the line for first goal-scorers at 9/4, with the in-form Son third at 5/1 behind Fernando Llorente (4/1). Moura is 11/2, while Alli rounds out the top five at 13/2 despite the possibility he will start this match on the bench. Eriksen and Lamela both have 7/1 odds, and Mexico international Jimenez is Wolves’ top option at 10/1.
Kane has 8/13 odds to put one in the back of the net over the course of 90 minutes, with Llorente (6/5) and Son (6/4) close to even money. Moura is also a strong selection at 13/8, with Alli at 2/1 and Lamela and Eriksen together again — this time at 21/10. Jimenez is a 3/1 selection for Wolves, with Leo Bonatini at 7/2 while Cavaleiro and Costa are 9/2 options.
If Nuno is true to his word and will not change his style, then there is evey reason to believe the only three changes he will make is across his midfield to restore Neves for Saiss and Costa for Moutinho while ending the Traore experiment and putting Cavaleiro up front on the right.
That also means keeping Gibbs-White as a pivot in the midfield, which could prove beneficial against what could be a young Spurs pairing in defensive midfield with Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp.
All that noise, however, will matter little if Wolves’ back three of Boly, Coady and Bennett cannot find a way to deal with a rampant Spurs side that has two players in dynamite form in Kane and Son. Tottenham actually had to make an adjustment in the reverse fixture after Mousa Dembele was forced off after just seven minutes due to injury. Son entered the game, assisted on a goal by Lamela on 27 minutes, and then Spurs added a second through Moura on the half-hour and should have cruised were it not for Foyth’s youthful indiscretions in the second 45.
The Lilywhites are simply too irresistible to believe in any other outcome other than a win for the hosts, though Wolves have acquitted themselves well against the Big Six all season. Nuno’s team also showed plenty of fight in making a match of the reverse fixture, but this is a contest that could pay dividends in March and April when Wolves are securing their top-flight status for next season and Gibbs-White is pulling the strings with more confidence in that three-quarters role.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Wolverhampton 0.