2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

Their ticket to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year punched in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tottenham Hotspur try to come down off their high and stay in the thick of the Premier League race as their hectic December fixture list continues Saturday at Wembley versus Burnley.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

It could very well go down as the greatest draw in Spurs history, regardless of the strength of the Barcelona side they faced Tuesday at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s team – and specifically untested right back Kyle Walker-Peters – shook off a seventh-minute goal by Barca’s Ousmane Dembele to scrape out a gritty 1-1 draw courtesy of Lucas Moura’s goal three minutes from time.

The result, coupled with Inter Milan surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, allowed the Lilywhites passage to the Champions League round of 16 as Group B runners-up.

For the moment, no one is worried about potential opponents Juventus, Bayern Munich or even reigning three-times champions Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s draw for their February fate after the staggering amount of energy Spurs expended to claim seven points from their final three group play matches to simply be included.

“It’s a massive achievement for the Club,” Pochettino said post-match. “It’s so important to be in the next stage of the Champions League. It’s a massive boost for everyone. Now we keep going. We were a little unlucky in how we conceded the first goal after seven minutes and that changed our strategy a little and we started to play in two different stadiums – here at the Nou Camp and in Milan.

“In the second half we found a way to link play better in our possession and started to create chances. We deserved to go through. We’ve made the impossible, possible and it’s important to show everyone if you believe, everything in football is possible. That emotion is so important and we need to protect that and use it in the right way, trying to push with everyone involved and the belief that we can improve and do better.”

To say Spurs left it late in their five-week scramble would be a huge understatement since both match-winners versus PSV and Inter and Moura’s equaliser Tuesday came on 80 minutes or later. For Moura, his seventh goal this term in all competitions was also a personal redemption after the nightmare he endured at the Nou Camp in his last visit with PSG in March 2017 when Barcelona stunned the French side with three goals after the 88th minute to advance with a 6-5 aggregate win in the round of 16.

“It was a very important goal and I’m so happy to score here in the Nou Camp in the Champions League and help my team-mates to qualify,” the Brasil international told Spurs’ official website. “It was an amazing moment. The last time here was really sad for me and this is really different.

“In the second half we did very well. We had many chances to score. We could win. It was a deserved result. … It was a very happy night for me, an amazing moment.”

Now, though, it is time for Spurs (12-0-4) to turn their attention back to domestic play. Thanks to derby rivals Chelsea, who knocked off previously unbeaten and reigning champions Manchester City last weekend, Pochettino’s side is just six points back of new leaders Liverpool and part of a three-time race.

“To qualify for the next stage of the Champions League is an amazing thing for the club, it means a lot for the fans and the players,” Pochettino said. “But now we are thinking about Burnley, a tough game on Saturday, and we need to create an amazing atmosphere at Wembley because it’s an important three points.

“We need to be ready because the competition doesn’t wait for you, it doesn’t stop, and it’s so important to be in our best condition to compete. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation. If we want to be consistent, it’s a game where we need to give our best and compete in our best way.”

Pochettino will likely again lean on the 21-year-old Walker-Peters since first-choice right back Kieran Trippier is still sidelined with a groin injury and understudy Serge Aurier just returned to training after suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s win over Leicester City. It would also not be surprising to see Moura and Erik Lamela in the starting XI given the amount of energy Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen expended at the Nou Camp.

Burnley (3-3-10) moved above the drop last weekend with a crucial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion that ended a three-match losing streak and eight-match winless spell (0-2-6) overall.

Jack Tarkowski was able to re-direct Jack Cork’s 40th-minute cross for the lone goal, and the Clarets’ defence that had gone missing for so long this term finally showed its teeth as it followed up the solid effort in their 3-1 loss to Liverpool with their first clean sheet at home since routing Bournemouth 4-0 on Sept. 22.

“We know there is a strength to the unity of the side and recently we haven’t got over the line in games where we could have done,” Clarets boss Sean Dyche said post-match. “Others have rightly gone against us because we haven’t performed. But slowly and surely we are remodelling our game and in three of the last four we’ve looked more like ourselves.”

Dyche has some injury concerns to deal with as attacking midfielder Steven Defour and right wing Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be late decisions due to calf and hamstring injuries, respectively. Aaron Lennon would likely replace Gudmundsson on the flank while Dyche has multiple options for Defour, including dropping Ashley Barnes into the playmaking role and pairing together strikers Chris Wood and Sam Vokes.

Having finally ended their winless run, Dyche feels a weight has been lifted off his side and will be able to play freely at Wembley.

“We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes,” he noted to Sky Sports. “Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result. “It changes when you go to places like Tottenham. That gives us just that little bit of freedom to take the game on and hopefully deliver a very good performance, because we will need it.”

The Clarets nicked a point off Spurs in their trip to Wembley last term, with Wood’s 92nd minute canceling out a goal by Dele Alli just before the hour. Burnley are winless in eight (0-3-5) in all competitions versus Spurs since their long Premier League win in eight tries (1-2-5) – a 4-2 victory at Turf Moor in 2010.

Kane had a hat trick in the most recent meeting, a 3-0 win for Spurs on Dec. 23.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are whopping 2/11 favourites to avoid a letdown and claim all three points, while Burnley are 18/1 underdogs to post back-to-back wins. The odds of the teams splitting the points are a somewhat 7/1 longshot.

Even with Burnley’s improved defensive play the last two matches, oddsmakers are confident the Lilywhites have the class to carry most, if not all, of the 2.5 goal threshold. The odds are 4/9 of clearing that mark compared to 7/4 for staying under that amount. There are also 4/6 odds of there being at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds both teams put up at least a “1” on the Wembley scoreboard.

Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 2/1, comfortably ahead of understudy Llorente (7/2). Son and Moura are both 4/1 options, followed by Dele Alli (5/1), Lamela (11/2) and Eriksen (6/1). There are another three Lilywhites before finding the first Burnley player as Wood, Barnes and Matej Vydra are all 14/1 picks to make it 0-1.

Kane is a staggering 2/5 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Llorente is also better than even money at 4/5. Son and Moura are also in that group at 10/11, while Alli is just off that standard at 6/5. The playmakers Lamela (13/10) and Eriksen (6/4) are also strong options. For the Clarets, Barnes, Wood, and Vydra are 15/4 options, and Sam Vokes is another tick back at 9/2.

PREDICTION

I get the desire to want this to be a competitive match. Burnley look to have finally turned a corner in terms of getting a disappointing season to kick on, and Spurs expended a staggering amount of energy and fight to get that point at Barcelona and are not 100 percent on the back line and so on and so forth.

Sometimes, though, a good offence is a better defence, and that is the case for the Lilywhites. Burnley will be disciplined and will be difficult to break down their two banks of four, but what they are not going to have is a noticeable amount of possession with the ball.

Dyche can claim his side will be adventurous in this match, but that is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” claim for the Clarets, especially if their most creative player (Defour) and best crosser (Gudmundsson) are struggling to be match fit.

For all the hue and cry of Spurs not signing anyone this past summer (note: this space was among those skeptical), the 25 players Pochettino has on his roster are all players who can contribute. Moura and Son are interchangeable, as are Lamela and Eriksen, and there is little drop-off to the expected starting pair in this match at the Premier League level. And having Alli in support in the middle makes them better.

There may be some concern in rebuilding Walker-Peters’ confidence after that man vs. boy goal by Dembele at the Nou Camp, but that is a concern for another day since he must play given the injuries to Trippier and Aurier. The 21-year-old will play until one or both of them are healthy, and will be an important piece of the holiday fixtures.

It will likely take a half for Tottenham to run through their gears, but as long as they maintain possession of the ball, there will be little for Burnley to do but harass and try to hit on the counter. And that will lead to a lack of opportunities that will allow Spurs to stay in the title hunt.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

2018-19 Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)

(y-denotes clinched first in Group B)

It is not “Mission: Impossible” but still a daunting challenge for Tottenham Hotspur at the Nou Camp nevertheless: Spurs must at least match the result of fellow Group B side Inter Milan on Tuesday against Barcelona to reach the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Inter are hosting last-place PSV Eindhoven in the other Group B match which is going on simultaneously. The Lilywhites have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament, throwing away points from winning positions at both the San Siro and Philips Stadion in their other two road matches before scrambling to give themselves a chance to advance with wins over both the Italian and Dutch sides.

Tottenham Hotspur, though, will face long odds in trying to deal the Blaugrana their first Champions League defeat at the Nou Camp since Bayern Munich stormed to a 3-0 victory in the second leg of their 2013 semifinal.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at home since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 in those games and not conceding more than once in any of them. The current La Liga leaders have a chance to match the longest Champions League home unbeaten run set by Bayern at 29 games from 1998-2002.

“This is special because it’s special for Tottenham and it’s special for us to have the chance to go to the next stage of the Champions League – and that’s with all the respect to Barcelona,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said at his Monday news conference, himself no stranger to Barcelona derbies from his days as a player and manager with Espanyol.

“We are focused on trying to prepare for the game in the best way. After the victory against Leicester I think it’s important in a decisive game to have confidence and a belief we can win. Of course, in front of us, we are going to have one of the best teams in the world and it’s going to be tough, but the most important thing is to be focused and concentrate on trying to play in our best way and trying to win.

“Without belief in football, it is too difficult to win,” Pochettino added. “I think it’s so important to arrive at that moment with the belief and the faith that we can perform in the best way. After that, we will see what happens in the game because you need some luck and some good things to happen for you but we are confident that we can do a good job.”

The big news for Spurs will be the likely insertion of third-choice Kyle Walker-Peters at right back since both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier did not make the trip due to injuries. Walker-Peters got a late runout Saturday in Tottenham’s 2-0 win at Leicester City, and the 21-year-old has the complete confidence of manager Mauricio Pochettino heading into this crunch encounter.

“His quality is unbelievable. Younger players always need trust and one day to be given a chance to play and to play here at a difficult place like the Nou Camp will make him stronger. We don’t have a doubt that he can perform,” Pochettino said at Monday’s news conference. “I’m so happy because from the beginning of the season we have three excellent players in that position, three players with different qualities. Kyle has the quality to play.

“He needs to feel free. He’s a very relaxed player and person and the most important thing is that we believe in him, we trust in him and whatever happens he will be a massive success at this Club.”

Walker-Peters is part of a back line who have been severely challenged throughout the season due to injuries as only Toby Alderweireld has emerged unscathed coming off the World Cup summer. Left back Danny Rose and fellow centre backs Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez have all missed time due to injury, with Sanchez still sidelined. A potential centre back replacement, Juan Foyth, is not eligible for this match since he was not on Tottenham’s 25-man roster for group play but is also injured at the moment.

Up front, however, there was good news as playmaking midfielder Erik Lamela was cleared to play and should see his first action since suffering a thigh bruise in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28. Pochettino must choose between Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son among his attacking options alongside striker Harry Kane.

Kane leads the Lilywhites with 13 goals in all competitons, and both he and Son have bagged three in their last five matches in all competitions. Kane also has potted seven goals in his last seven Champions League away matches.

Eriksen has a goal and three assists in that stretch and Alli two goals and two assists as Spurs have racked up 11 goals in those five contests while winning four.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at the Nou Camp in Champions League play since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 during this unbeaten run and have not conceded more than once in any of those contests. There have been five wins over Premier League teams in that stretch, including three over Manchester City.

The Blaugrana have won back-to-back matches and waxed Pochettino’s Espanyol side 4-0 on Saturday as Lionel Messi had a brace on either side of halftime via a pair of jaw-dropping free kicks. Messi also set up a goal by Ousmane Dembele, who set up a goal by Luis Suarez that gave Barca a 3-0 lead right before halftime.

Ernesto Valverde’s team have nothing to play for in this match — Barcelona will finish atop their Champions League group for the 12th consecutive year and the lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at the San Siro versus Inter. Valverde has already decided to hold out Suarez for this match, while it is possible Messi could also be a spectator for the Catalans.

That could prove largely beneficial for Spurs as Messi has tormented English sides with 22 goals and six assists in 29 career Champions League matches. His 22 Champions League goals are the most of any player against English clubs, far outpacing runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo (12).

“There are players with discomfort and it does not fit into my plans, of course, to play then in two games in three days,” Valverde said ahead of the Nou Camp clash when asked about player availability and maintaining the integrity of the match with nothing at stake.

“Inter has nothing to fear. If they had drawn or won, they would have no problem. We have to look after ourselves. We will go out to win but we respect the competition and we want to win.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are still fairly confident in Barca being able to win without at least Suarez and potentially Messi as well, entering this contest as 19/20 favourites. Spurs are 5/2 underdogs to get a victory that could potentially propel them to the knockout round, and there are 10/3 odds on the sides splitting the points.

After the ragged six-goal match between the sides at Wembley on Match Day 2, it is also not surprising their are 1/2 odds for the clubs to clear 2.5 goals compared to the 13/8 odds to finish below it. There are similar 1/2 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while 6/4 odds exist for at least one clean sheet.

With Messi still at least a possibility to play, he leads the toteboard for first goal-scorers at 11/4 with plenty of daylight between him and Kane at 4/1. Dembele is an 11/2 selection as the third-most likely option, while one-time Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has 6/1 odds. Barca’s El Haddadi Munir rounds out the top five options at 13/2 just ahead of a whole slew of Spurs to make it 0-1 — Fernando Llorente (7/1), Son and Moura (15/2), Alli and Lamela (10/1) and Eriksen (11/1).

Messi is an 8/13 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Kane is even money to do likewise. Dembele again edges out Coutinho for third at 7/5 compared to 8/5 for the Brasil international, with Munir (7/4) and Llorente (15/8) completing the group at better than 2/1 odds. Son and Moura start that group, followed by Alli and Lamela at 11/4 and Eriksen at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Let’s be blunt about this for a second: Spurs are going to have to win this match because the odds of PSV getting a victory at the San Siro are far longer at 17/2 than the Lilywhites at that more modest 5/2 offering. That said, Tottenham are going to have to withstand the first half-hour of this match — no small challenge since Barcelona were two up in the reverse fixture before 30 minutes had passed at Wembley.

That means the spotlight will shine brightest on Walker-Peters, who has not played a minute of the previous five group contests. His under-20 turn with England aside, Walker-Peters’ lone match action for Spurs before Saturday’s late runout came in their Carabao Cup win over West Ham United on Halloween.

While he may miss out on Suarez, Coutinho will undoubtedly be someone to mark, and that does not even account for the interplay between the Brasilian and Messi, who would likely move into the false No. 9 role without Suarez into the middle of Barca’s three-man front. Messi has accounted for six of Barcelona’s 13 goals in Champions League play, but no one else on the La Liga side has more than one.

Tottenham have shown plenty of fight in getting to this point, and they also showed plenty of it in that loss to Barcelona at Wembley, twice drawing within one goal before a 90th-minute marker from Messi sealed that victory. But a victory at the Nou Camp by any English club is rare — the lone one in 30 matches since the start of the 1976-77 season was a 2-1 win by Liverpool in 2007.

There will be plenty of heart for Tottenham to display, but the fact Pochettino’s side have to play an open match to equal Inter’s result means Barcelona will have many opportunities themselves, and the Catalan side are too ruthless to not take advantage.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Barcelona 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)

Easily shaking off their north London derby loss, Tottenham Hotspur seek back-to-back wins as they face Leicester City on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

The Spurs (11-0-4), though, must also resist the temptation to peek beyond this match to their crunch Champions League encounter at Barcelona midweek. Tottenham must at least match the result of Inter Milan, who host group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, for a second consecutive appearance in the knockout round.

But first things first, and that means building on a 3-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday in which the Lilywhites barely had to get beyond second gear. Harry Kane scored his 13th goal in all competitions and assisted on Heung-Min Son’s marker on 55 minutes that lifted Spurs to third in the table on 33 points, two better than London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

It was also Son’s 100th goal in European competitions in a career that included stops at Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen before joining Spurs in 2015, and all four of his goals this term have come in Tottenham’s last eight matches in all competitions after helping South Korea beat Japan in the Asian Games final.

“We are so happy in the way he has started to perform in the last few games, after the international break,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said post-match about Son. “It’s difficult to guess because he’s still so young, a great character, he’s so professional and he’s enjoys playing football a lot, but enjoys training the same in the same level.

“If you want to go further as a player you must love your job. You must love training and spending time with your team-mates on the training ground. If you are capable of that and feel like he feels, it’s possible to do everything.”

All told, Pochettino made five changes to his starting XI from the north London derby, including three at the back. In all likelihood, Juan Foyth will retain his centre back spot for this contest since he is not on the Champions League roster, while Toby Alderweireld may be given a rest in this contest.

Fellow central defender Jan Vertonghen still needs more match fitness after missing 10 matches with a hamstring injury before returning last week and then served a one-match ban Wednesday after his two yellow cards versus Arsenal. Kieran Trippier may also sit this one out as Pochettino is still annoyed at the groin injury he believes the right back picked up due to overuse by England.

“I think it’s the same problem, the same problem that started in the World Cup. If you remember the semi-final against Croatia, when he left the pitch,” Pochettino said. “Then I think to play after three days against Belgium, I think maybe it affected a little bit. Now he’s suffering in that situation. In situations like today when the pitch is not in a good condition, this area, the groin, suffers more when the pitch is different.

“It’s a thing that we need to care a lot for him, protect him, he needs to work a lot to protect and sort that problem.”

Pochettino will also have to ponder resting Kane, who is in both a purple patch in terms of scoring and an absolute terror to Leicester City. The Three Lions talisman has six goals in his last seven matches in all competitions and 11 in seven career matchups with Leicester City. Kane had a brace and the winner in the most recent matchup, a wild 5-4 Spurs win to cap last season, and had a four-goal effort at King Power to cap the 2016-17 term.

Dele Alli will likely be restored to the starting XI for this contest, though fellow attacking midfielder Erik Lamela could be held out of a third straight match due to a thigh injury suffered in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28.

Leicester City (6-4-5) are unbeaten in their last six in league play (2-4-0) after playing Fulham and former manager Claudio Ranieri to a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage on Wednesday. James Maddison scored the equaliser on 74 minutes, with substitute Shinjo Okazaki providing the assist two minutes after his insertion by Claude Puel.

“I think in the first half we missed a lot of chances and they scored,” midfielder Vicente Iborra told Leicester City’s official website. “In the first half we tried to combat the game, we had a lot of chances and at the end we could’ve scored, but I think the point is fair.”

The draw left the Foxes ninth in the table on 22 points, but they are also just one back of sixth-place Everton. Leicester have not conceded at home in 330 minutes in all competitions dating to Fabian Balbuena’s 30th-minute goal for West Ham in a 1-1 draw Oct. 27.

Puel has injury concerns to his two best players as centre back Harry Maguire only returned to training this week following a lower-body injury and is uncertain to feature in this match, but Jamie Vardy has been definitely ruled out of thie contest. The striker picked up a groin injury in training ahead of Wednesday’s match, and Puel hinted surgery could be an option for Vardy – Leicester’s joint-top scorer with Maddison with five goals in league play.

Vardy was as much a thorn in Tottenham’s side as Kane was to the Foxes last term, scoring in both matches and bagging the winner in Leicester’s 2-1 victory at King Power. That ended a five-match unbeaten run (4-1-0) in the Midlands for the Lilywhites, who are 5-3-2 in their last 10 league meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are even-money favourites to claim all three points from the Midlands, and a draw at 11/4 rates slightly above Leicester City pulling off a surprise victory at 14/5. There are 4/5 odds for the teams to combine for more than 2.5 goals, and it is even money to stay under that threshold.

Even with the likely absence of Vardy, oddsmakers rate Leicester’s offense, as there are 4/6 odds for both teams to score compared to 11/10 for at least one clean sheet.

As would be expected given his prolific track record versus the Foxes, Kane leads the way for first-goal scoring honours at 3/1, while his understudy Fernando Llorente is second at 5/1. Vardy has 11/2 odds along with Lucas Moura, while Son is a step back at 13/2 and Lamela at 15/2. Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho is an 8/1 pick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Maddison and Demarai Gray both 9/1.

Kane is a 5/6 pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Llorente a 6/4 selection. Vardy and Moura are again paired together, this time at 13/8, while Son is 2/1. Lamela checks in at 12/5, Iheanacho is 5/2, and both Eriksen and Alli are 11/4 picks to put one past Schmeichel.

PREDICTION

This is a tough ask for Leicester, even if Maguire does find his way into the starting XI for the first time since Nov. 3. Kane has been an unholy menace to the Midlands side, and even with Maguire back, he will be a handful for Leicester’s central defence.

But this match does put Pochettino in a tough spot considering he will need all hands on deck for Tuesday at the Nou Camp. In an ideal world, Kane buries a brace in the first hour of the match and Pochettino pulls him for the final quarter-hour with the match done and dusted. It also would not be surprising to see Lamela get a late runout for Eriksen just to make sure he could be available to face Barcelona.

Pochettino has almost every player available for Saturday and Tuesday, but it also comes down to man management for the Argentine. Each of the three substitutions are going to be scruitinised, and the primary goal beyond the three points is to get out of this match with no injuries, no knocks and able to choose the best 25 players.

Spurs have almost always taken care of business before a Champions League match — they are 4-0-1 in the league contests ahead of such a contest, and the lone loss came to Liverpool. It will require some graft, but for all the talk about the lack of Tottenham’s squad depth throughout the season after a dormant summer, this will be the match where it will make a difference.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 14 Preview — Arsenal (7-3-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (10-0-3)

Sunday’s north London derby at the Emirates features two in-form sides of varying degrees in hosts Arsenal and guests Tottenham Hotspur. But the first north London derby without Arsene Wenger since 1996 is expected to offer another clue for just how far the Gunners have come under first-year manager Unai Emery.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (8-3-2) are unbeaten in their last 18 matches (14-4-0) across all competitions since Emery’s tenure began with losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. Faced with a logistical nightmare for Thursday’s Europa League tie at Vorskla Poltava in which the match was moved for Vorskala to Kiev 48 hours before kickoff coupled with a crunch derby match on a short turnaround, Emery opted for a younger squad with fringe players while leaving his regulars behind.

His faith in those players was rewarded with a 3-0 victory that left the Gunners needing only a draw at home versus Qarabag in their group finale to claim Group E honours and seeding for the knockout round. Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock had first-half goals on either side of Aaron Ramsey’s penalty on 27 minutes.

Of the three goal-scorers, only Ramsey stands any chance of playing for Arsenal in this contest. As much as Emery is trying to prepare for the derby as just another match, he knows it is impossible to avoid the scrutiny and increased attention that comes with facing Tottenham (10-0-3).

“Each match for me is very special,” said Emery, who is friends with Spurs counterpart Mauricio Pochettino. “The derby is perhaps more special because my responsibility is bigger because of every supporter. Also we need three points in the league because we want to be closer to the other teams, like Tottenham, and we have this challenge.”

It’s a different match on Sunday against Tottenham, but the derby for every supporter is different. For us it’s the same but also with a cool head and our thinking on three points. In the last matches we drew and also Tottenham have a three point lead over us, and we will do a lot of things to prepare for a difficult game and a tough match, but we need to deliver the best performance to win.”

The main talking point around Emery’s lineup selection has been Mesut Ozil. The former Germany international was a surprise omission from the first XI and did not play in last weekend’s 2-1 victory at Bournemouth, with the manager not liking the matchup against the physical Cherries defence for Ozil.

Considering how Wenger all but wrote Ozil’s name in lineup in pen for every match, the pragmatic approach Emery took caught most by off-guard, and he is not tipping his hand whether the playmaker will make his return in this contest.

“I don’t know because tomorrow is the last training, but every player is very important with their qualities,” Emery demurred when asked. “We need to continue preparing and continue improving in our work and as a team with bigger performances and individual quality. I will prepare for the match with every player.”

Tottenham’s unbeaten run pales in length when compared to Arsenal’s current stretch, but the Lilywhites have been impressive all the same with six wins on the bounce in all competitions while remaining within touching distance of leaders Manchester City.

The chance at a second derby victory in a span of eight days around a Champions League triumph that gave them a fighting chance to reach the knockout round for a second straight year has sent Spurs supporters’ spirits soaring as the quality of a side that provided a good portion of England’s World Cup squad has shined in part due to Pochettino’s deft tactics and man management.

Start with last weekend’s 3-1 romp at Wembley over Chelsea in which Pochettino flummoxed counterpart Maurizio Sarru by playing a diamond midfield with Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane on the wings. The formation forced Chelsea midfielder Jorginho to stay deeper than normal in his midfield role, and when one of his midfielders pushed forward, there would be pockets of space to pour into. Kane and Dele Alli – the forward tip of the diamond – scored in the first 16 minutes before Son blazed by Jorginho and added a third after the restart.

The momentum continued with Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Inter Milan that gave the Lilywhites a chance to reach the round of 16. Granted, having what is essentially a must-win match at the Nou Camp versus already-qualified Barcelona is less than ideal, but after taking one point from their first three matches, Spurs are taking the fight to teams – epitomized by Christian Eriksen’s winner seven minutes from time.

“The mentality so far is good, now it’s about delivering the job,” Pochettino said at his Friday news conference. “We have the belief and that is the most important thing in football and the faith that you can beat any team away from home.

“It’s a special game, it’s tough to play this sort of game, it means more. We know that it means to our fans this game. The players feel that and are aware what it means. We have a lot of players that have arrived to the first team from the academy and they know what it means.”

Pochettino does have some selection decisions to make, most notably along his back four. Centre back Jan Vertonghen made his return in a pressure cooker of a situation after a 10-game absence due to a hamstring injury. With Juan Foyth available after not being on the initial Champions League roster, it is possible Pochettino will turn to the young Argentina international and not tax the veteran Belgian further this week.

Right back Kieran Trippier may be available after missing the last two games due to a groin injury, and left back Danny Rose could be in line for his first appearance in 10 showings after making the bench midweek. Ben Davies, though, has made the most of his playing time since Rose got hurt and could get one more start.

Up front, Erik Lamela will be a match-time decision due to a thigh injury, but Pochettino has plenty of options there as he can start Eriksen – who came off the bench on 70 minutes versus Inter – as well as Son or Lucas Moura.

The Lilywhites have a miserable record at both Highbury and the Emirates in the Premier League era with just two wins in 27 overall matches (2-10-15). The lone victory in the last 26 was a 3-2 triumph in 2010 after fighting back from two down. Arsenal are 5-3-0 in the last eight at the Emirates and posted a 2-0 victory last term as Shkodran Mustafi and the since-departed Alexis Sanchez scored five minutes apart late in the first half.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are narrow favourites to extend their unbeaten run at 13/8, while Tottenham are a 7/4 selection to win the match and keep the heat on Liverpool for second. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting a back-and-forth affair with 4/7 odds of there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 11/8 odds on a total under that threshold. There are 4/9 odds neither keeper will post a clean sheet compared to a 13/8 return for a shutout on either or potentially both sides.

Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are joint-leaders for the first goal-scorer options at 10/3, with Arsenal’s Alexander Lacazette at 5/1 edging out Spurs’ Fernando Llorente (6/1) for the third spot. A mix of players — Nketiah, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Moura — are all 13/2 while Son lurks just behind the trio at 15/2.

For any-time scorers, Kane and Aubameyang are better than even money to find the back of the net at 4/5 odds, while Lacazette is again third, this time with a 13/10 return. Of the more intriguing options in a match that figures to be a back-and-forth affair, Son is 2/1 while Alli and Eriksen are both 11/4 picks for the Lilywhites. Moura and Mkhitaryan are 7/4 picks while Ozil is a 3/1 option for the Gunners.

PREDICTION

Compared to the feeling like the world will end at Merseyside if there is a loser between Liverpool and Everton, the north London derby rages white hot because of the expectation both teams are going to put on a show. Arsenal laid down an important marker in their draw against Liverpool when Emery went all out and got a deserved equaliser through Lacazette, that they will no longer curl into the fetal position when adversity arrives.

The change in culture and accountability Emery has instilled in less than a year on the job is nothing short of remarkable, and it is now starting to dawn on Manchester United and the other hopefuls for a top-five spot just how hard it is going to be to dislodge Arsenal from that spot or potentially higher in the table depending on how they survive the holiday fixture list and then evolve from that point forward.

Then there are Spurs, who come into this match with a full tailwind and esprit de corps in a bid to cap what would be a truly glorious eight days around the construction cones of White Hart Lane. Tottenham are fully deserving of the plaudits given to them, first last weekend with their pillar-to-post thrashing of Chelsea and then mid-week with their relentlessness to see off Inter late.

While there are some injury concerns for this match — will Lamela play, is Trippier healthy, does Pochettino trust Vertonghen’s hamstring to survive two high-impact matches four days apart — Spurs are all they got right now, and they are making it more than enough. For this derby, though, this is where Kane must be the bogeyman of the Emirates like he is for the Gunners at White Hart Lane.

Note: This has not been due to a lack of effort or results since has has seven goals in eight lifetime matches versus Arsenal. It’s just his two match-winners have come at home, and there would be nothing more fitting than to see Tottenham see out these eight days with their talisman putting the finishing touch on a slumpbuster.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 2, Tottenham 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 14 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (11-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (6-2-5)
Southampton (1-5-7) vs. Manchester United (6-3-4)
Chelsea (8-4-1) vs. Fulham (2-2-9)
Liverpool (10-3-0) vs. Everton (6-4-3)

 

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to return to the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year has hit a seminal moment as the Spurs host Inter Milan in a crunch encounter Wednesday at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — Miranda likely to start at right back for the injured Vraslko for Inter)

Left for dead with just one point from their first three matches after being held to a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven, the Lilywhites (1-1-2) began their fight back with a 2-1 victory over the Dutch side in their most recent Champions League contest. Harry Kane’s brace in the final 12 minutes erased an early deficit, and Tottenham got some help from Barcelona, who recorded a draw at Inter earlier this month to raise the stakes for this contest.

The motivation to prove the naysayers wrong runs deep for Spurs gaffer Mauricio Pochettino, who told The Guardian at Tuesday’s news conference, “Yes, a massive motivation. When people say that something is going to be difficult, for me, it’s like, ah, I’m so excited to show them it’s completely different.”

The victory over PSV is one of five on the trot currently for the Spurs, with Pochettino showing his tactical chops in his side’s most convincing performance of the season, a 3-1 romp over London derby rival Chelsea in which Tottenham dealt Maurizio Sarri his first loss since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Pochettino’s decision to play a diamond in font of his back four with Dele Alli serving as the top point to feed Kane and Heung-Min Son completely defused Sarri’s 4-3-3 set-up as Spurs turned Jorginho’s lack of elite pace against him and exploited the gaps created when Chelsea’s midfielders pressed forward.

Alli and Kane both scored off passes from Christian Eriksen in the first 16 minutes, and Son completed the scoring by latching onto a pass from Alli on the flank and blazing past and around Jorginho before slotting home shortly after the restart.

But the Argentine manager is rightly concerned about his threadbare defence for this contest, and with good reason. Jan Vertonghen is being pushed back into duty in central defence after missing the past 10 matches with a hamstring injury. Pochettino would have preferred to use Juan Foyth to partner with Toby Alderweireld, but the Argentine was not one of the 17 non-locally players Tottenham submitted to UEFA for their group play roster.

“When you need to take a decision from the beginning, you cannot guess what’s going to happen,” said Pochettino, who placed the blame for his side’s imbalance at the feet of the club’s higher-ups following their dormancy in the summer transfer window. “Central defence was a position where we had players, but we have Davinson injured and Jan was injured. That is why we use Juan. I am happy with Juan and his evolution but I am so disappointed we cannot come with him in the Champions League.”

Left back Danny Rose could make his return in this match after an eight-game absence due to injury, though Ben Davies has deputised well in his absence. Serge Aurier again gets the call at right back since Kieran Trippier remains sidelined due to a groin injury.

Inter (2-1-1) enter this match with a margin of error since they have the easier final Champions League tie of the two — at home versus PSV compared to Tottenham having to try and get a result at Barcelona.

The Nerazzurri will be without right back Sime Vrsaljko, who picked up a thigh injury while on international duty with Croatia and did not make the trip to London. He also missed the first encounter between the teams, and like that match, Miranda is expected to take his place.

Luciano Spalletti’s side ended a two-match winless spell with a 3-0 drubbing of Frosinone on Saturday as Keita Balde had a brace on either side of halftime and assisted on Lautaro Martinez’s goal on 57 minutes. Inter are a comfortable third in the Serie A table but also nine points adrift of front-running Juventus and one back of Napoli through 13 matches.

“The game tomorrow will be a straight knockout to ensure that things remain in our hands,” Spalletti said as Inter look to progress out of the group stages for the first time in six years. “To just approach it as an ordinary group stage game is a risk we can’t take. We want to keep going down this road. We must think that qualification depends on the result tomorrow night.

“From when the draw was made, we knew that we’d have to knock out one of the biggest European teams to make the next round. Tottenham are a strong team with a great manager but we have the quality to take anyone on. Inter had been waiting for years to play in matches like this. The important thing is to show the fans that we’re ready to give anything to win. We need to work till the final drop of sweat to go through.”

Mauro Icardi, who began Inter’s fight back in the reverse fixture with a goal in the 86th minute at the San Siro, has a team-high 10 goals for the Nerazzurri. At three goals, Radja Nainggolan is the only other player with more than two as Inter have 30 goals overall.

Also of note is keeper Samir Handanovic has yet to post a clean sheet in the group stage despite having seven in Serie A.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are strong 8/11 favourites to win and carry their hopes of advancing into the final match day at the Nou Camp versus Barcelona. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, while Inter are 7/2 underdogs to win at Wembley and end Tottenham’s hopes of returning to the knockout round for a second straight season.

The Lilywhites have 6/4 odds to post a victory with a goal total above 2.5, and there are 15/4 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts at Wembley. There are 21/5 odds on a draw that ends either 0-0 or 1-1, while the Nerazzurri are an 11/2 choice to post a second win over Tottenham with more than 2.5 goals. A win with fewer than 2.5 goals for the visitors or a 2-2 draw or higher have 10/1 odds.

Kane, to no one’s surprise, is the top option to open the scoring in the match with 13/5 odds, followed by Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (9/2). Icardi is Inter’s first listing at 11/2 with Tottenham’s Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela rounding out the top five at 13/2. Son sneaks in behind the Lilywhites duo at 7/1. Martinez and Ivan Perisic complete Inter’s top three choices with 9/1 odds, with Eriksen just ahead of them at 17/2.

The Three Lions talisman is a better than even money pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 4/5 odds, with Llorente again second at 6/4. Icardi again tops the toteboard for Inter options, this time at 9/5, while Moura and Lamela are paired together once more — this time at 21/10 while Son is an 11/5 pick. Martinez rates slightly higher at 14/5 for an any-time goal compared to Perisic’s 3/1 potential return.

PREDICTION

It’s hard to tell if Pochettino was feeling good about himself after that Chelsea win or genuinely aggravated about not being able to use Foyth in this match, but there is no doubt the English media are going to have a field day with his comments about what Tottenham failed to do during the summer window.

This will undoubtedly start a whole new round of rumours regarding his desire to stay at Spurs, which in some ways has been par for the course in a season of fits and starts that includes an unexpected second season at Wembley Stadium due to the extended delays of renovating White Hart Lane.

Yet Pochettino is correct in the sense this is not entirely his fault, though no one would have expected Tottenham’s defence to be ravaged so thoroughly by injury. Foyth is arguably the fourth centre back on the depth chart and seventh overall, so it does also speak to the side’s scouts they have coped so well to this point.

Spalletti’s comments about going for it in this match are somewhat surprising given Inter can play for the draw in this match and then wrap things up at the San Siro versus PSV. But with already-qualified Barcelona likely to field a second-choice lineup in that last match versus Tottenham, there is some merit to his belief the Nerazzurri should be playing for three points.

And with neither team recording a clean sheet in group play, it has all the makings of a combustible up-and-down match. Much of Tottenham’s play is going to be carried through the middle without Trippier, though Davies has been a revelation and can offer support on the left. Pochettino used a 4-3-1-2 formation in the first match between the teams, so it is feasible the diamond midfield he used versus Chelsea will get a second look here.

If Inter can withstand Spurs’ pressure in the first half-hour, there will be opportunities for them to break down the Lilywhites defence. Just how willing the Nerazzurri pour forward after that, specifically in terms of testing Vertonghen’s match fitness, will go a long way in determining if Spalletti’s side are truly viewing this as a knockout contest like he claims.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Inter Milan 1.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview: Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)

Contenders or pretenders?

Both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are in search of three vital points to stay within stalking distance of reigning champions and frontrunners Manchester City when the top-four clubs face off Saturday in a London derby at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Chelsea (8-4-0) are third in the table, four points back of City and one of three unbeatens in the league along with the Citizens and Liverpool. While Maurizio Sarri has made a successful transition to the Premier League from Napoli and the Blues will progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League, there is a sense there is not much space between where his side are and their ceiling.

The Pensioners are 1-2-0 thus far against the other members of the Big Six, and their showdown at home versus Manchester City looms on Dec. 8. Chelsea beat a similarly transitioning Arsenal squad in Match Day 2 and have been held to draws versus Liverpool and Manchester United, conceding goals in the 89th and 93rd minutes, respectively.

While Chelsea are always among the league leaders with players who toil for their respective countries during the international break, few have drawn as much speculation in the recent recesses than striker Olivier Giroud.

The France international, who has just one goal this season and yet to break his duck in league play, once more tried to put an end to the talk he is unhappy at Chelsea as Sarri has played the hot hand between Giroud and Alvaro Morata – the only two true strikers on the club.

“I feel like I’m going back a few months with these questions, so I asked the same questions before the World Cup,” Giroud told Telefoot after converting a penalty in Les Bleus’ 1-0 win over Uruguay in a friendly. “I’m at peace, happy with this title of world champion, and that’s the best thing I could do in my career, I’m putting a lot of things in perspective.

“I do not need to put a lot of pressure on me to have more play time. I’m not going to let go, I’m going to continue working to make my way in. Today there’s no question of moving, of changing anything, I’m going to hang on, do not count on me for give up.”

While Morata may be Sarri’s first-choice striker, the Italian may be forced into a change in the midfield as Mateo Kovacic was held out of both of Croatia’s matches due to a knock. If he is unable to go, Ross Barkley would take his spot in the starting XI to the left of Jorginho in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 set-up.

Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) may finally be ready to kick on after an early season of uneven play, especially in the Champions League. In fact, their lack of success in the continental tournament – the Lilywhites still have heavy lifting to reach the knockout round – has brought a sharper focus in grinding out league results.

The Spurs have six wins in their last seven top-flight matches, the lone reverse a 1-0 defeat at home to City. Last season, their inspired Champions League play in which they finished atop a group with eventual three-times champion Real Madrid led to a lull domestically that contributed to City easing to the Premier League title.

“We are up there. Maybe we haven’t played the best football we have showed for the last few years. But we have still got the points. Sometimes that is necessary,” winger Christian Eriksen told The Mirror. “That is how it goes and at some point if it clicks and we get the points, then we will be different.

“We will go for it and we will see where we end up. We will do our best and then, if we are lucky or not lucky , we will see.”

The big issue for Mauricio Pochettino heading into this match is depth on the back line. Left back Danny Rose and centre back Davinson Sanchez remain long-term injury absentees, and right back Kieran Trippier is unlikely to play after suffering an injury in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace prior to the international break.

Jan Vertonghen was expected to be sidelined until next month, but the Belgium international could be in line to make a return for this contest. If Pochettino wants to be conservative and not reunite Vertonghen with his compatriot Toby Alderweireld, Juan Foyth would get another call to central defence.

Serge Aurier would get the call should Trippier not be able to play.

This match kicks off an intense eight-day stretch for Tottenham, who have a must-win Champions League encounter at home versus Inter Milan midweek before a north London derby at Arsenal on Dec. 2.

The road team won both matches last term, with Dele Alli helping Spurs end their 28-year run of misery at Stamford Bridge with a brace four minutes apart in the second half of a 3-1 victory. Chelsea recorded a 2-1 win at Wembley as left back Marcos Alonso completed his brace on 88 minutes, making sure an own goal by Michy Batshuayi would not result in a draw.

Chelsea have an impressive 30-19-6 record versus their London rivals in the Premier League era and have taken points in 16 of the last 19 meetings in all competitions (9-7-3).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are slight favourites to claim all three points and further burnish their title credentials with 6/4 odds for a victory. Spurs have 17/10 odds to pip the Pensioners for third while handing Sarri his first defeat, and there are 12/5 odds on the teams finishing in a deadlock.

There are 27/10 odds on Chelsea winning with more than 2.5 goals, with Spurs offering a 3/1 return on such an outcome for them. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 15/4 odds, and both sides have 11/2 odds on a victory with less than 2.5 goals. A 2-2 draw and higher has 17/2 odds.

In a match with attacking superstars, Kane rises highest to be the odds-on favourite to open the scoring at 10/3, followed by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard at 9/2. The striker tandem for the Blues — Morata and Giroud — follow their teammate as the Spaniard has 5/1 odds and the Frenchman 11/2. Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente rounds out the top five at 6/1, and there are a host of players at 8/1 — Heung-Min Son, Erik Lamela, Willian, Lucas Moura and Pedro.

Kane is narrowly better than even money to score during the course of the match at 91/100, with Hazard above the threshold at 7/5. Morata’s form makes him a 17/10 selection, edging out Giroud (7/4). Llorente is further back at 19/10, and the group of scorers at 8/1 for the first goal are again lumped together for an any-time marker as Willian, Pedro, and Moura are 5/2, while Son and Lamela are 13/2.

PREDICTION

This is a match that could go in any direction, especially with Spurs seemingly threadbare at the back in which Alderwiereld — the one wooed by Manchester United in the summer transfer window — the last one standing of the back four. This is also a curious clash of styles — Pochettino is able to strategise on a match-to-match basis and likes to push opponents wide, yet going through the flanks is how Chelsea operate once Jorginho initiates the offence.

Giroud’s comments were interesting, but also interesting is that no one seems to have any idea if Chelsea will add a third striker in the January transfer window. One of the appealing parts of Sarri to Chelsea was the gaffer’s perceived indifference to the comings and goings on of the market, but it also seems impossible a man who gets to granular levels on tactics is wholly ignorant of who is available and more importantly, who can help Chelsea.

And that is the issue right now because despite not having a loss, Chelsea need help. Or at the very least, Morata and Giroud must score goals. Both have played well in spurts and both are willing foot soldiers, but at some point, they have to put goals on the scoreboard. Otherwise, these late concessions that have already cost the Pensioners four points on two occasions will cost them three in one.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 1, Chelsea 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 Preview — Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)

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.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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.

PREDICTION

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.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)