The confines of Wembley have not been too kind to Tottenham Hotspur this campaign and neither has the month of February. Spurs crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday and while their play was much improved from other “home” performances in the Champions League, they were still wildly unsuccessful in their prospective 2017-18 home.
To add further salt to the wound, their draw to Gent at Wembley reversed what was an inspired victory against Fulham in the FA Cup. While it hasn’t been October panic type play from the lilywhites, a subpar win against Middlebrough, coupled with a shellacking by Liverpool at Anfield, and one point from two matches against the Juliper League’s eighth placed Gent is disheartening at best.
All is not lost though and some including Cartilage Free Captain’s most active Tyrannical Overlord, Dustin Menno, believe that Spurs’ ousting from the Europa League might be a blessing in disguise. And a quick glance at the Premier League table should confirm the notion that supporters should not panic. Spurs sit third in the standings, ahead of Arsenal by superior goal differential and just two points off second placed Manchester City. Sure, it is incredibly tight between the second and sixth places, yet with a record of fourteen wins, three losses, eight draws, and the second best goal differential in the Premier league, Tottenham doesn’t have much to complain about.
Spurs will face ninth placed Stoke City on Sunday in a match that feels like a must-win from a morale standpoint. Stoke’s high spot in the table betrays their rather pedestrian form this season, which has seen them consistently win points from the lower half, but flop in nearly every encounter against a top side. Their best results have come as draws; two against Manchester United and one at home against Everton, but they haven’t mustered three points against anyone impressive through seven months of the 2016-17 campaign.
Even under the stewardship of Mark Hughes, Stoke remain a threat in the air and this is where they have produced most of their goals this term. An utter dearth of creativity in the center of the park breeds a team that doesn’t threaten from open play and struggles mightily to possess the ball in general. Joe Allen and the back four of Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, and Pieters haven’t been bad, but they aren’t enough to hold most sides at bay. Peter Crouch looks set to start, with Saido Berahino as a potential substitute to make way at some point up front. Wilson Palacios might also be a last minute signing to start instead of Charlie Adam, who won’t be able to feature due to the restraining order placed upon him from the entirety of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
Spurs now have only two competitions to focus on and many of their most difficult fixtures in the Premier League are behind them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to find form fast. The team has done enough to put themselves in a great position in the table. They control their own destiny going forward and now its time to take those opportunities as they come. It starts with Stoke City on Sunday.
How to Watch
Date/time: Sunday, 1:30 p.m. (UK), 8:30 a.m. ET (USA)
Venue: White Hart Lane, London, UK
Official: Jonathan Moss
TV: NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra (USA) Sky Sports 1/HD, BBC Radio 5 Live (UK), TSN1, TSN5, TSNGO (Canada), Optus Sport (Australia), other listings at livesoccertv.com
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra (USA), fubo.tv (7 Day Free Trial)
Radio: Audio streamed at tottenhamhotspur.com, also often at BBC Radio London,BBC Radio 5 Live, and TalkSport
Danny Rose’s MCL has found itself to be a more of a concern than initially thought and our stalwart left-back is set to miss “weeks” on the sideline. He will join Erik Lamela on the bench who is still rehabbing his mysterious hip injury and has no timetable to return to training. I can’t believe that I am still writing on this.
The big news over the past week was the return of Jan Vertonghen. After his tough ankle injury in January, which was rumored to put him our for nearly two months, the Belgian vice-captain returned to action against both Fulham and Gent. The Gent match was more interesting in the sense that Poche put forth a best eleven lineup at Wembley, which included Jan, and saw the team revert back to the 3-4-3. Harry Kane’s awful own goal and Dele Alli’s unexpected (and vicious) red saw Tottenham fail to advance, but their play was more encouraging than it has been for the majority of the last month.
Due to this, I think Poche continues with the 3-4-3 on Sunday. Kyle Walker will start at right wing-back, with Ben Davies deputizing for the injured Danny Rose in the left wing-back spot. Alderweireld will be flanked by Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen in the back three, with Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembélé playing ahead of them in the center of midfield. Christian Eriksen will be deployed out left, Dele Alli out right, and Harry Kane will occupy the lone striker role.
With the pack hot on his heels, Jake Meador dropped a perfect 2-0 scoreline in the Cartilage Free Captain Prediction League. Skipjack broke his duck too and also foresaw a Liverpool win, while Salmon Chase captured the zeitgeist of our age, betrayed critical thought, and won by predicting a Liverpool victory. A strong week for Meador as he adds a little extra cushion at the top.
Cartilage Free Captain Prediction League Standings
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Dustin Menno: Jan’s back, and he’ll steal Crouchy’s nachos. Sorry, Crouchinho. 2-0 Spurs.
Matthew Pachniuk: Spurs have been crap at Wembley, but really great at White Hart Lane. Maybe its our historic stadium’s way of flipping the bird to the club for not hosting the Champions League in her twilight campaign. Spurs will bounce back because they have too. 2-0 Spurs.
Jake Meador: Stoke has been better lately and I'm still not sure we have a viable plan other than the 3-4-3 and I don't trust Poche to play the 3-4-3, for some reasons. 1-1.
GN Punk: I'm reminded of a quote from the movie Any Given Sunday with how I feel about the direction we're going in, and with the match on Sunday, this seems like a perfect quote.
"Either we come together now as a team. Or we will die as individuals."
I'll be the optimist. 2-0 Spurs.
Skipjack: After this Gent shit we'll lose 2-0.
Brian Mechanick: I am terrified the season is falling off the rails. A pessimistic me sees stagnant play out of Spurs and a 1-1 Draw to boot.
Pardeep Cattry: Despite the Europa League elimination, Spurs actually played well, and will probably do the same against Stoke. It won't be too easy though as Spurs first team players are probably tired. Tottenham 2-0.
Alex Greenberg: I think we all know what's going to happen here. Saido Berahino will come on as a sub, score, and then refuse to celebrate. But Stoke aren't good and Spurs should still beat them easily. 4-1 Tottenham.
Earl of Shoop: