It’s hard to imagine the past couple of days going better for Tottenham Hotspur. Yes, Spurs fell (narrowly) to Manchester City, but Arsenal improbably lost at home to Crystal Palace and Burnley scored two goals at Stamford Bridge, parked the bus, and “Burnley’d” Chelsea into a draw on Monday. FiveThirtyEight now put Spurs with a 93% chance of finishing top four. The end result gives Spurs a one point lead over the Gunners, and while they are tied with Chelsea they now have a game in hand. That game comes today against Chris Hughton’s Brighton & Hove Albion at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Brighton are, to put it succinctly, not very good. The Seagulls are just out of the relegation zone in 17th place, three points ahead of Cardiff City. They’re second from the bottom in xG this season and have the sixth worst xGA. They haven’t scored a goal since a March 9 win over Crystal Palace and are winless in their last five.
This would appear then to be a game that is perfectly suited for a solid Spurs win at home. No away team has won — or even scored — at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium since it opened, and it’s hard to see much of a scenario where Brighton becomes the answer to that particular trivia question. However, as we’ve seen from Arsenal and Chelsea, it’s never good to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is a fantastic opportunity for Tottenham to take a solid step closer to Champions League qualification, but they can’t afford for any slip-ups.
How will Tottenham line up against Brighton?
You might be aware of this, but Spurs are seriously dinged up, especially in midfield. Harry Winks is marginally back but it’s hard to see him as a starter today. Same with Erik Lamela. Moussa Sissoko is out for the next two weeks. That leaves, again, 18-year old Oliver Skipp on the bench as one of Mauricio Pochettino’s only options for a late-match substitution (along with Victor Wanyama). That’s good for the youngster, but not necessarily great for Spurs — we’ve seen situations already lately where bringing on Skipp has significantly worsened the center of midfield. That’s not a knock on Skipp — in a normal world he’d be brought in much more slowly — just recognition that Spurs’ midfield is still fundamentally broken.
Spurs have to manage their personnel carefully the next few weeks. In addition to Brighton today, Spurs play West Ham this weekend before hosting Ajax in the Champions League semifinals next week. Certain players — Christian Eriksen, Dele, Son Heung-Min — will be run into the ground during this stretch, but knowing who to rotate in and out will be tricky, and difficult to predict. This feels more like throwing darts at a dartboard.
Brighton’s attack is anemic, so there’s no need for a back three formation today. I expect we’ll see the diamond formation again, with Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose rotating in at wingback. Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama could start at the base of the diamond, but I’m picking Dier because he needs the minutes and the confidence. Winks would normally slot into his usual role just ahead of him, but if he’s not fit to start I think we’ll see Dele and Eriksen drop deeper, with Poch opting to bring Lucas Moura back in. This also seems like a good opportunity to get Fernando Llorente a start against decidedly sub-par opposition in a role where his hold-up play could make a big impact.
This is my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur against Brighton & Hove Albion. What’s yours?