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Know your Tottenham opponent: Everton

Spurs will look to make it a third-straight victory in all competitions against Everton on Saturday.

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton - Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

Since the 3-1 loss to rivals Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur have steadied the ship just a bit with two wins and a goalless away draw in their last three games (two in the Champions League and one Premier League match). In the past three games, Spurs have started to become a bit more positive in their approach, perhaps due to Antonio Conte utilizing different tactics as well as new players being brought into the fold.

On Wednesday, Spurs looked to have things tidied up at home up 3-1 in the latter stages of the match against 10-man Frankfurt. But a goal came from nothing off a corner kick and Spurs came awfully close to conceding a back-breaking, tying goal in the final minutes. Ultimately, they were able to win the match while also being able to take out some of their bigger-named players to conserve their fitness levels ahead of Saturday’s match against Everton.

As Spurs turn their attention back to the Premier League, they will once again be at home against a team to which they are superior. And, they will play in the later match on Saturday, so the atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium should be a good one.

Everton looks much hungrier and much improved since Spurs last played the Toffees. The last fixture against Everton saw Spurs dispose of them quite easily by way of a 5-0 victory with Harry Kane scoring a brace. Fast forward seven months and the Toffees look like a different team. For starters, they have done a decent job in fortifying their midfield with the addition of Amadou Onana, who has been great this season alongside Idrissa Gueye, freshly returned to the club after a couple of years at PSG. Additionally, Alex Iwobi has transitioned to a deeper role in midfield and his form has also improved. On top of this, Everton has received good contributions by new center back partnership Conor Coady and James Tarkowski as well as Nathan Patterson, who looks to be the long-term successor to Seamus Coleman. So while Spurs should win this match, Everton could be a bit feistier than last time.

To get ready for this match, we are once again continuing the “Know your Opponent” series by speaking to Trent Nelson of Royal Blue Mersey, SB Nation’s Everton blog. We asked five questions about Everton, what they did this summer and what to expect for Saturday. In addition, we returned the favor by answering questions for Spurs’ side. If you are interested in that, visit RBM here.

RR: Everton did just enough to stay in the top flight last season. What were the expectations of the club from its supporters going into this season and has the squad lived up to them so far this season?

TN: It’s a pleasure speaking with you of course. The Toffees did do just enough to stay up last year, and all supporters will always remember that comeback against Crystal Palace and how unbelievable Goodison Park was on that magical evening.

With those romantics relived and understood, the reality this summer was that this team needed to be improved, and both Kevin Thelwell - director of football - and Frank Lampard went about doing so.

Optimism seems to be a renewable resource, and one that Toffee fans always seem to muster up. Pundits were not as kind universally, but a few saw that the Blues had more to offer than they had shown last year.

Right now, this team looks and feels much different than it did last season, and it is certainly exceeding the honest expectations of many even on Merseyside. The team remains a work in progress but it has gotten positive pieces across the pitch and on the bench that weren’t available to them last season.

RR: After years of mistake-riddled players like Yerry Mina and Michael Keane in front of Jordan Pickford, new faces such as Conor Coady and James Tarkowski have come in and seemed to have hit the ground running. On top of this, Nathan Patterson has had a good start to the season. How integral have the new set of defenders been and what of their profiles has translated well together?

TN: Yerry Mina is testing Lampard’s patience with his inability to stay fit, while Michael Keane has settled into a solid backup role.

With that being said, the additions of Conor Coady and James Tarkowski have been immense to be sure. They have provided toughness, leadership, steadiness, experience and some force in front of Jordan Pickford. While they have been a potent combination for this team this season, getting the likes of Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina back from injuries will allow for each player to more effectively impact the side alongside either Coady or Tarkowski, while the other rests during the more hectic parts of the campaign.

Nathan Patterson has been huge as the heir to Seamus Coleman at right fullback. Meanwhile, Vitalyi Mykolenko on the left has settled in as well, and is a solid player with room for improvement.

The fire and organization of the defense has been key to Everton’s rejuvenation so far this season, and while the aforementioned names have all played major roles in this, the defense this team is currently playing is absolutely an entire team affair, and it is something I think the side takes great pride in right now.

RR: New summer incoming Amadou Onana has really opened my eyes when I have watched Everton this season. It also appears that the veteran presence of Idrissa Gueye has also helped Onana adjust to the levels of the Premier League. Tell us your thoughts on the player and what he has provided to Everton in his short time at the club.

TN: The former Lille starlet is basically a spider-gazelle in the middle of the pitch. He is simultaneously everywhere, always trying to win back balls with his long legs and arms. He has also shown himself to be a threat concerning aerial duals; whenever he does manage to win the ball back, however, he runs across the pitch as though everyone else were merely jogging.

His passing has been less than perfect so far, but that will come with comfort and repetition with his teammates in the system.

Idrissa Gana Gueye, meanwhile, has been a welcomed return after a few years in Paris with PSG. The team sold the player for healthy profit back then, but was able to land him for just a fraction of that - and the player looks improved from his time in France.

He has been a steadying force in the middle of the pitch - just like old times, and he has provided depth at a much needed position that allows for the likes of Onana and Alex Iwobi to hunt for balls and be creative on the attack or counterattack.

Everton needed a sturdy foundation at the base of the midfield, and they got that in Gueye - much to the team’s delight.

RR: What are some positives going on for Everton at the moment? What can Everton fans be excited about as the fixtures turn rapid ahead of the World Cup in November?

TN: I think that’s a brilliant question. This team is so young and vibrant, suddenly full of depth and interesting, talented players, that I think fans are genuinely full of anticipation and joy regarding the future of this team under Frank Lampard.

Frank understands Everton in a way that Rafa Benitez was never able to, but that folks like Big Duncan Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti easily could.

Effort and fight is the name of the game, this team is full of players who show that, whether it be Jordan Pickford screaming at the back, Tarkowski and Coady looking to fight someone, Iwobi and Onana using their creativity, or else the likes of Anthony Gordon, Demarai Gray, Dwight McNeil, Neil Maupay or Dominic Calvert-Lewin looking to place the ball in the back of the net, this team must be fighting and scrapping for everything each match; there are no excuses for a lack of intensity when you’re wearing the shirt with its unbelievably rich and storied history.

The new stadium on the water is of course going to be brilliant, but many will miss Goodison and the history that it holds. Young players like Ellis Simms, Lewis Dobbin and many others do get supporters excited to be sure, but it will become greater when they feature for the first team instead of on loan with other sides.

RR: What is your prediction for this game? How do you see the game playing out? And, which player or which matchup is your x-factor?

TN: Everton lost a tough one against a largely attacking side last weekend against Manchester United, so the team will wish for turn the tide this week. Tottenham represents different challenges than United, and the Blues will have to keep an eye out for the counter when it comes.

It is understood that Spurs will invite pressure and look to take advantage on the counter, but Everton do not mind doing that either at times. This bunch of Toffees can possess the ball better than last years, so Alex Iwobi and Amadou Onana will be massive for the side of they can find joy and the freedom to create for the forward attackers.

Similarly, with Tottenham so dangerous on the counter, the likes of James Tarkowski and Connor Coady will be so vital to the team’s success. Seamus Coleman will have his hands full at times but everyone on this side tracks back and contributes, so I expect to see that once again.

I think the score will be 2-1. I am not entirely sure which side will have either score, but I do think it will be tight and contentious as there will be many fiery figures on the pitch and in the technical area in north London.

If you are curious about the questions Trent provided to me, feel free to check them out on Royal Blue Mersey. Spurs will be looking to take all three points before setting their sights on a big weekday match in Manchester at Old Trafford against United.

h/t to Trent for the time. Really liked hearing his positivity and his perspective on a club that has a lot of similarities to Spurs. Take that as you will.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.