Spurs' performance under scrutiny vs. Everton

Posted by John Crace

Take a look at Spurs' record this season against the five teams above them in the Premiership. Arsenal: played two, lost two -- including the third-round FA Cup defeat. Manchester City: played two, lost two. Chelsea: played one, drawn one. Liverpool: played one, lost one. Everton: played one, drawn one.

Sometimes statistics are misleading; this one isn't. What it reveals is the gulf in class between Spurs and the teams above them. It also reveals their stagnation. Chelsea have kicked on to become a far tougher proposition since the 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. Spurs are still struggling to find any cohesiveness and consistency. They can, more often than not, put away inferior teams. But against the best sides, they are being picked off with ease.

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Mousa Dembele described this Sunday's fixture against Everton as Spurs' most important game of the season. It's a mantra that is trotted out ever more frequently as we get to the business end of the season, but Dembele is right. This is Spurs' most important game of the season, though not necessarily for the reason he believes. Dembele reckons a win is vital if Spurs are to maintain a challenge for a Champions League place. To anyone who has followed Tottenham closely this season, the idea of the club finishing in the top four of the Premiership is a pipe dream, one that involves not just Spurs stepping up another two or three gears, but also two of the teams above them to start misfiring.

While it would obviously be good news for Spurs if Everton chose Sunday's game to have an off-day -- the suspicion remains that Everton are a club who have played above themselves this season -- the real interest for Spurs fans is in how their team will play. Will it be another low-intensity, error-strewn first 30 minutes with no visible sign of direction or leadership from on or off the pitch? Or will Spurs finally get their act together and play like the 200 million pound team they are supposed to be? Whatever the response, it will be telling.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Tim Sherwood and Michael Dawson are dead men walking. It's becoming increasingly clear to everyone, including Sherwood, that whatever happens in the remainder of this season, Daniel Levy will be bringing in a new manager during the summer. Louis van Gaal is the runaway favourite, but Frank de Boer has now also said he fancies the job. The big guns are gathering outside Sherwood's door.

Dawson has been a big part of the club's recent successes, but his time is up. What speed he had is gone, and he doesn't have the instinctive positional sense of a Ledley King to compensate for it. Time and again this season, opposition forwards have ruthlessly exposed and punished his shortcomings. He retains his place in the side only because of injuries. Were Jan Vertonghen, Vlad Chiriches and Younes Kaboul all available, Dawson would be fourth in line for the first team. A captain can't lead and provide inspiration to his teammates from such a position of weakness.

The importance of Sunday's game against Everton, then, is what it reveals about the character of the rest of the squad. Slowly, players are coming back from injury. Dembele and Andros Townsend are available; Vertonghen and Paulinho have had one full game in the locker. They should be nearly match fit. Nor should the squad be able to plead tiredness.
There can be no excuses for another lacklustre display. Everton are a decent side, but one that an on-song Spurs team ought to be able to -- and need to -- beat.

But more than the result, the performance of the home side will be under scrutiny. The club's management may have all but given up on the season, with Levy counting down the games until he can usher Sherwood to the exit. But have the players given up on the season as well? How many of them feel the thrill of playing in front of a packed White Hart Lane? How many of them have a genuine sense of pride in putting on a Spurs shirt?

These are what matter to the supporters. Nobody likes losing, but it's far worse when it feels as if the defeat has been gutless and as if the players don't care. Now is the time for the Spurs players to show they do. Far too many Spurs players are due a big game. Sunday is the time for them to have it.

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