It was nice to secure all three points against Swansea City last weekend following the last gasp defeat at the hands of Everton. The win saw Tottenham Hotspur move back into fourth spot at the expense of the Toffees and they have the chance to solidify their position over Christmas with a second successive home game against Stoke City today.
Encounters with the Potters have proven to be a testing proposition for Spurs in recent years, having failed to pick up a victory at the expense of Tony Pulis’ side in their last three meetings, one of which was a penalty shoot-out defeat in the Carling Cup - now the Capital One Cup - over 12 months ago.
A 1-1 draw between the two sides at White Hart Lane last season came courtesy of a late Rafael van der Vaart header, as Stoke came within a whisper of nicking a famous win over Spurs. The Premier League pairing head into the game in similar form; the hosts winning four of their last five while the Potters have won three in the same period, losing none.
The 1-0 win over Swansea saw Spurs keep just their third clean sheet of the season, with the quintet of Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, William Gallas, Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Naughton keeping Michu and co. at bay in a testing encounter, which the Belgium international netted the winner with 15 minutes to spare.
Following the victory, I insisted that it was vital head coach Andre Villas-Boas persists with Vertonghen at centre-back, upon Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s return from injury. The balance returned to the backline with a natural full-back, this time in the form of Kyle Naughton, at left-back.
The 24-year-old excelled in the position, completing an impressive 93% of his 43 attempted and making four tackles over the 90 minutes. There have been those that have criticised the former Sheffield United youngster, but he went someway to proving his doubters wrong against the Swans.
Nevertheless, as much as it pains me to say it, the right move for Villas-Boas to make for the encounter against Stoke is move Vertonghen back to left-back in order to accommodate Michael Dawson in the heart of the defence.
Pulis’ side have adopted the more physical approach to football since their promotion to the Premier League in 2008. While teams know their style of play, more often than not they struggle to counteract their long-ball tactic, which has seen the Potters go unbeaten at the Britannia Stadium in 14 months; the longest in the Premiership.
However, as good as they have been at home, on the road Stoke are struggling this season, picking up just one win over West Bromwich Albion at the beginning of December. In contrast, Spurs have lost just twice at White Hart Lane - a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea and a shock 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic.
Regardless, the Potters will be desperate to record their second away victory of the season and are likely to continue their long ball approach to test a Spurs backline that has made a habit of conceding goals late on - they’ve let in 11 from the 71st minute onwards.
While I’m all for balance in the backline, admitting Vertonghen is better suited at centre-back, it’s essential the Belgian is shifted across the defence and start Dawson. A physical encounter, much like the one against West Ham United, is crying out for a player of the latter’s capabilities to counteract the much publicised threat of Stoke.
The additional height in the backline will be crucial to repelling the eventual onslaught that the Potters will bring. Dawson excelled when called upon in the 3-1 win over West Ham, keeping Andy Carroll at bay and limiting his impact in the game.
His performance warranted a place in the starting XI for the next two Premier League games, before a hamstring problem saw him limp off in the first-half during the 3-0 win over Fulham. With his injury not as bad as initially feared, the no nonsense defender is expected to return to full fitness ahead of the game.
He may’ve only won three of his aerial duels against West Ham, but his presence bolstered the, at times, fragile defence. The Hammers adopted a similar approach to Stoke during the encounter and it benefitted Dawson.
If Spurs are to continue their recent impressive form, defeat to Everton aside, it’s vital the 29-year-old take his place in the starting XI on the teamsheet once again, especially if the Potters persist their dependable, yet hard on the eye, approach.