Tottenham prepare for a rare Thursday evening Premier League battle
Interestingly enough, both Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur are 1-2-2 in their last five Premier League games, however, a quick scan of the recent record in league doesn’t fully tell the story of what is happening with these two teams as Tottenham tries to rise to the challenge of reaching European football while Sheffield United regresses to the mean.
Considering most newly promoted squads perform considerably worse than the rest of the League the fact that Sheffield United is already on 44 points and is seemingly safe from relegation is quite an accomplishment. What is even more amazing is 43 of those 44 points were amassed before the Covid-break and project restart. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Sheffield, as they have been outscored 6-0 in three League matches since the restart.
This is Sheffield’s second two-game skid this season and both have come in the last 12 games. Throw in a tough 1-2 loss at Arsenal in the FA Cup and suddenly Sheffield United is reeling. Sheffield’s problem is plain enough, they struggle to score goals, only scoring 30 thus far in 31 games. Only twice this season Sheffield has scored more than two goals and both those games were in November.
Sheffield has been shut out 11 times in all competitions this season including three straight shutouts in league. While their defense has been strong, only conceding 31 goals in league this season, the cracks have begun to show, and it seems the strong start early may really pay off and help keep them above a relegation scrap.
Speaking of just being on the outside of the scrap looking in, that also seems to be the case for Tottenham, and although only 1 point ahead of Sheffield on 45 in 7th place, it is the fight above them that Tottenham have a focus on.
Having only played twice since the restart, Tottenham have 4 points, including 1 against 5th place Manchester United.
More importantly for Spurs, they seem to have found some semblance of order on defense and a unit that was looking very shaky is suddenly looking like it might be the future.
While Spurs attack is far stronger than Sheffields pounding in 20 more goals at 50 on the season, the defense has been worse conceding 10 more goals at 41. So for Spurs finding a balance and an effective pairing in the back – with Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier – has been critical.
Looking up-field from the suddenly stable back, Giovani Lo Celso is starting to look like a player well worth the money with an outstanding performance against West Ham last week. Add in the returning Harry Kane beginning to find fitness and form as well as the returns of Heung-Min Son, Moussa Sissoko, and dare I fail to mention the outstanding form of Hugo Lloris and suddenly where Sheffield is regressing Spurs are progressing.
What this means is we should see a more lopsided affair than the 1-1 draw at Tottenham early this year. While Spurs held a large 69% – 31% possession advantage, the lilywhites only managed 3 more shots (17/14) and just 1 more on target (5/4). More importantly for the Blades, the game finished 1-1. This should not be quite that close, even as a road contest.
That November affair was early in the Jose Mourinho era, he knows his team better now. We should see more of the side we saw performing against West Ham – with attacks and strong, smart possession – than we will the team that face Manchester United, which sat and looked to counter. This is not to mean we won’t look to counter, but that will not be the primary source of the attack. Rather it will be breaking down that tough Sheffield defense, which brings us back to Lo Celso, who is the key to the game.
If Giovani Lo Celso can find some space to operate and is able to control the game box-to-box like he did versus the Hammers, then we have a comfortable – not easy, but comfortable – Spurs win. If Lo Celso can’t find time in the middle of the pitch and Spurs play more long ball that falls into Sheffield’s trap and it will be a long evening.
My money is on Lo Celso bossing things and Spurs continuing to beat on a down team with a 4-1 win over Sheffield, who score late, but ultimately don’t have the fight to keep it close throughout the second half. Besides, Jose Mourinho is going for his 200th win in league, the team surely can’t let him down. What do you think will happen?