With the home run in sight, Palace are the distinguished guests to play the first competitive match in the new Spurs stadium, so TEB had a chat with Alasdair Gold from Football London on the season so far for the hosts and thoughts ahead of the game.
Q. What did you make of the two contrasting games at Selhurst Park between the two sides earlier in the season?
They were two very different games. The first one was a tight affair with Juan Foyth’s goal deciding it but Spurs needed Hugo Lloris late on to stop Alexander Sorloth snatching a point.
Those 1-0 victories in the Premier League have been a theme for Spurs against Palace and while they show they’ve got the edge in the league it also displays how much of a problem side the Eagles are for them. Every game is a battle, a proper derby duel, with few inches given.
The FA Cup match was a weird one. Mauricio Pochettino put out a much changed side and brought players like 18-year-old Oliver Skipp and forgotten winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou into the team and left out Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld from the squad entirely. Palace deserved to win the match after a strong first half and could have been 3-0 up but Spurs wasted plenty of chances themselves as the game wore on, including that woeful Kieran Trippier penalty.
Ultimately, it’s likely to be another tight encounter on Wednesday night but Spurs will have a packed out 62,062-seater new stadium roaring them on which they will hope will make the difference.
Q. How do you rate Spurs’ season so far?
The woeful last month or so has tarnished slightly what has been a good season for Spurs purely because with everything Pochettino’s side have had thrown at them – no new signings over two transfer windows, more late returning players from the World Cup than any other team, stadium delays aplenty meaning more time at the not ideal Wembley, a drink-driving captain, lacklustre performances and injuries to almost every key player, to be third in the Premier League and in the Champions League quarter-finals is some achievement. The team need to rediscover their rhythm but the new stadium finally opening might just give them the boost they need.
Q. Is there a fear of losing Mauricio Pochettino in the summer?
I wouldn’t say there is any more now the Real Madrid and Manchester United jobs have been filled permanently. He’s still often quite vague about his future when asked but he always is and he has a strong dislike or phobia of discussing rumours. There could still be a few clubs sniffing around him in the summer but with Spurs finally in their new home, which Pochettino helped design elements of when it came to the players’ areas, and as long as the club back him this summer with some new signings, then there shouldn’t be any chance of him leaving.
Q. The new stadium is quite something, right? How much of an impact will the return to their own stadium make to the rest of the season?
Spurs desperately need it to make an impact. They’ve got five of their final seven Premier League matches there and if it doesn’t make the difference then there will be no Champions League football for the club there next season. It really is a breathtaking place. I’ve been inside three times now, two of them for test events, and I’ll be heading in again the day before the opening match as Pochettino is doing his press conference there. Every time you go inside it’s like stepping into another world.
I was at Anfield on Sunday, a ground I’ve always admired, but heading there the day after watching Spurs’ Legends play at their new stadium, you realise just how enormous Tottenham’s new ground is compared to others. Despite its size though everything is so tight and focused on the pitch. It’s cost a lot of money and it’s taken a lot of time, but it’s worth the wait.
Q. Who has been the stand out Spurs player this season?
Despite his horrendous miss on Sunday at Anfield, which could have won the game for Spurs, it’s probably Moussa Sissoko. He has been a man transformed this season and gone from the fans’ scapegoat to one of the first names on the teamsheet. He’s found his role in the team and it’s a similar one to N’Golo Kante’s at Chelsea, to aid in the transitions from defence to attack and essentially provide the legs to cover every one of the midfielders and defenders.
Son Heung-min revelled in being the team’s saviour during Harry Kane and Dele Alli’s injury-enforced absence earlier this year and he was on fire pretty much from November to February with goals and assists aplenty. However, he’s dipped a lot since Kane returned and Spurs need him to reignite.
Q. Did Spurs do the business they needed to in the transfer window?
No, they didn’t sign anyone. They needed to replace Mousa Dembele but as with the summer they either couldn’t afford who they really wanted or failed to make a decision in time over the ones they could afford. They need to freshen up the squad this summer and there could be a few departures which will kickstart that.
Q. If you could pick one Palace player for Spurs to sign in the summer, who would it be and why?
The obvious one is probably Wilfried Zaha. He’s a player Spurs wanted for years but have seemed to cool on in the past 18 months or so. That could well be the price he’d cost nowadays but it might also be that with Son, Lucas, Lamela, Alli and Eriksen, Tottenham have a plethora of attacking midfield options. However, for me Zaha would still add something different to those players and he’s a much improved player to the one he was 18 months to two years ago with more of an end product.
Q. Name a player from each side that you believe will be a threat in this game?
Dele Alli has looked sharp since his return from injury and he was one of Spurs’ better players at Anfield on Sunday. He was playing in a deeper role against Liverpool but was still a threat when he got forward. He also knows how to score a decent goal against Palace.
It’s got to be Zaha for Palace – four goals in his last six matches and an assist in the win against Huddersfield. He’ll be a handful for Tottenham as he usually is.
Q. Perhaps you could share your opinions on Palace this season?
I was in the press conference back in November after the defeat to Spurs when Roy Hodgson said that Palace were playing well but just not getting what they deserved. Now they are. He’s proving once again just how experienced a manager he is and with just two defeats in the last eight Premier League matches Palace are looking like they’re pulling away to safety.
A lot of the success has been built on the foundations of a solid defence, one that has conceded far less than others in the bottom half. Rafa Benitez has been getting plenty of credit with similar defensive statistics at Newcastle and Hodgson and Palace deserve their own praise.
Q. Your prediction?
What else but a 1-0 win for Spurs? It would be the sixth in a row in the Premier League. Spurs simply need to win this match to end their poor run and the new stadium and the crowd will give them every bit of incentive to do so. Pochettino will be hoping Palace aren’t party poopers.