It was too good to be true for Harry Redknapp. On the day that he was acquitted of tax evasion charges, Fabio Capello resigned from the England post. Three days later, Tottenham obliterated the usually secure Newcastle United 5-0, ostensibly a precursor of what England would serve up under Redknapp.
Then came the downfall. Inertia at Stevenage was followed by capitulations at Arsenal and at home to Manchester United. A midweek victory in the replay against the League 2 side stopped the rot, but Tottenham are slowly sliding down the ladder, with Arsenal breathing down their necks.
Suggestions that Spurs were title contenders now look premature, especially with a squad that lacks adequate depth. They are currently 13 points adrift of Manchester City when they could – and should – have narrowed that gap to four less than two months ago. Now it is Arsenal who are four points behind.
Everton poses a daunting test for Redknapp’s side. The Lilywhites have not won at Goodison Park in five years. There last victory came via a Jermaine Jenas goal. Martin Jol was the manager.
Howard denies Defoe the winner in 2009:
It is also a curious rivalry. Evertonians feel aggrieved by the praise lavished upon Tottenham by the media when they have won four times as many league titles as the north Londoners. And much to their chagrin, Spurs fans trumpet this ‘superiority’ with glee.
However, the Toffees have lost just twice all year – their last league defeat coming against Spurs at White Hart Lane in January – and have belatedly regained the intimidation factor that makes a trip to Goodison such an awkward fixture.
The Blues are now moving through the gears in the second half of the season after a stagnant start. The January arrivals of Steven Pienaar, Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson have strengthened and buoyed a previously flagging squad, but they remains in 13th position.
Manchester City and Chelsea have both been conquered in recent months, while the scalp of Tottenham could see Everton move up five places to eighth. But goals are an issue – the 2-0 win over Chelsea was the first time they had scored more than one in the league since November – and Jelavic is yet to get off the mark.
So can Moyes’ men give their manager an early 10th anniversary present? Here are the key duels for Saturday’s clash of the day:
Phil Neville v Gareth Bale
During his early season purple patch last campaign, Bale did however oame unstuck against two opponents. One was Rafael da Silva and the other was Phil Neville. This prompted Redknapp to make an insulting January transfer deadline bid for the Everton captain – only for the £250,000 fee to be promptly rejected. Neville, an unashamed artisan, will not be vexed by the recent coverage over Bale’s penchant for going down easily. And the Welshman – criticized again midweek after winning a dubious penalty – faces a test of his mettle to determine whether he is actually brittle.
Gareth Bale reels in agony as Spurs are defeated 2-1 at Goodison last year
Leighton Baines v Kyle Walker
Rarely do fullbacks prove vital, but Kyle Walker may be subjected to one of his toughest tests at the weekend. Spurs are likely to be without the injured Aaron Lennon after he limped off against Stevenage, which will allow Leighton Baines more freedom to surge forward and deliver crosses with that sugar-sweet left foot. Walker has had a good first full season in the Premier League, but recent signs have pointed towards tiredness, most damagingly when Wayne Rooney lost him for United’s opener last week. Since Everton rarely deploy out-and-out wingers, the emphasis on Baines is so great he is effectively playing two roles. And the irony is that Pienaar would probably have taken Lennon’s place on the Spurs flank, had he not been loaned back to Merseyside.
Marouane Fellaini v Scott Parker
The game is likely to be played at a feverish speed, especially with Fellaini and Parker in midfield. Spurs missed parker’s dogged discipline last week, but against Arsenal he struggled as Redknapp maintained a flatter four-four-two formation. Rafael van der Vaart’s return to fitness and a gentleman's agreement sees Louis Saha miss out on a return to his former club, which will aid Parker and Luka Modric in what should be a congested centre. It is an area Moyes tends to overpack, and Fellaini is a skillful battering ram who is as likely to maim opponents as he is to dribble past them.