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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 23 vs. Tottenham

Oh Great, a Top-Six Foe When We Don’t Need Them Right Now.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Carabao Cup: Quarter Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There’s no other way around it. Tomorrow’s contest with Tottenham is a must win game for Fulham, regardless if the odds are stacked against them. That’s what happens when Newcastle wipe Cardiff off the park today and set themselves two points clear of relegation and seven points clear of the Cottagers. Now they have to find a way to claim points no matter who the opposition is because there just isn’t any more opposition that are deemed winnable in the near future.

If there is a positive spin about the fixture down at Craven Cottage, it is that Tottenham have a lengthy injury list and plenty of those names are the best players on the team. Among them include Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko while Eric Dier and Lucas Moura are a tad less doubtful to play. Along with that, Heung-Min Son, who has been absolutely on fire for Spurs with eight goals and five assists in 1,088 minutes, will be missing game time due to playing for South Korea in the Asian Cup. That’s half the starting XI right there from a Tottenham side that made no transfers in the summer to bolster the squad.

Should I also mention that former Fulham star Moussa Dembele left Spurs to continue his footballing career in China?

Even so, this is a tight-knit group that manager Mauricio Pochettino has developed over the years and they know they have to win this game regardless of who the opposition is. Otherwise, they will risk losing three of their last four Premier League games after being in the middle of the title race. So this fixture is important for both sides involved.

On that note, here are three players to watch from this iteration of Totteham this Sunday.

Erik Lamela

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Even if he has mostly been coming off the bench, Erik Lamela has made the most of his minutes and has probably become the best super sub in the Premier League. This season, he has averaged 0.59 non-penalty goals and 3.23 shots per 90 minutes while also having 45.5% of his shots aimed towards goal in 613 Premier League minutes. All three of these numbers are the career highs in Lamela’s eight seasons of European football.

However, one could argue he hasn’t lived up to the hype when he moved to Spurs as a 21-year old at Roma. Back then, the Argentina International was putting up roughly the same numbers this season as he was when he scored 15 goals back in Serie A in 2011/12. Now at 26, Lamela hasn’t locked in a starting place, nor has he been able to lock a starting spot on the Argentinian National team. That said, it’s quite hard to leapfrog Leonel Messi and Sergio Aguero for that job.

Still, Lamela has at least been an impact player for Tottenham and will surely be a valuable member now that Kane and Son are not playing for them anytime soon.

Dele Alli

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Next up is Tottenham’s last star man still standing who is still developing his game as a 22-year old. This season, Dele Alli has been playing much more in midfield and has evolved into a solid two-way player as a result. Along with that, Alli has been much more selective with his shooting as 54.2% of his shots are aimed towards goal. Even with just four goals and one assist, Alli’s 0.79 xG Chain per 90 minutes (the total amount of xG a player is involved) is third on the team among key Tottenham players behind Lamela and Son. So yeah, his imprint on tomorrow’s contest will decide how much Tottenham will be able to win and what the margin of victory will be like.

Toby Alderweireld

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Lastly, we take a look at a center back that has redeemed the manager’s belief in him after losing his starting spot last season. Plenty of that was also due to inury, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that Toby Aldeweireld’s place on the team was being put to question. But while having a resurgent season, his place on the team is once again secure and has formed a solid partnership with 22-year old Davinson Sanchez.

The Belgium International has always been a well-cultured ball-playing center back, but it seems like his production in those areas are the best of his career. At 89% passing completion and 7.69 long ball passes completed per 90 minutes, all those numbers have surpassed his averages over the previous six seasons and there has not been a season in which he has been that accurate with the ball of his feet.

With all the injuries to Tottenham’s midfield, there’s a good chance Pochettino may deploy a three-at-the-back formation. If that were to be the case, Aldeweireld will hold a major key to how Spurs best implement their system.