Three days after a 4-2 thrashing by Barcelona, who played football from another dimension, Spurs are back at Wembley for a home game against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff. Promoted last season, Cardiff are backed by most pundits to stay in the top flight for three seasons – autumn, winter and spring – and their four goals in seven games so far mean only Huddersfield have a less threatening attack.
Spurs’ season has been somewhat stop-start so far, with European games leaning heavily towards the “stop”. As well as the Barcelona defeat, a 2-1 loss at Inter means they pretty much need to win all the rest of their Champions League games just to stay in. In the league, they’ve been better, like when they beat Manchester United 3-0, but have also lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool, and by the same margin at Watford.
This weekend, however, seems like a nailed-on three points for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Against a very limited Cardiff side, even a Spurs side missing midfield creatives Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen should have enough to comfortably take all three points.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Cardiff City Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Cardiff City
Cardiff are an unabashed, old-school, long-ball team who will look to hit a target man – either Danny Ward or Kenneth Zohore – early and often with diagonal bombs. Against some teams in the Premier League, this might well be effective, but Spurs’ defence is rarely unsettled by this style of play. In the absence of Alli and Eriksen, they may have questions over where the goals will come from, but Erik Lamela and England prospect Harry Winks are more than capable of loading the bullets, and even a slightly off-form Harry Kane is a good bet to put a few chances away.
Our recommended tip: Cardiff score nil
Of Cardiff’s four goals this season, two have come from set-piece deliveries by defender Steve Morrison. Anyone familiar with manager Warnock will be unsurprised by this; his sides have always had a tendency to favour set-pieces and broken play as avenues for goals. Against a side that can control play, though, it’s not a reliable source of opportunities.
Spurs, whoever starts in the midfield for them, should have the composure to deny the Bluebirds many openings. In addition, they’ve also got defenders who are more than solid in the air, even in Jan Vertonghen’s absence. You can get 19/20 (1.95) at Betway on Cardiff being frozen out again.
Since these sides last faced off – in March 2014 – there has been plenty of churn. As an example, only Hugo Lloris of the players likely to start tomorrow was also a starter back then. He kept a clean sheet as Spurs won 1-0 through a Soldado header. With his job done, Soldado was subbed in the 83rd minute – his replacement a sprightly 20-year-old by the name of Harry Kane.
The other meeting that season, in September 2013, saw a collector’s item in the form of a last-minute winner from Spurs misfit Paulinho. That is the same Paulinho who played like Pele for Barcelona last season.
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Players to watch: Harry Winks & Steve Morrison
Starting last season as a promising youngster, Harry Winks found himself in the England side by the end of the year. He was one of his side’s better players across two games with Real Madrid, a draw in Spain and an excellent 3-1 win at Wembley. Winks is a very “un-English” player. Happy to receive the ball in tight spaces and always looking for the decisive pass, he would probably have been at the World Cup but for a season-ending injury sustained in February.
Morrison will never be mistaken for Franz Beckenbauer. If he was, Neil Warnock would probably drop him immediately – but if you’re going to play the way Cardiff do, you need someone who can deliver set-pieces with pace and accuracy. That’s something Morrison definitely can do, and has done for half of his side’s goals this season. If they are to get anything from this game, it may well require more of the same magic from his trusty right boot. The only question is whether someone else can provide his service with the finish it will deserve.