Tottenham Hotspur’s treble bid continues this weekend with a home tie with Crystal Palace in the fifth round of the FA Cup (3pm Sunday). It is a meeting of two teams in vastly different form, with Spurs unbeaten in over a month and Palace having slid down the table in the Premier League in 2016.
Tottenham’s 1-1 draw at Fiorentina in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie on Thursday ended a run of seven straight wins in all competitions. It was still a positive result, however, and things are looking extremely bright at White Hart Lane at present, with Mauricio Pochettino moulding a young side who are full of energy, effort and entertainment and who could win the club’s first piece of silverware in eight years this term.
The big question mark against Spurs at this stage is whether they have the experience, knowhow and mentality to compete on multiple fronts as the business end of the campaign looms. Although it is worth noting that there have been few signs of them tailing off or failing to handle the pressure so far. The Premier League title will undoubtedly be the priority, though, and there are probably a few Tottenham supporters who would not mind their team exiting both the FA Cup and Europa League if it meant they could get their hands on the biggest domestic prize of all for the first time since 1961 this May.
While Pochettino’s side have got stronger as the season has gone on, Alan Pardew’s (pictured) Crystal Palace have done the exact opposite. It is now nine Premier League matches since the Eagles last picked up all three points, although – rather curiously – the FA Cup has hitherto been immune to their downturn in fortunes, with wins over Southampton and Stoke City earning them a place in the fifth round.
The biggest issue for Palace is the lack of goalscoring threat going forward. Pardew’s men have scored more than once on only one occasion in their last 11 games, which means the defence comes under great pressure to keep things tight at the other end. Emmanuel Adebayor’s header in the 2-1 defeat to Watford last time out was the first time a Palace striker has scored from open play in the Premier League this term, with the scorers in their two FA Cup encounters also defenders, midfielders and wingers.
Hugo Lloris (shoulder) could return in goal after missing out in the Europa League in midweek, but Clinton N’Jie and Jan Vertonghen (both knee) remain sidelined. Harry Kane was left on the substitutes’ bench against Fiorentina and is likely to come back into Pochettino’s starting XI, while Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll will be hoping to retain their places in the centre of midfield.
Yannick Bolasie could make his long-awaited return after two months out with a hip injury, with Pardew hinting that fellow winger Bakary Sako (hamstring) will also be available for inclusion in the matchday squad. Joe Ledley (thigh) and Dwight Gayle (hamstring) could be back in time too, although Jason Puncheon (hamstring) and James McArthur may not play again this season.
FA Cup games of this nature are always difficult to predict, particularly when it is unclear how strong the two teams’ respective line-ups will be. Now just two points behind table-topping Leicester City in the league, Spurs may rotate more than Palace, whose hopes of a European finish via their top flight position have all but vanished.
It could therefore be worth backing the visitors to grab a draw and force a replay, although there are unlikely to be too many goals as the side with the best defensive record in the Premier League take on a team who have struggled to score all season.