Dempsey can be the new Bale, insists Villas-Boas

Visit to Goodison presents stern test of recent form in absence of Spurs' inspirational winger

Andre Villas-Boas is a gifted linguist who is not only capable of holding press conferences in a number of different languages but also, from time to time, coining new English words that perhaps ought to exist but do not. Yet although the Tottenham Hotspur manager is, therefore, almost certainly acquainted with the German term schadenfreude, he does not seem to indulge in the delight in the troubles of others that it signifies.

Invited to express his satisfaction at hearing his name chanted by supporters at White Hart Lane while the boos ring out for Rafael Benitez at Chelsea, who sacked him last season, and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, Spurs' greatest rivals, Villas-Boas declined the offer.

"There is empathy [between fans and manager] but the empathy is created by the fact that the team has changed fortunes recently and we have got the results," he said. "Really the fans are the best critic of your performances. At the moment the criticism is positive because we are on a good run.

"But everything can change. In this business you go from being the best to being donkeys very, very quickly. That is the nature of the game and that is the nature of football management. We just hope that at the end of the season we are able to sing each other's names. [Now] I prefer them to sing the players' names and push the team on."

The run of good form that has taken Spurs up to fourth place going into this weekend faces a severe examination today at Goodison Park, a ground that Villas-Boas says has been made into one of the toughest to visit in the Premier League by David Moyes, Everton's manager.

It is likely to represent a truer test of Tottenham's and Villas-Boas's credentials than four successive victories in the relatively friendly confines of the capital – Premier League wins against West Ham and Liverpool at White Hart Lane and Fulham at Craven Cottage, followed by a 3-1 home success against Panathinaikos in the Europa League.

Tottenham must replace Gareth Bale, who injured a hamstring against Fulham. Villas-Boas used Clint Dempsey on the left against Panathinaikos on Thursday and was rewarded with an assist and a goal, but he hinted that the American may return to a more central role today even though Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe successfully reprised their forward partnership of last season against the Greeks in an effective, if old-fashioned, 4-4-2 system.

"It's not a question of fashion, it's what is effective for your team," he said. "Tottenham were so, so successful last year with this system. Adebayor and Defoe are different from each other but they seem to create for each other and they know each other very well.

"[Dempsey] had very successful years at Fulham coming in from the left. We tried him [on Thursday] and it was good for him because he is very responsible defensively and offensively he is very creative. He comes inside on the back of the opponents' midfield players and he just links up the game for us."

So, even though Dempsey lacks Bale's pace, if it ain't broke...? "I understand you don't consider Dempsey a striker. He has developed into playing in different positions, but for me he is a pure striker. And we have different alternatives [on the left]. We tried Gylfi Sigurdsson there, and I think you know we have quality players for us to choose between for that position, although with different characteristics."

An entertaining subplot in today's game could be a battle of Belgium midfielders, between the eye- catching Everton man Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembélé of Tottenham. "I think Fellaini is more of a goalscorer, he arrives in the box, scores more goals, makes use of his physical presence," Villas-Boas said. "Moussa has tremendous defensive qualities too, he recovers lots of balls and he has an amazing ability to hold on to the ball and drive the ball forward. So, different types of players but both extremely good."

Villas-Boas hopes Dembélé's name will be sung at Goodison today rather than Fellaini's – or even his own.

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur is today, kick-off 3pm

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