New Year's day, a 3-1 victory at home to Reading – the last game Tottenham won without the help of a goal from Gareth Bale. The Welshman has scored in all eight of Spurs's subsequent wins in all competitions, but the ankle ligament injury he sustained late in Thursday's Europa League tie against FC Basel (a 2-2 draw, Bale did not score), which will sideline him for two weeks, means that Andre Villas-Boas must now try to prove against Everton today that he is not the manager of a one-man team.
Among the candidates to replace Bale against David Moyes's men are Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson and boyhood Everton fan Lewis Holtby, all potentially worthy contributors, but none exactly coveted by Real Madrid as Bale is, and all further hampered by the fact that they are liable to be asked to play off the languid Emmanuel Adebayor rather than the more obviously workaholic and single-minded Jermain Defoe, who is also injured.
Villas-Boas, though, insists that he has the players to cover the absence of the favourite to land every player-of-the-season award going as well as the missing Defoe and Aaron Lennon. "We've had his [Bale's] absence before in different parts of the season and others have stepped up," he said. "When an injury happens to a player who has played most of the time it is a chance for another player. We have those players. Sigurdsson is in good goalscoring form. He scored in two internationals [most recently a brace for Iceland in a World Cup qualifier away to Slovenia 16 days ago] and then against Basel. And we saw Holtby at a very good level."
However, Holtby, a £1.5m signing from Schalke in January, has yet to score and has recently been playing in Bale's former attacking left-sided role. Villas-Boas explained: "There was a time when we found comfort in 4-4-2 and when we shifted Gareth to the striker position we stopped playing with a player behind the striker, so our formation changed and that meant that Holtby had to adapt to the wing.
"We have a very strong squad. We rotate quite frequently and the quality of the squad enables us to do that. We will rotate for Everton because we have injuries that will give opportunities to a couple of players. We've played different goalkeepers and defenders in the Europa League and Premier League. It is part of every squad. Fresh legs are as important as players who play every week."
Some might wonder, therefore, why Villas-Boas did not follow that strategy with Bale and keep him back for today's League game rather than field him on Thursday in a lesser competition than the Champions' League that Spurs fans desperately want to reach again. But Villas-Boas gives equal weight to landing silverware and finishing third or fourth.
"Both competitions are the same," he said. "Injuries always come at bad times. You want to avoid them but they happen. If we ignore the negatives, the good thing is, these players should only miss two games."
That is made more likely by the postponement of next weekend's Stamford Bridge showdown with Chelsea, two points behind Spurs with a game in hand, because Villas-Boas's former club are in the FA Cup semi-finals. Chelsea's busy fixture list could assist Tottenham's cause, although Villas-Boas played down the positive effects for his team.
"They still have two trophies to play for and are going at them with ambitions to win them, but their squad is full of amazing players."
Like Spurs, Everton have selection problems, with Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar suspended, but have won three of the last four between these clubs, most recently at home in December. Bale was absent then, and one imagine's that the Merseysiders won't be sorry to miss the chance of another close look.
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton is on ESPN today, kick-off 2.05pm
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