When Manchester United ruthlessly dismantled a depleted and out-of-sorts Tottenham Hotspur back in mid-August, few would have predicted the two teams would be level on points in the Premier League come the second week of January.
Yet that will be the exact scenario should Harry Redknapp’s side defeat Everton at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night and were they to join the champions on 45 points – three behind leaders Manchester City – that 3-0 defeat will seem like a distant memory for Spurs’ ecstatic fans.
In truth, it already does. Struggling to attract signings of sufficient quality and without the transfer-seeking Luka Modric (among others), the early-season defeat at Old Trafford looked to signify a year of relative struggle for Tottenham, but after a thumping at home to City the week after the Lilywhites have been sensational and are now well and truly in the title hunt.
Their game in hand at home to Everton (postponed on the opening day due to the aftermath of the UK riots that started in the borough) should indicate just how far Spurs have come under the shrewd stewardship of Redknapp, who, whatever you think of him – in my case, not a lot – is doing a hell of a job in north London.
Van der Vaart scored against Everton in both fixtures last season and given how Everton will set up, defending deep with no space to exploit behind, I fancy him to see plenty of the ball and he can be the scourge of the Toffees once more.
I expect them to eventually beat a stubborn and determined Everton side, although there may not be a lot in it: Spurs have kept four clean sheets in their last six home league games and only two of those have seen over 2.5 goals scored, whereas Everton have scored ten and conceded ten in their nine away league games.
It may take something special to break Everton down and Rafael van der Vaart is certainly capable of that – at 11/2 to open the scoring, he is worth your interest.
The Dutchman is a streaky player, going through runs of scoring lots of goals before going through dry spells, and I reckon the goal against Swansea on New Year’s Eve may kick-start him into goalscoring action. He already has seven league goals to his name, five of which were the opening goal, and is fairly priced at 11/2 (3/2 to score at any time).
Van der Vaart scored against Everton in both fixtures last season and given how Everton will set up, defending deep with no space to exploit behind, I fancy him to see plenty of the ball and he can be the scourge of the Toffees once more on Wednesday.
There is also the added bonus here that bwin’s 11/2 on the former Real Madrid star breaking the deadlock is the best price being offered by any bookmaker at the time of writing.
New customers receive a free £25 bet for joining bwin.com and placing it on Van der Vaart to score first against Everton would offer returns of £162.50 if the Dutchman obliges.
Given Spurs’ lofty position, the overall picture could not be more different for Everton. Inconsistent results and dwindling attendances are indicative of a far more pertinent malaise at boardroom level that has the fans in protest against chairman Bill Kenwright.
They go to Spurs with huge injury and illness problems, with doubts over Phil Jagielka, Tim Cahill, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert, but with even bigger doubts about who on earth is going to score goals for them.
Boss David Moyes must curse his misfiring strikers every day. Louis Saha, Victor Anichebe, Apostolos Vellios, Denis Stracqualursi, Magaye Gueye and James McFadden (no, really, stop laughing) have scored a paltry five league goals between them, which is frankly disgraceful. That’s before you get to Cahill, so often Everton’s saviour in the past, who hasn’t scored since December 2010.
It is no wonder Everton have only scored two or more in five of their 19 league games and I don’t hold out too much hope for them scoring against Spurs, who, if you take the 5-1 hammering against City out of the equation, have conceded just three goals in eight home league games, keeping five clean sheets.
Their best offensive player over recent months has been the unsung Leon Osman, joint-top scorer with three league goals, and he is a good a bet as any in the Everton side at 14/1 to score first.
But as he’s a major injury doubt, the more sensible option might be to look to Landon Donovan.
The on-loan American, fresh from a 15-goal haul with LA Galaxy in the last MLS season, can add some much-needed spark to the Everton attack and is worth a small punt at 9/1 to score first or 5/2 to notch at any time when the rest of the team looks so shot-shy.
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