Spurs can use Hull match to rotate squad, get back to winning ways
Tottenham can look forward to a relatively quiet Christmas this year -- the absence of a traditional Boxing Day game means the north Londoners have an unusual 10-day break between December 18 and 28.
But, in the meantime, they are in the midst of a busy fortnight featuring five matches in 16 days -- and, as they prepare for the fourth of those clashes against Hull City on Wednesday evening, 'tis the season for rotation.
Mauricio Pochettino is already being forced to make one change -- Harry Winks will probably deputise for the injured Mousa Dembele -- but there is every chance there will be others too.
Victor Wanyama has started the last nine games in all competitions, while Eric Dier has not had a chance to line up in his best position in midfield since the League Cup tie against Liverpool in late October.
With another home game coming up against a higher-placed Burnley side on Sunday, this seems a good time for Wanyama to have a breather and for Dier to reacclimatise to a role in front of the back four.
Pochettino will also surely rest at least one of his full-backs. He prefers not to pick his first-choice pair three times in the space of a week -- indeed Kyle Walker was memorably rested for a crucial Champions League showdown in Monaco last month -- but Walker and Danny Rose have recently started against Swansea, CSKA Moscow and Manchester United in succession. Now is the time for Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies to step in and provide fresh legs on the flanks.
This is an important game for Tottenham, who can ill-afford a slip-up, but they are hosting a Hull side that are sitting second from bottom and have lost their last five Premier League away games in a row, with an aggregate score of 16-2.
Spurs' reserve players should be able to handle that challenge and help their side to secure a much-needed home win. Indeed, anyone who is not capable of meeting that challenge is probably out of their depth at White Hart Lane.
There was a time, almost a year ago, when there was strong competition between the full-backs on both sides.
The two pairs virtually played alternate games from Dec. 19, 2015 to Feb. 14, and Spurs won 10 out of their 13 games in all competitions, including a seven-match winning streak which culminated in the 2-1 victory at Manchester City.
Trippier set up a late winner for Son Hueng-min at Watford on Dec. 28 and then scored the decisive goal himself in the return fixture on Feb. 6. Davies was also a threat in that latter 1-0 victory, drawing a couple of saves from Heurelho Gomes.
At the time it was hard to tell which were the first-choice full-backs, and that successful rotation helped Spurs to put together their best run of the season. Since then, however, the competition has declined, the gaps in quality have widened and Walker and Rose have firmly cemented their positions for the biggest games.
Trippier's last appearance came when Spurs suffered their terminal Champions League defeat in Monaco, when he made key defensive errors, while Davies was last seen in the abject 1-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley -- he has since been absent with an ankle injury. Their previous starts both came in the 2-1 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup. The pair should certainly not be used as scapegoats for the defeats they have been involved in, but they have not performed well enough either.
A lack of action might be a contributory factor. Trippier, for example, has only started five games this term, plus two brief outings as a substitute. It is a vicious circle -- rustiness impairs performances and makes playing time harder to come by.
The good news, then, is that it was a similar story at this stage last season. Trippier only made eight appearances before the trip to Watford after Christmas, when he set up Son's goal, and he grew in confidence and importance from there -- at least for a couple of months.
Pochettino and the Tottenham fans will hope that both reserve full-backs now show the form they displayed at the turn of the last year and prove that they can be trusted to ease Walker and Rose's work-load.
If they are unable to do so, Pochettino is likely to consider their positions at the club in the summer. Few will forget his warning after Spurs' Champions League elimination: "Maybe we need to add more quality in the squad."
A quick look at Hull's roster -- which includes ex-Spurs players Michael Dawson, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone and Ryan Mason -- should also remind Tottenham's current players that there are casualties in the pursuit of improvement.
Ben is ESPN FC's Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.