Distin Eyes Spurs Wingers
Defender hopeful Phil Neville can keep Gareth Bale quiet.
Imagine the scene. It's an hour before kick off at White Hart Lane tomorrow evening and the Everton teamsheet is pinned upon the wall in the Tottenham dressing room. Gareth Bale rises and heads over as always, though a little more sheepishly than usual. There's a name he desperately wants to be absent. Phil Neville.
Bale was the toast of the Premier League, Europe even, when the Blues last travelled to north London to take on Harry Redknapp's men in October 2010. In fact, just three days earlier he had terrorised giants Inter Milan, bagging a hat-trick under the floodlights of the San Siro, humiliating Brazil's World Cup right back Maicon in the process.
But then he came up against Neville. And, to use common football parlance, Neville, the 33-year-old veteran, 'did a job' on him. Bale hardly had a sniff.
Neville's fellow defender Sylvain Distin remembers it well. He couldn't really believe what he was seeing.
"I don't understand how he did it because he's so slow!" joked Distin, recalling his captain's heroics during the 1-1 draw that afternoon. "It's just mad. I still don't get it. Maybe they must be friends or something like that!
"No, he did a great job and we're going to have to do it again. And maybe they've got more individual quality throughout the team now, so it's not only stopping Gareth Bale, it's the other players as well."
One new threat for Everton's rearguard to contend with is that of Emmanuel Adebayor. The former Arsenal striker has netted nine goals since joining on loan from Manchester City in the summer, though Distin insists the most important job for Everton will once again be stifling the service of Bale and fellow flyer Aaron Lennon.
"[Adebayor] is a great player definitely, and maybe he's added a bit more of an aerial threat," he said. "But the service he gets from the two players on the side, Lennon and Bale, for me it's them who make the difference because most of their goals come from them."
The goals have helped propel Redknapp's side to third in the Premier League table and victory tomorrow would move them just three points behind leaders Manchester City.
But are they genuine contenders for the title?
"I don't know if they're really contenders yet," says Distin. "What I do know is they're a great team, that's for sure, a great football team, a passing team as well. They play really attractive football, they've got a lot of pace, they're good at the back - they're good everywhere - they've got great players on the bench. I think about a player like Niko Kranjcar who's not playing. I played with him at Portsmouth so I know his quality and he's not even playing in the squad, so that just shows you the quality of the Spurs team. But we've got quality as well and we've got a good mentality so it should be okay."
Aiding Distin and Neville in their quest to quell the threat of Bale and Co will be John Heitinga, the Dutchman again expected to deputise at centre back in place of the injured Phil Jagielka.
Heitinga said earlier this week that he is confident he and Distin can form a solid partnership in the England international's absence, sentiments Distin echoed.
"Obviously I've played more games with Jags so maybe we need to communicate a bit less, but I feel good with Johnny as well you know," he said. "We get on really well on and off the pitch, he's a great guy and he's doing great as well. He's played a few games at centre back and showed everybody that he's a tremendous player. You don't play in the final of the World Cup for no reason. I'm not concerned at all. I'm more than happy to play with him."