Tottenham’s Barclays Premier League title credentials have been backed by Everton manager Roberto Martinez.
Spurs begin 2016 in fourth, just four points off leaders and north London rivals Arsenal, after suffering just one league defeat since an opening-day loss at Manchester United.
They appear to have put that surprise home reverse to Newcastle behind them too, winning three successive games since and Toffees boss Martinez sees no reason why they cannot be contending for a maiden Premier League title success come May.
Asked whether he believed their opponents this weekend were capable of mounting a serious title challenge, Martinez replied: “Why not? If anything this season is about consistency and whichever team is able to be consistent in the second half of the season will have a great opportunity to achieve a really, really good ending of the campaign.
“Spurs have a strong squad, a large squad, they’re competing in Europe. They’ve got a strong mentality as a group and I don’t see them losing any sort of energy or focus over the next few months.
“If anything, being such a young team, I expect them to grow even stronger. I see them as strong contenders for a really successful finish.”
Much has been made of the attacking talent at Martinez’s disposal, with Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, the Premier League’s joint top-scorer, earning plaudits for their early-season form.
However, their boss concedes he is a fan of Mauricio Pochettino’s own forwards and the likes of Harry Kane, whose goal separated the two sides in the previous encounter at Goodison Park on the final day of the previous campaign.
“I’ve been a big admirer of this Spurs side,” Martinez added ahead of Sunday’s match against Tottenham at Goodison Park.
“What Mauricio Pochettino has achieved is a really strong team, very young, very athletic, with a lot of energy and with a talented front four that they can score goals from any situation.
“It’s not surprising to me how consistent they’ve been and how difficult they are to play against. I expect Tottenham to have a stronger second half of the campaign, that’s why we’ll have to be at our best.
“But, at the same time, we’re looking forward to that game because we feel that we’ve been a bit unfortunate with our results and a good performance against a team as good as Spurs, at Goodison, could get us in a fantastic position approaching the start of the new year.”
The hosts will be missing James McCarthy as the Republic of Ireland midfielder suffered a recurrence of his hip problem on Monday while Tom Cleverley, who came off the bench to replace him, is doubtful with an Achilles issue.
Everton captain Phil Jagielka will return from his two-month injury absence at some point over the next three games, although next week’s fixtures against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup or Dagenham in the FA Cup are more likely comeback dates.