Dean Smith talks about Mings’s absence. “It’s a blow because he is a very good player for us and he is adapted really well to the Premier League but he was ill yesterday so we knew he would be missing,” Smith says. “We’ve got Bjorn Engels who has recently been called up by Belgium so we have strength in depth in that area. Time will tell if he [Mings] is missed or not. We’ve had a half-decent season so far, we have had a big turnaround of personnel and I feel we’re getting better now.” Asked about picking assistant John Terry’s brains for tips on how to get one over on José, the Villa head coach adds: “I’ve been leaning on his knowledge for the last 18 months, but he certainly knows what makes José tick.”
More from Mourinho. “We recovered [Ben] Davies, who played with me just one match,” he says of the boon of the winter break. “[Giovani] Lo Celso is not ready to start the game but ready to help. [Steven] Bergwijn could not play in the cup replay but no problem from now so we have some more options. Other guys have had the opportunity to play but Ben is a proper left-back in his way of playing and I think we need him. In this moment we have more options than before going into a very difficult period where we play three different competitions at the same time. Next week hopefully we will have [Érik] Lamela back, and then we will have only [Moussa] Sissoko and [Harry] Kane in the injury list.”
Twenty minutes until kick-off, so now is as good as time as any to address the big talking point: José Mourinho’s hair, or lack of. “The reason behind the haircut is the barber was bad!” the Tottenham Hotspur manager said. “He did a bad job and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I looked at him and said ‘come on, bring out the [number] one and shave it.’ I know it will take a little longer but it will grow and come back to normality.”
Pepe Reina is again between the sticks for Villa but Tom Heaton, who is out for the season with a knee injury, has been talking candidly to the BBC about the pressure that comes with pulling on an England shirt. “When you’re England’s number one, you’re held to a different standard to the other keepers,” he says. “When you’re a striker, if you miss three chances but score a goal then everyone says how good the goal was. When you’re a keeper, you can make three world-class saves and let one in, and that’s what they’ll talk about. It comes with the territory, it’s no surprise when that scrutiny comes when you’re England’s number one. Pickford knows that, he’s aware of it and he’ll be able to deal with it.”
Dean Smith has had his two pennies’ worth on the winter break, and reckons it might have revitalised Villa. “It’s a tough league, one in which it is difficult to build consistency because of the quality of the other teams in there, but I feel we’ve just started to build that consistency,” he says. “As everybody knows, we had a big turnaround [of players] in the summer and they’re starting to gel. For the first time we’ve had a mini break and we’ve seen a positive side to it. It gave everybody a chance to have some time away from the place, and to clear their heads.”
Essential pre-match reading:
When I heard Appie [Nouri] had brain damage, I just can’t describe my feelings. At that time I didn’t sleep so much. In the first weeks I was scared to play, scared to go on the pitch because Appie was a young boy and out of nowhere … It was difficult. I speak to his brother every day but it’s still difficult.
We’re off to a good start. “Looking at that pic gracing the MBM has me wondering when the hell Dominic Cummings took over Spurs,” emails Speakeasy Ray. Any more for any more?
Team news news: Aston Villa’s frail defence will again be put under the spotlight, and they will have to cope without Tyrone Mings who is absent with tonsilitis, according to Sky. Bjorn Engels is promoted to the Villa starting lineup, while Danny Drinkwater also returns in place of Marvelous Nakamba. As for the visitors, Ben Davies returns to the Spurs starting XI, with the Wales defender making his first appearance since November after recovering from an ankle injury. Davies and Eric Dier both start as Giovani Lo Celso and Japhet Tanganga drop to the bench.
Aston Villa (3-4-3): Reina; Hause, Konsa, Engels; Guilbert, Douglas Luiz, Drinkwater, Targett; El Ghazi, Samatta, Grealish
Subs: Nyland, Elmohamady, Taylor, Nakamba, Hourihane, Trezeguet, Baston
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies; Dier, Winks; Bergwijn, Alli, Son; Lucas Moura
Subs: Gazzaniga, Vertonghen, Tangana, Skipp, Ndombele, Lo Celso, Fernandes
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Tottenham travel to a rainsoaked Villa Park in search of enhancing their push for Champions League qualification. Spurs start the day in sixth, behind Sheffield United. Spurs have not exactly been swashbuckling under José Mourinho but they are picking up points – only Manchester City and Liverpool have yielded more since the Portuguese returned to work in Enfield. Now then, Storm Dennis has already put paid to Witton Station, meaning home and away fans have been piling in via Aston, and a few car parks are flooded but the game is set to go ahead as planned. Fittingly, Danny Drinkwater is set to return to the Villa squad, while the visitors are primed to welcome back Ben Davies and Giovani Lo Celso. Exhilarating fare is unlikely in such conditions but it will at least be entertaining and, if nothing else, expect riveting weather updates.
Kick-off: 2pm (GMT)