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Foyth steps forward as Spurs unearth latest gem
IT has been quite a month for Tottenham Hotspur's 20-year-old Argentine defender Juan Foyth. So assured was he in his team's recent League Cup victory over West Ham United, his first appearance of the 2018/19 season, that he was rewarded with a first English Premier League (EPL) start a few days later, but conceded two penalties in a 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Retained for the next match against Crystal Palace, he was outstanding on a wet night in south-east London, scoring the only goal of the game - a header - to seal all three points.
He then flew off to make his Argentina debut against Mexico and was named man of the match in the first of two consecutive friendly games between the two South American rivals.
With Jan Vertonghen still injured and question marks over Davinson Sanchez's hamstring, ahead of Saturday's home clash with Chelsea (Sunday 1.30am kickoff, Singapore time), Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino would have no qualms about thrusting Foyth into the heat of this London derby.
The only sticking point could be his late arrival back to London from Argentina, along with team mates Erik Lamela and reserve goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, but whether or not he eventually plays, Foyth's breakthrough speaks volumes about the club's philosophy.
Much was made of Tottenham's failure to sign a single player in the last transfer window, yet they are fourth in the EPL standings despite playing eight of their opening 12 fixtures away from home.
If they can inflict a first league defeat on Chelsea this season, Spurs would move above Maurizio Sarri's side into third position.
Once again, Pochettino, deprived of the huge transfer kitty available to the other leading clubs battling for the top four places, is proving adept at unearthing gems.
Full-back Kieran Trippier, signed from Burnley as an understudy to Kyle Walker (currently at Manchester City), and midfielder Harry Winks have become England internationals on Pochettino's watch.
Lamela has blossomed into an outstanding attacking midfielder and Gazzaniga has looked impressive when called upon to understudy France's top goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Pochettino has built his career on trusting young players and Foyth's emergence is just the latest example of why the former Espanyol and Southampton manager is so highly valued at Spurs, who are juggling the costs of a yet-to-be-completed £800 million (S$1,410 million) stadium and staying competitive on the pitch.
Argentina's national coach Lionel Scaloni praised Foyth after the 2-0 friendly win over Mexico last Friday and acknowledged the part that Pochettino has played in the defender's development in North London.
If selected against Chelsea, Foyth will face a stern test against a Blues side who have made a mockery of a so-called two-horse EPL title race between champions Manchester City and Liverpool.
The only other Chelsea team to start an EPL season 12 games unbeaten were Jose Mourinho's 2014-15 title-winners.
Despite that, and the sizzling form of attacking midfielder Eden Hazard, Chelsea are still challenging just under the radar, although a win at Tottenham's temporary Wembley home might even convince the understated Sarri that his side can make a run for the title.
Manchester City - the EPL leaders by two points over Liverpool - have not conceded an away league goal since August and will expect to come away from their visit to a struggling West Ham side unscathed, having won 4-1 at the London Stadium last season.
Liverpool, also unbeaten this term, are at seventh-placed Watford, while Arsenal, in fifth spot and three points behind Tottenham, face a tricky trip to the south coast to face Eddie Howe's impressive Bournemouth side on Sunday.
Eighth-placed Manchester United have had a full two weeks to stew over their damaging derby defeat at Manchester City, and will be eager to make up some lost ground when they host lowly Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils have not lost to Palace in their last 18 EPL meetings, winning 15 of them. The Eagles (Palace's nickname), who have lost their last two league matches, are seeking a first victory in eight games. REUTERS