Despite it being less than two weeks ago, it feels like it has been forever since Tottenham Hotspur saw out a 1-0 result against newly-promoted Watford on August 29. After three matches, Spurs have taken maximum points and went into the first international break flying high, looking to inject some more talent into the squad before the close of the transfer window.
And while they did just that by signing Emerson Royal, who was likely viewed as excess by cash-strapped Barcelona, Tottenham has had some kind of an international break and not for the right reasons.
The main storyline over the course of this international break has been Argentina’s handling of COVID restrictions ahead of their match against rivals Brazil in the CONMEBOL group as part of the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. The scapegoats have been the four Premier League players who flew south to join their compatriots in international play, including Spurs players Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero.
The saga culminated with Brazilian health personnel and individuals of the Brazilian Federal Police walking onto the pitch in the middle of the match to detain Lo Celso, Romero and Aston Villa’s duo of Emi Martinez and Emi Buendía. Since then, all four players have been sent back to England (with a stop-off in Croatia) and now face a fine as well as a quarantine period that will likely keep them out of contention for their clubs this weekend.
On top of Lo Celso and Romero, Tottenham will also be without Davinson Sánchez, putting two central defenders on the shelf for Nuno Espírito Santo to work around and come up with solutions. Once linked to a move away, Sánchez has been one of the better players for Spurs so far this season, so his absence will certainly be missed.
And if you thought the hangover of the international break ended there, it did not. On top everything else, many players within the first-team also suffered knocks and injuries.
Two of Spurs’ younger prospects, Ryan Sessegnon and Oliver Skipp, seemed to pick up injuries over the break. As part of the England Under-21 squad, Sessegnon withdrew from the squad after suffering a knock in training and was ruled out of Saturday’s matchday squad. At 21 years of age, Sessegnon is still extremely young, but recurring injuries like these have kept him from taking the next step and becoming a bigger influence in the starting lineup.
Skipp, on the other hand, came off injured in an Under-21 match earlier in the week with what was described as a ‘tight groin’. Make of that what you will, but the youngster will be assessed ahead of Saturday’s match. Skipp has received major minutes as part of Nuno’s midfield in the 4-3-3 shape. Perhaps Skipp could participate this week if Spurs are trying to see out a result, but he may not be a candidate to start, likely pushing Danish international Pierre-Emile Højbjerg back more central to a defensive role.
Due to his performances this season, speedy attacker Steven Bergwijn was called back up to the Netherlands squad. Bergwijn lasted just around 60 minutes in the Netherlands’ 6-1 win against Turkey and was pictured after the match nursing a concern over his left foot. Similar to Skipp, Tottenham will assess Bergwijn ahead of Saturday’s kick-off. But as pace and speed is such an important asset of his game, it will surely be a blow to Tottenham’s game on the counter to not have a fully-fit Bergwijn.
Perhaps most important is the concern over Son Heung-min, as the South Korean superstar has been experiencing discomfort in his calf and was held out of a match as a precautionary measure. Like Skipp and Bergwijn, Son should be available for 25-40 minutes if needed to be called upon, but he may not be at his best.
So, Spurs will definitely be without three players in Lo Celso, Romero and Sánchez with three more questionable in Sessegnon, Skipp, Bergwijn and Sonny. The reality is that Spurs may need to look for other alternatives to make up their starting XI.
In defense, the absences of Romero and Sánchez will likely mean a new face in the starting lineup. Surely, Eric Dier will be back in the lineup, but who will partner alongside him? Joe Rodon has recovered from an injury that has hampered him, but the 23-year-old has yet to feature under Nuno, so perhaps it could be Emerson Royal, acquired by Spurs on Deadline Day, who could come into the fold.
In doing this, it would move Tanganga back to the centerback position, his primary position. Spurs really do not have a great amount of depth in defense, so the decisions on the back-four will be made up almost entirely on which player (Emerson versus Rodon) Nuno prefers in his starting XI.
We expect Tottenham to play once again in the 4-3-3 shape that they have showcased in the league thus far. If that is the case and Skipp cannot go, there is an interesting question regarding who Nuno will opt to play alongside Dele Alli and Højbjerg in the midfield ‘3’.
The three that will likely be considered are Harry Winks, Tanguy Ndombele and even Bryan Gil. Obviously Gil is more of an attacking player, but Spurs have featured him a bit more centrally. If the choice is between Winks and Ndombele, obviously Ndombele is the more gifted player. However, the Frenchman has not been apart of Nuno’s plans so far in large part due to his desire to leave the club this summer. Winks has featured under Nuno, but perhaps this could be the opportunity to bring Ndombele into the fold.
With the window shut, Ndombele will be staying in north London for now. Knowing that playing and winning heals all wounds, perhaps Ndombele will find a level of form like he did under Jose Mourinho last season. Spurs have struggled in with ball progression this season. Ndombele is the best ball-carrier on the squad and, if given the chance, will be able to showcase the influence he can have in the squad.
In attack, I think there is a case that we see Tottenham feature a platoon of Son and Bergwijn to split time and take advantage of what they can bring if neither are able to go 90 minutes. This will likely mean that Lucas Moura will be given a starting role and a big opportunity to prove that he is deserving of more significant minutes. And to make the situation a bit better, at least Spurs will have a more-fit Harry Kane, with two matches under his belt during the international break, to hold play up and make things happen in the attack.
While it is only Matchday 4, it is these types of games that Spurs have dropped in recent years. As Tottenham travel to south London to face an opponent that is known to have a hostile atmosphere, Spurs should still have enough ammunition to take three points against a side that is still getting used to playing under new manager Patrick Vieira. It was the Palace away fixture that led to Spurs’ decline from the top spot in the table last season. They approach a similar situation on Saturday, but perhaps a winning result can push this team into taking the next step in their European aspirations.
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