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Tottenham Hotspur State of the Union

Now out of two competitions, let’s assess Tottenham Hotspur at the crossroads of the season.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final Second Leg Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For the second time in a week, Tottenham Hotspur were put to the sword by rivals Chelsea. Last Wednesday in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge, it was two Spurs’ mistakes at the back that led to their downfall. Despite misplaced passes and unfortunate errors that led to the two-goal advantage Chelsea had over Spurs going into the second leg on Wednesday, there was hope that perhaps Spurs could get an early goal and look to put the pressure on at home under the lights.

Instead, any hope for the game was all but gone around 1:45 PM EST when Spurs’ lineup was released. Despite a few changes here and there, the lineup alone led many to believe that it would take a miracle, a la an Amsterdam one, for Spurs to tie things up. Perhaps in large part due to the lack of depth, the absence of complete investment and the injury issues going on at the club, Spurs once again persisted with many of the same second string players that led to underwhelming performances from the first leg and the FA Cup match vs. Morecambe

As many expected, Spurs crashed out against one of their bitter rivals in a tournament that was perhaps their most realistic chance of winning a trophy. Spurs entered the season with their sights set on winning a trophy in realistically either the League Cup, FA Cup and/or the UEFA Conference League. With winning the Premier League never being a remote possibility, Spurs now remain in just the FA Cup as we approach the halfway mark in the month of January.

So after yet another agonizing exit in the quest for silverware, let’s pause, take a step back and have a re-think of this year and what the club can still achieve with a ton to play for with still a lot of time remaining this season.

Injury troubles

For starters, there is obviously a feeling of doom and gloom surrounding the club at the moment. Their last four matches — two against Chelsea, one against Morecambe and one in the league against Watford — have been extremely uninspiring. There are a few different injuries to key players in the squad. In either game against Chelsea, Spurs were unable to deploy defenders Eric Dier and Sergio Reguilón.

Additionally in their second game, Heung-min Son was unable to play due to an injury that will keep him out for a few more weeks, while Spurs’ best defender Cristian Romero has been out since the last international break. The good news however is that most of Spurs’ injured players should be in the equation in the next few days and weeks.

Frustrations over the January transfer window

In addition to the the injuriesm the difficult and tricky January transfer window has come and Spurs — like always — seem more keen on finding the best deals possible rather than getting their business over and done with. Time will tell whether this will pay off for the club, but it comes as no surprise why supporters are frustrated when clubs the size of Aston Villa are acting bolder via bringing in players that can immediately improve the squad like Phillippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne.

The tea leaves surrounding Tottenham’s transfer prospects are mostly related to the possibility of Adama Traoré joining, ostensibly as a right wingback. Traore would give a bit more attacking onus in comparison to Emerson Royal, who has come under fire from fans during Antonio Conte’s tenure. The latest surrounding Adama is that the deal to Spurs could be a loan-to-buy, similar to both the deals of Atalanta duo Romero and Pierluigi Gollini.

In addition to Adama, Conte has made it known that he wants another striker and perhaps even another centerback this window. Supporters have been calling for a bit more creativity, but it has not come across in either press conferences or his team selections that Conte necessarily agrees. With Giovani Lo Celso coming back from injury, the Argentinian will certainly have his chances to make his way into Conte’s plans permanently.

It also does not help the mood around Spurs that the club looks to be in the process of shipping out one of the more prized prospects from their youth academy. As of Friday, it has been reported that Blackburn and Spurs look to be in agreement for 20-year-old striker Dilan Markanday. For a club who has expressed utilizing their youth more, the decision to move on one of their more talented ones seems quite curious.

The continuous need for outgoing players

The past few games have provided more and more evidence that parting ways with a few players is just going to be best for everyone involved. The most visible example of this is of course Tanguy Ndombele after not only his lackluster performance vs. Morecambe, but also his temperament and mentality when he was substituted amidst a visceral reaction from the fans.

Ndombele is really the most visible example of players who have been brought into the club in recent seasons that have just failed to kick on and failed to prove their worth and the truth is that the club should look for many outgoings in this window. On top of Ndombele, it may be best for players such as Matt Doherty, Joe Rodon and even Dele Alli to be moved on to rejuvenate their footballing careers. But with how difficult this window has proven it can be and the high wages that Spurs are paying some of their players, the number of suitors interested in the aforementioned players among others could be minimal.

il manager italiano

On top of all of the above, the scariest thing for Spurs and their supporters is the sudden change in mood in the Italian manager. Prior to the fixture congestion before January, Conte seemed quite jovial in his press conferences and on the touchline. The team was winning and clicking and perhaps the Italian manager was expecting some much-needed reinforcements in January as he at that point had spent a sufficient amount of time with the squad to know what he needed to be brought in. In recent showings, perhaps due to some of the recent performances, Conte has looked downcast and despondent. And for a manager like Conte who gives his all and expects the same from all parties he deals with at each club, the signs are extremely worrisome and the remedies to fix these problems does not at this moment seem to be what the club is looking to pursue.

We do not have to look long at Conte’s record to know that if he is not getting the same level that he is giving, he will walk. At Inter, despite winning the Scudetto literally less than four weeks prior, Conte walked away from the title-winning club after reported disagreements with the overall direction the club was going. While Conte insisted in Friday’s press conference that he seems happy and that he is committed to improving the overall situation, the harsh truth is that Conte has had the look lately of a dejected manager — the same look his predecessors had — so it comes as no surprise why some supporters are once again at a boiling point.

Half glass-full approach

As is the case with any professional sport, football and life in the Premier League is all about ‘what have you done for me lately’. Due to all of the above issues and constraints surrounding the club, it is easy to forget that everything Spurs are trying to achieve this season is still right in front of them. It is so easy to remember that Conte’s Spurs are unbeaten in his first eight league games with the club, a first for a Tottenham gaffer.

While this run has come against the expense of quite a few lower-tier Premier League sides, Spurs sit just four points off of fourth-place West Ham with three games in hand. Spurs left four points on the board when they failed to take all three points against 10-men Liverpool and 10-men Southampton in recent weeks, but the club is right in the thick of things as they head into a crucial and perhaps a de facto Top-4 deciding game against rivals Arsenal in the weekend.

With a Top 4 position such a realistic goal and opportunity, chairman Daniel Levy’s trip to the Bahamas to speak with majority owner Joe Lewis had to have been a discussion based on loosening the purse strings for Spurs to bring in more players this window. Spurs have been so conscientious about their financial capital in the past half-decade, but the club can no longer rely on catching lightning in a bottle as they did with Mauricio Pochettino when they became a regular in the Top-4 conversation.

Levy and the board have been labelled as “cheap” and that comes with good reason, but a shrewd businessman like Levy must know that investing money to make money, especially when you have the correct resources in place like a world-class manager for one example, is a worthwhile and intelligent business decision. Add in the fact that Spurs seem to have an interested Harry Kane once again and it provides more strength to the argument that Spurs should truly go for it.

It is not so simple as this, but Spurs do have a ringer with Conte and if the board does not fully back him and reach relatively close to the level he will require, this will become a “who knows what could have happened” conversation as the Italian signed just an 18-month contract with the club. There has been scuttlebutt in recent years about Levy and ENIC looking to sell the club, but recent seasons — headlined by the falls from grace in the league to the lack of playing in the more-premium European competitions — have proven that Spurs have all the makings of a natural beauty on the outside with a rotten core inside, as Conte has alluded to in his initial briefings surrounding the club.

It does feel like now is the time for the club to kick on and get back to the level that they should be operating at. It may not feel like it but Spurs have everything that they had been hoping to achieve this season right in front of them. Levy has made strides in improving the the team on the footballing side of things with the appointment of Fabio Paratici in the summer. So while the initial intention has been made clear, nothing will set into stone if the financial investment does not back it up.

Nothing is certain, but with the right players in place there will be no more excuses for Spurs. Should the board provide the finances required, it will prove to be the worthwhile gamble that Spurs managers and supporters have been calling out for. And if it does not work out, then it does not work out, but at least Spurs will have gone for it and that alone would make its supporters happy and better heard. With all of the above said, I will leave you all with a quote:

To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.

Spurs’ brass will have no more excuses should they fail to back Conte and give him all of the resources he needs — so, why not just do it? With Conte in charge, Spurs have a manager who will keep the board accountable. And if they opt for the easier or cheaper route, it will only continue the downturn the club has endured in each of the past three seasons.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.