Wednesday’s thrilling comeback win meant the world to Tottenham Hotspur. Not only did Spurs take all three points in a 3-2 victory at the King Power against Leicester City, a side they finished behind last season, but a few different players in the squad received quite a boost in confidence as well.
Despite thoroughly outplaying the Foxes throughout much of the match, it looked like Spurs were heading to a head-scratching defeat. In a game where Harry Kane could have had a first-half hat trick, Spurs had chance after chance in this game en route to 27 total shots and nearly 5 xG. Two goals in the span of two minutes from super-sub Steven Bergwijn guided Spurs to one of their most important victories of the 2021-22 campaign, putting Spurs above rivals Arsenal and just one point back of fourth, with three games in hand over West Ham.
In most other games, the result would have truly felt like a smash-and-grab. But due to the performance and Spurs’ final expected goals total, the right side definitely won in this game. Spurs looked well-drilled, extremely dangerous in attack and much more in unison after having extra time on the training ground thanks to Arsenal postponing the North London Derby on Sunday. The three points were not only huge to Spurs’ Top 4 hopes, but many players who were considered “on the fringe” helped the team navigate a legendary comeback.
The biggest beneficiary was of course Bergwijn, who came on in the 79th minute for Sergio Reguilón. Even if you leave out the two goals, he looked dangerous. His athleticism and his ability to create with the ball seemed perfect for the cliche of a super-sub. For a player who has been linked to a transfer back to the Netherlands, this performance will do a world of good to his confidence in the now-expected event that he stays with the club.
That said, looking back at the past 2-3 years the hard truth is that there have been more reasons for players brought into the club to struggle than to succeed and take the right steps forward. After getting close to winning the Champions League just two full seasons ago, there has been more and more pressure on the club to get every single transfer right. As Spurs have become a bigger club, their margin for error has reduced, and fans’ patience with incoming players has also reduced.
Prior the club’s rejuvenation under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs invested in unique, under the radar talents with high upside, looking to bring them onboard and build them up while the players take the next step in their careers. In comparison, they have never been like a Chelsea, where expectations are always so high that the club can shell out large sums of money to fix their striker position as the Blues did this past summer in their £100m bid for Romelo Lukaku. For Spurs, it has always been in the investments of players like Heung-min Son, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, talented but underrated, that showed the blueprint to how the club was going to do their business. But as the club has gotten closer and closer to the mountain top of success, it seems that somewhere in the process the club has lost their sense in what had gotten them there in the first place.
As Spurs gained more and more notoriety by consistently playing in the Champions League, their spending has also increased – Tanguy Ndombele is the club’s record signing – but that also adds additional pressure on those who are brought in. Add in the fact that newer signings in recent seasons have played for five different managers and it truly does not come as a surprise why many players who have transferred in have struggled.
Despite all of this, there is of course the reality that despite all their best intentions there are still a number of players who have ultimately just not worked out. That can be said for Ndombele, as reports recently suggest that he could be loaned out to PSG — reuniting him with Pochettino in the process — as Spurs look to offload him prior to the end of the January transfer window.
However, one player who deserves some more time to come good on his transfer investment is Giovani Lo Celso, who joined in the same window as Ndombele. For Lo Celso, the timing of his injuries, the last two of which have been sustained on international duty with Argentinga, has frustrated many Spurs supporters. Prior to his purchase, the Argentine was a highly coveted talent in Serie A, contributing nine goals and four assists in his single season at Real Betis, on loan from PSG. Additionally, this was a player that was literally never significantly injured in his career. Since coming to Spurs, however, injuries have been just about the only consistent factor for the player.
While Gio has yet to get going at Spurs for Lo Celso, it does not mean there is not a player in there. Gio has consistently been one of the more important players for the Argentinian national team. Despite his injuries and rocky tenure at Spurs, he is continuously selected and called up for Argentina each international break. It is just at Spurs where he has fallen short.
It gets overlooked as it came in the tail end of José Mourinho’s Tottenham tenure, but Lo Celso may have been Spurs’ best player for a solid month or so in the middle of last season’s campaign. Lo Celso has versatility as he can play centrally as a number eight and also in a more advanced role up the pitch as evidenced by his most recent sub cameos since coming back from injury.
After Wednesday’s match it is becoming more evident that Spurs are better suited to play in a 3-5-2 shape as opposed to the 3-4-3. (Whether Conte agrees with that or not remains to be seen.) Due to his aforementioned flexibility, there is no reason why Lo Celso — barring injury — should not be able to get a good run of games to give Conte another look as the Italian continues to assess his midfield options.
With a good engine and a unique ability to spray the ball around, Lo Celso truly could blossom as a player who dictates tempo in the middle of the pitch for Conte. At this point in Conte’s tenure, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg continue to prove that they can be trusted. However, this duo provides some redundancy in the creative, play-making capacity. While fellow midfielder Harry Winks has had an uptick in form since Conte’s arrival, the potential for Lo Celso is still there to be the most integral asset in midfield. Should Spurs continue to rethink and tinker with their squad, it is becoming more and more evident that 3-5-2 is the best way forward and adding a piece to the puzzle in Lo Celso could prove to be vital.
Similar to Lo Celso, Bergwijn has also had his fair share of injuries. But as both players finally appear to be healthy, they both have traits that can be resourceful. If for nothing else, Conte has proven that he can identify certain strengths within a player and find a role or place in the squad that can take advantage of that. This has been the case with Ben Davies, as he has transitioned to looking extremely comfortable in the left-sided centerback role. Even in Wednesday’s game, this was the case with Winks as Conte dropped him into a makeshift centerback role to give him more time to pass the ball around and in the process spurn a player like Japhet Tanganga more up the pitch. For Bergwijn, it has been playing a role where he plays and feeds off of a bigger and more physical attacking threat like Harry Kane.
As Lo Celso gets hopefully healthier and healthier and he gets his fitness up to where it needs to be, it feels like the perfect time for him to look past the dull and pragmatic playing style of Mourinho and the unreliable nature of Nuno Espírito Santo and come into his own. It’s a perfect opportunity to make good on the club’s investment in him.
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