Tottenham went from a mostly healthy squad to something close to the walking wounded in a very short period of time. Blame the congested match fixture schedule due to an ill-advised winter World Cup, blame a Tottenham squad that obviously isn’t as deep as what it needs to be. But Tottenham head into Wednesday’s home Champions League match against Sporting without two of their best players, and possibly up to four.
Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison continue to be out injured, and Spurs played without both Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cuti Romero in today’s 2-1 loss to Newcastle. In the wake of that loss, Antonio Conte spoke in his press conference about the status of his dinged up squad, and quickly quashed any hope that either Deki or Richy would be available for the Sporting match.
“Romero’s [injury was in] the last two or three games. He arrived every day half and half to decide if he play or doesn’t play. I think in the past we have taken a risk. The players gave their availability to play otherwise, honestly, if the player doesn’t want to play, I don’t force the player. Now, after the game against United, he felt a lot of fatigue and then yesterday, he felt fatigued in his calf. Before in his thigh, the right. Now left in the calf. Pierre, it was the same because Pierre played every game, he played every minute, and he was really tired.
“About Richy and Deki? No chance [for Wednesday]. I don’t know about Pierre and Cuti for Wednesday. If you ask me in this moment, I don’t have an answer because I don’t know the way they recover from this fatigue and this situation if they have something, Romero in his calf or Pierre in his thigh.”
Not good! Injuries to Deki and Richarlison mean that Spurs are almost certainly going to continue to start both Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, as the only players who can sub in for them are a recently-returned Lucas Moura, Bryan Gil, and in a pinch, Ivan Perisic. The good news is that if Spurs can beat Sporting and Marseille can knock off Eintracht Frankfurt, Spurs confirm progression out of the group stages and can maybe rotate in their final match at Marseille.
But they’ll have to win, and it sounds like they’ll need to do it without a bunch of important pieces. Now, despite the loss today, Tottenham didn’t actually play all that poorly, winning the xG battle fairly handily and conceding two goals based on individual errors. On another day, Spurs convert a few of their early chances, stops Newcastle in their tracks, and wins fairly handily. But that’s why you play the games.
Conte, for what its worth, sounded as frustrated with the injuries as we all felt, but said that he has no choice but to make the best out of a bad situation and have his team ready to go with just two days preparation.
“I think my only worry at this moment is we have to try to keep our fingers crossed and don’t have injuries because we are not a team with such a depth of squad to face competitions like the Premier League and Champions League, but this is not something against the club.
“Absolutely we knew this situation. I spoke with the club, and if you remember very well, at the start of this season, I said to you that we need to go step by step and have time and patience and have two or three transfer markets to bring this squad to be competitive to play in two competitions like Premier League and Champions League.
“In this moment, we are playing massive games, and for example, there are players like Hojbjerg who has played every game, and at the end, there was an injury because he was tired. He was a risk, and it’s the same for Cuti [Romero] and for Richy, he played with the national team and then he came back.
“For Deki, honestly, for Deki, our expectation was to have him recovered much earlier. Instead, the situation was worse, and we needed to wait. Lucas Moura started the season with this problem in his tendon, and now he’s trying to recover a good physical condition.
“For Skippy, it’s the first game since January. (Laughs) When you put all this together, we have to have experience. Okay, you have to have experience. In this moment, it’s very important for me to cope with this difficult moment and to have experience and try to go until November in the best possible way. For this reason, we need to be focused on recovering in two days.”