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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers Preview: Spurs at risk of an ill-timed slide

Back-to-back league defeats are moving Spurs behind the eight ball.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

After starting his Tottenham Hotspur tenure with nine-straight unbeaten results in the Premier League, Antonio Conte has now suffered back-to-back defeats and is facing an uphill battle over the back half of the season. The fixture list is still plentiful with postponements to make up, and the race for the top four remains as crowded as ever.

As such, Spurs really need to get back to their winning ways, but to do so requires a much better effort than they showed against Southampton on Wednesday. The midfield remains a cause for concern, and though the ideal XI has yet to take the pitch together, there is not a lot of time left to get things right.

Sunday’s visitors are a familiar face, with Tottenham already facing — and narrowly beating — Wolverhampton Wanderers twice this season. An early 1-0 win behind Dele Alli and Nuno Espirito Santo feels long ago, as does the League Cup Third Round victory. Both of those contests were at Molineux, so hopefully the home environment can yield an even stronger performance.

Tottenham Hotspur (7th, 36pts) vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (8th, 34pts)

Date: Sunday, February 13
Time: 9:00 am ET, 2:00 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: Peacock Premium (USA)

Wolves sit just two points behind Tottenham in the table (through having played one more match), so this should not be taken for granted. Wolves continued to be driven through strong defensive numbers, sitting sixth in xGA, but just 18th in xG. However, they have had a couple recent outings with multiple goals, so the backline should not feel too comfortable, especially after Wednesday.

For Spurs, the problems all begin in the center of the park. Harry Winks and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg did not impress against Saints, but until Oliver Skipp is healthy and Rodrigo Bentancur is able to start (and maybe even after that, depending on formation) both players will likely see playing time. Their limitations are clear, but this squad is going to have to figure out how to deal with pressing teams and aggressive midfields.

The hope is that players like Bentancur, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, and Dejan Kulusevski will be able to provide some ball progression to help facilitate the attack and let the other midfielders focus more on defensive positioning and ball winning. Of course, only so many of these attack-minded options can play at once, so realistically some of the burden will remain with the central players mentioned above.

Three themes

  1. Regardless of how well Spurs do with getting the ball in the box, Harry Kane must continue to be the attack. The striker scored against Wolves in the League Cup and has been much improved since then, getting back to his typical lethal form since the arrival of Conte. Above-average finishing could help offset some other deficiencies on this team.
  2. Aside from central midfield, the combination of Davinson Sanchez and Emerson Royal really struggled during the week. Part of this could be remedied by replacing Sanchez with Eric Dier, whenever he returns, but there is just not defensive consistency on the right side of the pitch, especially with Moura as the right-side attacker. This is the obvious area for improvement that Conte can address, which means some changes must be made to the lineup.
  3. Tottenham has a full six days off before Saturday’s trip to the Etihad, which kicks off four straight road matches. This break will be important for rest, but also for getting Bentancur and Kulusevski fully integrated. Neither has been in London very long, but Spurs clearly need both to jump in as soon as they are ready, especially Bentancur, who has a clear spot in the starting lineup.