It was always bound to happen. After multiple matches of unconvincing performances, Tottenham Hotspur finally ended up with a loss, dropping a drab affair to Sporting on Tuesday to muddy up the Champions League situation. While the league record is still unblemished, that will not last long without some changes.
Spurs have been fortunate to open with six unbeaten matches, but they are not without potential remedy should they be willing to improve. The quality of this squad and the brilliance of the manager are well documented, but for whatever reason this combination has not repeated the results and decisive play that was shown down the stretch last season. It would be unrealistic to think that potential is completely lost based on eight early matches.
Still, Antonio Conte must find a way to turn things around quickly. This Saturday is a good chance for that to happen against woeful Leicester City, who somehow sits dead last in the Premier League with just a single point through six fixtures. This level of competition is dangerous, though, as anything other than a convincing win will raise the alarms up yet another level.
Tottenham Hotspur (t-2nd, 14pts) vs. Leicester City (20th, 1pt)
Date: Saturday, September 17
Time: 12:30 pm ET, 5:30 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
TV: NBC (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK)
Leicester has been terrible and it starts on the defensive end, as only one club has allowed more goals than the 16 conceded this season. The Foxes are not quite as bad per xGA (9.1), but either way this is a golden opportunity for some of Tottenham’s attackers to get back into form. This could be the debut of centerback Wout Faes, who has the difficult task of replacing Wesley Fofana, but even that addition will not fix all of the defense’s problems which have been a constant theme thus far.
Meanwhile, scoring on the other end has not been great either. While Leicester is about average in goals (8), xG is much less favorable at (5.5), a bottom-five figure in the league. Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Patson Daka have all offered very little, and while this is likely to resolve at some point, they hopefully remain sparse this weekend.
Tottenham had some memorable moments against Leicester last season, from Steven Bergwijn’s unforgettable stoppage time brace to Heung-Min Son’s belter to help kick off Spurs’ sprint to fourth place. Some more of those good vibes would be helpful this weekend as the team needs another shot of momentum to help get things back on track.
The Son who scored that brace in May is nowhere to be found at this moment, and it finally feels like time for Dejan Kulusevski to take his place in the starting lineup for a match or two. The Swede was one of the few bright spots against Sporting and offers something on the right side of the pitch that is drastically needed, as Emerson Royal is not quite able to meet the attacking demand of the position.
Sporting was the latest team to press Spurs and cause trouble in the midfield, and Conte remains stubborn with both formation and rotation. At this point the hope is for the usual suspects to step it up a bit and get more clinical when the ball does roll the right way. Given how sloppy the passing looked on Tuesday, it is not unreasonable to think that a five percent improvement across the board would be enough to turn this around, but banking on that positive regression might just be wishful thinking.