2023 has been anything but happy for Tottenham Hotspur, though we’re only three days into it. But that’s what you get when you start out the new year with a distressing 2-0 home loss to Aston Villa and their Business-Casual Dracula manager Unai Emery. Now, a chance to turn over a new leaf has turned into an injury crisis, a grumpy manager, and chants of “Daniel Levy, get out of club” at full time.
But that’s not to say that Spurs can’t turn it around. There’s nothing so toxic that a couple of wins can’t fix, and Spurs will have an opportunity to do just that tomorrow at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace.
But first, we need to talk about that match. It was bad. We’re gonna do the player rating thing, but for the theme let’s keep it hopeful (at least mostly). Here are your player ratings for Tottenham’s 2-0 loss to Aston Villa to the theme of New Year’s resolutions for the club in 2023.
5 stars: Build the back office
Player performance and qualifying for Champions League is obviously important, but Spurs are struggling in other areas too — specifically in the backroom areas of recruitment, analytics, and sports science, all areas where Spurs have lurched to and fro over the years based on the whims of whatever coach was in charge. It’s crazy and it’s reflected in their spotty transfer record over the past five years or so. Most other clubs either have or are developing these areas, specifically in analytics. While Spurs are bolstering their recruitment with the additions of Paratici and Steinsson, it’s not clear what they’re using (beyond existing contacts) to identify targets. Spurs could do a lot of good for themselves if they would flesh out and develop the parts of the club that few fans rarely see so there’s at least a coherent back office that can guide the overall direction of the club.
Hahaha, yeah nobody was in this category
4 stars: Figure out what kind of club Spurs wants to be
Daniel Levy has been unquestionably outstanding in how he took Tottenham from a mid-table cup team to a big club. He has not been good at figuring out what to do now that Spurs ARE a big club. And that’s a problem. Spurs used to be the scrappy underdog that punched above its weight, but while it’s now in an entirely new weight class, the big dogs have only gotten bigger in the ensuing years. Spurs need to figure out its identity. Are they the Dortmund of the Premier League — buying undervalued young talents, developing them, and selling them for big money to reinvest? Or are they going to start throwing their financial weight around in order to slug it out with the Citys, Chelseas, Uniteds, and (now) Newcastles? Right now, the answer is neither and it’s one of the reasons why the club is in the position its in.
LOL nobody was here either, this sucks Beavis
3.5 stars: Stick or twist on Conte
In some ways the appointment of Conte was a gimme — he was easily the best manager available at the time and probably the most talented and proven manager in recent history, a list that includes Jose Mourinho. But it’s also a weird fit for this club in particular that isn’t know for spending tons of money on players like Conte demands. Now with Conte’s Spurs team half-formed and results not coming, Spurs are in this weird nether-region where they aren’t sure whether to back Conte fully, especially if Conte isn’t planning on sticking around long term. But they’re close to the point where they’ll have to make a decision — either back him fully or pull the plug. They could be wrong with either choice, but if they go with half-measures they’ll DEFINITELY be wrong. Time to put all the chips on the table.
Cuti Romero (Community — 3.0): Welcome back, Cuti. Bless him, he did well in his first match back after the World Cup, even pushing forward and operating as a quasi-forward at times because nobody else seemed to. Picked up a yellow card because of course he did.
Matt Doherty (Community — 2.5): Dohertinho seemed to find some sort of rapport with Bryan Gil even if it didn’t really lead to any big chances. Had a pretty audacious nutmeg in the first half that made me chortle. Would like to see him more with Kulusevski. Wasn’t the problem on Sunday.
3 stars: Figure out the academy
This is tied in with Tottenham’s overall strategy, but the academy is stuck between competing impulses. Spurs have spent a lot of energy recruiting young talent to its academy, but with Conte at the helm doesn’t provide a pathway to the first team. One option is to create a Chelsea-style loan army and flip them for a small profit, but Spurs don’t seem to want to do that either, as there’s a prevailing guiding principle that Tottenham should be generating their own talent. Something has to change because Spurs are losing youth players to other clubs. Spurs needs to figure out what they want out of the academy — money, or future first teamers — and stick to it.
Clement Lenglet (Community — 2.5): I thought he was fine, mostly? A little lost in the build-up to Villa’s second goal, but didn’t seem out of place in the central CB ahead of Dier. A bad day for Spurs defense overall, sure. Clement didn’t really do anything that egregious to add to it. Picked up probably the only actually deserved yellow in the first half.
Ben Davies (Community — 2.5): IDK man, it was a bad day but he wasn’t any worse than Clement, really. He ran around a lot. Got worked a couple of times by Watkins.
Ivan Perisic (Community — 2.5): Did well to set up Kane’s saved header. Had one of Tottenham’s best scoring opportunities in the second half. Switched flanks late and pushed forward but wasn’t very effective with the match already decided.
2.5 stars: Invest in Spurs Women
This should be several tiers higher, to be honest, but I wanted to make sure it was included. Spurs deserve credit for taking the Women from the fourth tier all the way to the WSL, but the overall support, both financial and otherwise, has been mostly meager. WOSO is a huge market with incredible growth potential, and there’s no reason (beyond just not caring) not to invest in it. There’s a strong rumor that Spurs are going to break the WSL intra-league transfer record with a bid for Chelsea Women’s Beth England. That’s fantastic news, but hopefully only the start.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Community — 2.5): You kind of know what you’re getting with Hojbjerg — lots of work and the occasional goal but not a ton of progressive passing. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t, it can be pretty awful to watch. It didn’t work on Sunday.
Ryan Sessegnon (Community — 2.0): Offered very little on the left flank after coming on as a sub.
2 stars: Finish fourth or higher
It’s obvious, I know, but this really is important because now that Newcastle has an endless Saudi money pit from which to draw funds, it’s going to be even tougher for Spurs to outspend their competitors. Even with the stadium, that Champions League money goes a long, long way. A club like Spurs with their new stadium needs to be playing at the highest level or find themselves slipping back behind the usual suspects.
Hugo Lloris (Community — 1.5): Yeah, the ball took a short hop, but Hugo still should’ve saved that shot. He didn’t, the rebound ended up with Buendia, and everything went off the rails after that. I’d still rather Hugo than Forster, though.
Yves Bissouma (Community — 2.0): Whoof. Another disappointing performance in Spurs’ midfield. Surely a part of that was Spurs being outnumbered in that area of the pitch, but he just doesn’t seem to work in tandem with Hojbjerg. Got torched and then made a dumb tactical foul, picking up his fifth yellow so he’s suspended tomorrow.
Bryan Gil (Community — 2.0): I just don’t know what Bryan does. He’s got a good motor, but doesn’t really pass well and doesn’t create his own shot. I’m glad he’s getting minutes, and Conte seemed satisfied with whatever he was doing out there so what do I know?
Harry Kane (Community — 2.0): Hey did you guise know that Harry Kane didn’t touch the ball for the first 19 minutes of the first half? As annoying as the ongoing match commentary was, they were right — Kane was a non-factor apart from the header that was saved by Villa’s keeper. With Kane, you need him to either take shots, or generate chances for others. Sure, his service was garbage, but he didn’t do either on Sunday.
Son Heung-Min (Community — 2.0): The only good highlight Son had on Sunday was watching him get torched, make a recovery tackle, and then tear off his mask and throw it off the pitch. I was hoping that was his superhero reveal moment. It was the only good thing he did. I’m worried about him, y’all.
Antonio Conte (Community — 1.5): I know he has his hands tied with injuries and a bench he doesn’t like, but he has to do SOMETHING to alleviate these god-awful performances. Switch formations! Go to a back four! Put Harvey White in as a creative mid! Try something risky and insane! Continually running into a wall doesn’t work, no matter how many patterns you drill.
1 star: Sell the club
To be fair, if you’re an ENIC-OUTer this is probably your five star category, but not for me for the simple truth that whoever buys Tottenham Hotspur is likely going to be far, far worse than Daniel Levy and ENIC ever were. If we’re lucky, the new owner will be some sort of conglomerate bid, or a super huge bank/hedge fund hoping to leverage investments. At worst, it’s either or a bored billionaire with nothing to do with their money who wants to treat the club like a plaything, or the sovereign wealth fund of a middle eastern country hoping to sportswash their way out of horrific human rights abuses. I’m not ready to take that risk yet and hope the club doesn’t go there.
No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as selling the club to a foreign sovereign wealth fund.
Tom Carroll Memorial Non-Rating
Pape Sarr, Emerson Royal, Oliver Skipp, Djed Spence