My god I feel like that was the longest two weeks of my life, waiting for Ange-Ball to return. But it’s coming! Your PREMIER LEAGUE FIRST PLACED TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR face Fulham on Monday, and head coach Ange Postecoglou finally took to the microphone to face the press today.
Spurs have been good, and it’s weird to be actually looking forward to watching Tottenham play football. In fact, it’s been kind of difficult to know how to handle it, which made the emerging news of various international duty-related injury knocks feel almost comforting. There we go. We’ve got our Tottenham back!
Only... it’s good news. Postecoglou told the assembled press that not only did all of the internationals return without incident, but the squad has welcomed back injured players Giovani Lo Celso, Bryan Gil, Brennan Johnson, and Rodrigo Bentancur to training. But don’t expect Lolo to get playing time anytime soon.
“It’s been a pretty positive international break for us. In terms of availability I’ll address the international players first. Everyone is kind of back and medical reports seem to be good so no real issues around the guys from a fitness perspective. Also, we got a couple of senior debuts with Destiny and Micky getting some runs in there in terms of playing for their national team. It was a good break.
“Gio Lo Celso played for Argentina as well which was great, so those guys all came through it well. With Brennan he’s has had a good, solid couple of weeks of training which is good for him with the guys who have been left alongside Bentancur, Gil. They’re all good. Monday night helps us in terms of that respect. All the international players should be available and Brennan we’ll see how he goes in the next couple of days.
“We’ll be careful with [Bentancur]. Now he’s sort of fully training, so that means he’s into the whole session. We’ve drip-fed him into training the last month and he’s coped pretty well with that. Now he’s into full training.
“We’ve got to be mindful that he’s missed a fair bit of football, but I think the more he trains with the first team over the next few weeks we’ll sort of pick our moment. He’s looking good at training and it was great to have him for the last couple of weeks to fully integrate with the guys who are here and we’re looking forward to having him back.
“No, he won’t be in the squad on Monday. He has just started training, so we will take our time with him. He’s missed a lot of football and we’ll have a look at the next few weeks, the games we’ve got and when we’ve seen enough in training and he feels comfortable, we’ll slowly reintegrate him back into the team.”
That’s seriously good news, especially after the mild collective freak-outs over Son Heung-min playing 90 minutes in a friendly against Vietnam (and limping at halftime), and the ankle knock taken by Cuti Romero while playing for Argentina. Spurs are skirting a very fine line between a potential title challenge and a massive injury crisis, so any news is good news there.
But one player who will not be featuring against Fulham on Monday is Yves Bissouma, who misses out after picking up two yellow cards against Luton Town in Spurs’ last game a lifetime ago. Big Ange implied that his replacement will likely be Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who has played well as a midfield substitute in the early part of this season, but Ange left room for his mind to be changed.
“[Replacing players] is always a constant in every manager’s head, you’re realistic enough to know you’re not going to run with the same XI and every week you wrestle with what the best sort of line up is going to be for you; fitness, form, the way they’re training, the opposition. With Bissouma missing out this game, we had to adjust without him at Luton which I thought we did awfully well with 10 men.
“We’ve got some options [with Bissouma out], certainly Pierre is a ready-made replacement, he’s been training really hard, he’s obviously probably wanted to be playing more because he’s pretty much been a constant for the last two/three years. But when he has come on for us he’s done really well, for me he’s the logical one to come in but we’ve got a couple of sessions to go.
“I mean in terms of him going anywhere I don’t think there was any time during the transfer window where I thought Pierre would move. The discussions I had with him were that he was here and wanted to contribute, he wanted to be part of what we were building. It is obvious someone that has played regularly would have wanted to play more but ultimately our performances have been strong and he has had to bide his time.
“He has also been very important in a lot of the games that we’ve won late or had to shore up late. He has been one of the people who has helped us do it and it is not like he hasn’t contributed at all. He’s been a really important part for us.
“We wouldn’t be in this position if we were just reliant on our starting XI. Fair to say if games had finished at the 80-minute mark, we would not be at top spot. It is not just him but all the guys. It is something we impress on all of them that as disappointed as you are at not starting, it doesn’t mean you are not playing. You are still playing at some point and want you do with those minutes will help us be successful and push their own cause.”
“With Pierre he is a professional and very determined to win a spot in the team. He presents himself well every day and over a 38-game season all of these guys will get an opportunity at some point and what they do with that is up to them. In the meantime what is important is if they want to keep getting opportunities, they have to train well and when they do play, whether they start or not, they contribute to the team.
Ange was also asked about Giovani Lo Celso who made his return from injury as a substitute for Argentina last week. Gio hasn’t played since the LAST time Spurs played against Fulham, the Carabao Cup loss to the Cottagers on August 29.
“[Gio] is obviously very highly regarded with the Argentinian set-up because they always call him up and he played in both games. He didn’t play significant minutes but he played in both and played 15-20 in the second game. It is great for him and his confidence.
“Unfortunately he has a disrupted early part of the season for us but again another player we haven’t had a contribution from and that’s a pleasing thing for us. As good as we’ve been, there are still a few players like Brennan, Bentancur, Gil and Lo Celso who haven’t really played at all for us yet.
“Having them back, even in terms of training and raising the level, they are the things that will give us the focus to maintain and keep improving the performances. When there is competitiveness around the squad in training and playing, that guards against any complacency or anyone feeling comfortable about things.”
All that said, the REALLY good news is that Tottenham Hotspur are heading into Week 9 at the top of the table (did I mention that?). Postecoglou didn’t exactly put the brakes on speculation of whether Spurs can continue this run of form, but did attempt to temper expectations of where this Tottenham team is now and where he hopes it will to.
“We’re in great position in the league and I think that’s reflective of our performances so far but it doesn’t really change the way I’m thinking of kind of what we’re trying to build here.
“It pains to say we’re still very much at the beginning. My main focus is continual improvement in this group because there’s a lot of young players, new group, new leadership, new way of playing, all these things are all at the early stages. That’s undeniable. Whatever start we’ve had good, bad or otherwise does not change the fact that we’re at the beginning.
“My focus is making sure we keep on improving because the worst thing you can do is, if we had a poor start, and I’ve done that in my career where beginnings haven’t been great, but what I’ve done is during that time is make sure we stay true to what I want to build and the beliefs we had. It’s the same when it’s going well because if you get sidetracked by how you’re currently tracking and move away from what the plan is then the traps are there for you to sort of stumble.”
Weekday matches are a scourge and Tottenham unfortunately will play two of them coming up — they kick off against Crystal Palace Monday at 8 p.m. UK (3 pm ET), and then have a short turnaround, traveling to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace on Friday. Monday’s Fulham match will be televised on Sky Sports in the UK and USA Network in the United States.