As the whole of America slowly emerges from a post-Thanksgiving and international break tryptophan-induced stupor, it’s helpful to remember that a) there’s a Tottenham Hotspur match against Aston Villa this Sunday, and b) with regards to injuries, everything is still terrible. At least that’s my takeaway from Ange Postecoglou’s press conference this morning. It’s kind of shocking how quickly Spurs have slid from title contenders to a walking M*A*S*H* unit, and unfortunately there’s more bad news in that regard: Pape Matar Sarr and Ash Phillips are new additions to Spurs’ lengthy injury list.
Big Ange was asked a simple question — “How’s the state of the team right now?” and his answer wouldn’t have sounded out of place if it was uttered by that Firedog cartoon character.
“Micky [van de Ven] and [James Maddison] no real update, same as a few weeks back. We’ve had a couple of issues out of the international break. Young Ash Phillips picked up an ankle injury with the England team and he’s out for a little while. We’re still assessing it but at least probably a month out.
“We’re just checking on Pape Sarr, who has an issue coming back from the international team as well. We’ll see how he is tomorrow as he didn’t train today. Aside from that, Biss is suspended but we get Destiny back and I think everyone else is ok.”
OH IS THAT ALL?
OK, so the Ash Phillips thing is fine, it’s not like he was likely to play in central defense anyway unless things went catastrophically badly. I think it’s pretty likely we’re going to see Eric Dier and Ben Davies continue to anchor the back line, at least for the next two games until Cuti Romero returns from his suspension. And even if one of them went down I think it’s much more likely we’d see someone like Emerson Royal or Pierre Hojbjerg back there than an 18 year old kid who has yet to make his Premier League debut.
Sarr’s potential injury is a little more concerning. Yves Bissouma is back, Rodrigo Bentancur got some good minutes under his belt for Uruguay over the last two weeks, Giovani Lo Celso looks like he can and probably should slide into the creative midfield role vacated by Maddison, and we (deep breath) also have Oliver Skipp available. So Postecoglou can cobble together a functioning midfield even if Sarr can’t play or start.
But yo. This feels like it’s just one more thing, you know? Spurs currently have ten players out at the moment and every time we hear of a player dealing with another small issue feels like a small death, one of a million paper cuts that is leading to the season bleeding out.
However, a moderate injury crisis does provide opportunities for younger players, and Big Ange said that this does open a door for guys like Jamie Donley and Alfie Dorrington to get opportunities to train with the first team. Postecoglou said it’s obviously not out of the question that we could see some of the kids play if they develop in the right way and take their chances.
“We’ve been tracking all the young guys and [Donley] and Alfie Dorrington have been training with us pretty regularly over the recent period. Obviously all the injuries but also prior to that they were coming in fairly regularly so I think that’s the first step for all these young guys.
“Get to the first team environment and then see how they get on with training and how they develop from there and adjust to everything we do and the way we do it. We’re down on numbers so guys like him will get more of an opportunity to make an impact as I said at training and if he continues to do that then the opportunity will come for him.”
It does seem likely that we’re going to see Bentancur come in, and possibly as a deep lying midfielder in the 6 role, where Bissouma usually plays. Bentancur started there under Marcela Bielsa for Uruguay in their last match against Bolivia.
“The beauty of [Bentancur] is he can play a couple of different areas. I think he can play as a six, he can play further forward as an eight and he’s even creative. I think he can score goals as well. We were kind of hoping with him, Madders, Pape, Biss and people like Pierre we were well stocked in that midfield area for different kinds of combinations, but obviously that has been disrupted a bit.
“The key for Rodrigo is to get him back to that level physically and mentally where he feels really comfortable about playing at this level. I don’t think he is far off it from what I’ve seen and again certainly over the next few weeks he will get that opportunity.
“Yeah potentially [he’s better at the six while recovering] and it is probably why Marcelo used him like that for Uruguay. Watching the game and how he played, he did it really well so you know he can play there.
“I don’t think he is that far off from a physical perspective of being able to play his normal game, whether that is box-to-box, and part of it is getting belief in himself and his own body that he is capable of doing it. From what I have seen of training and games so far, I don’t think he is far off it.”
It raises an intriguing possibility that if Sarr can’t go Postecoglou could opt to shift Bissouma into more of a box to box midfield role. Lo Celso would be the obvious choice to play in the 10, but as we saw against Wolves that might not be what Postecoglou wants to do.
Tottenham’s opponents on Sunday, Aston Villa, are a formidable side that can cause Spurs’ midfield a lot of problems. As we saw against Wolves last weekend, losing the midfield puts even more pressure on Spurs’ makeshift defense. If Postecoglou can get the midfield right with the players he has available, it could go a long way towards Spurs turning around their run of poor form.
Tottenham host Aston Villa on Sunday, with kick-off at 9:00 a.m. ET (USA Network) / 2:00 p.m. GMT (Sky Sports).