Tottenham Hotspur will host Manchester City tomorrow in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It’s a formidable challenge in the best of scenarios, but it’s made even more difficult considering Spurs are without Son Heung-Min, who is away at the Asian Cup, as well as Yves Bissouma and Pape Sarr who are participating in the Africa Cup of Nations.
But there’s good news. Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Ange Postecoglou confirmed that James Maddison has a week’s worth of training under his belt after returning from an ankle injury, and he could be in line to play against the league champions. Dejan Kulusevski is also fully recovered from an illness that kept him out of last weekend’s draw at Manchester United.
“Team news, everyone’s ok from the last game. [Dejan Kulusevski]’s recovered from his illness. The boys had four days off last week, which was good for them. Post-that, Madders has been training with us, he’s had a full training week. He’s in a good place. Ben [Davies] and Dane Scarlett have just started back with the group as well. So we’re getting the numbers back up. I think the ones who are definitely still out are Gio [Lo Celso], Manor [Solomon] and Alejo [Veliz] - they’re the ones still away from the group.
“[Ryan Sessegnon] is still in rehab. We’re hoping Sess will re-join us next week if all goes well.”
But will Maddison start? Ange wouldn’t commit.
“It’s just like every other week. I make my decisions based on what I think will get us the best outcome. You take all those things into account, whether they can come straight back into the team or whether they need another week, how are we in those positions, how are we placed in terms of the health and fitness of the other guys. The positive for me is that he’s available and that gives us more options with the starting line-up but even with the ability to change a game because if he starts then somebody who has been playing regularly doesn’t but it means they can make an impact. We’re probably one of the few teams that hasn’t had a massive impact with our substitutes during this period. Early in the season we were good because we had a stronger bench. We’ve just been really limited in those attacking midfield positions so it gives us more options.
“He’s trained all week and he is fine. He is available and ready to start or not ready to start, when someone is available I assume they are ready to start. Whether they do or not depends on what I see with everyone else tomorrow and I usually make those decisions game day. Like I said, the beauty of it is he’s got through the week really well and is ready to go.”
Manchester City is probably the toughest opponent Spurs have faced and will face all season with the ability and talent to beat teams in a number of different ways. Ange was asked, by a reporter who said he probably already knew the answer, whether Postecoglou would consider abandoning his high-press, high-octane tactics for something more pragmatic.
“You pretty much answered your own question in the question. But at the same time, you also respect the fact you’re playing a very good opponent and if you’ve got an opponent of the calibre of Manchester City, if you want to or not, your game has to adjust. It does. We know we’re going to be at times under stress tomorrow, we know at times we’ll get out-possessed. Irrespective of your strategy, that’s going to happen.
“But for our perspective, we just continue on trying to build and progress and be the team we want to be. I’ve always said our greatest test is when you play against the best to see where you’re at. Not so much in terms of the result but in terms of how you tackle that. I think we’ve tackled all these challenges, whether home and away, against the big teams in a very positive away and we want to continue that.”
Spurs earned a 3-3 draw at City in league action several weeks ago, a match that featured the now-infamous “Oops! All Fullbacks!” back line. This time, Spurs will have their full first choice back line available, including Cuti Romero and Micky van de Ven. When asked, Ange demurred on whether that would give Spurs a greater advantage at home on Friday evening.
“It’s hard to gauge it in those terms because every game has its own unique circumstances and that game we were playing with Emerson and Ben as our centre-backs. There was a different challenge on the day. Again I thought the lads handled it really, really well against them, particularly away from home.
“With measuring where you’re at, for me it’s more how we embrace the challenge of playing against the best. That I think is a better measure of the process. You could end up not being successful on the day and not getting a result but it doesn’t mean you haven’t made process. It will be about how we approach the game, how we take on a formidable opponent. How much of our game can flourish in that sort of an environment. They are the things you take away and say ‘it did work’, ‘it didn’t work’ and gives you a good place to continue the work you’ve done.”
With Spurs having the week off for the mini-winter break, Postecoglou opted to give his players the option of taking some holiday time should they want. Spurs’ players had four days to spend either traveling, or at home with family to recharge their batteries, something Ange suggested the squad needed after an intense holiday fixture period. But it also provided an opportunity for new arrivals and players recently returned from injury to get their fitness up.
“A combination of both [a break and a mini-camp]. The players needed some time, a lot of the guys have carried a fairly significant load going into the break. We had so many injuries there were a lot of guys who had to play a lot of football.
“The ones coming back from rehab, they’ve been in pretty long rehabs. I just felt you go from a different position to, if we needed to, away as a group to get together to go on a mini-camp to consolidate what we’ve done, I think I would have taken a different approach.
“But I just thought it would be good for the guys to get away this place and where we are and then come back in refreshed. Because we’ve done that we’ve had a solid week of training, no harder than what we normally do, but really good level. Having the extra numbers pushes that anyway, having Timo [Werner] and Radu [Dragusin] in the building it raises the level in everything we do.”
Tottenham kick off against Manchester City in the FA Cup this Friday at 2:45 p.m. ET / 7:45 p.m. GMT. The match will be televised on ITV 1 in the UK and streamed on ESPN+ in the USA.