After a bright start to the 2021/22 Premier League season, things have taken a turn for the worse as Tottenham Hotspur’s injury crisis is leaving Nuno Espirito Santo facing selection dilemmas as he looks to get Spurs back on the winning trail. A draw with Rennes in the Europa Conference League on Thursday has left the new manager with plenty of headaches, and familiar issues are starting to rear their heads for the North London club.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Injury Crisis
With injuries to Son Heung-min and Eric Dier leaving Spurs with issues in key areas, the last thing that Espirito Santo needed was any more players picking up knocks. In France against Rennes in the Europa Conference League, however, that is exactly what happened. Both Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn left the field limping and the manager cursed his sides luck, telling BBC Sport:
“It’s been terrible, I must be honest. Let’s not hide behind anything. After the Watford game, everything that has happened has not been very good for us. But this is football. And we know it’s a moment we have to overcome.”
Lack of Firepower
Whilst the Harry Kane transfer saga went on throughout the summer, the one thing that Tottenham needed to do was re-enforce the striking options. As has been the case so often in recent years, though, they failed to do so. Kane has remained at the club, but with Son injured, he looks isolated up front and the lack of ingenuity in midfield means he is neither scoring nor getting chances. And that is something Espirito Santo needs to deal with quickly.
Winning their first three Premier League games 1-o was a positive start for Spurs and, whilst the clean sheets were welcome, the solitary goal in each game still rang alarm bells.
Kane managed one shot on target against Rennes and was anonymous in the league defeat to Crystal Palace. It would be easy to say his heart is no longer in it at Spurs after missing out on his desired move to Manchester City, but to say so would be showing the England captain enormous disrespect.
Against Palace, even before Ben Davies’ sending off, Kane was not in the game and, without Kane, Spurs were effectively playing with nine men. Oliver Skipp, Harry Winks and Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg are defensive midfield players who can soak up pressure and protect the back four, but they are not creative players in general and that leaves Spurs looking blunt in attack.
Bryan Gil looks promising, but is still a very raw talent and Dane Scarlett puts in the hard yards but doesn’t look to have the quality that is needed at Premier League level as of yet; although there should be no excuses from any players when it comes to playing in what is far from being an elite European competition.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tanguy Ndombele?
Prior to midweek, Spurs’ record signing, Tanguy Ndombele, hadn’t started a match in any competition since April of this year. Under Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho, there were concerns over his attitude, and in the summer transfer window it seemed that he was no longer wanted by new boss Espírito Santo, either.
His talent has never been in question. He is strong on the ball and can turn opposition players inside out, yet his lack of consistency makes him a problem for managers and a source of frustration for fans.
Against Rennes, the signs of what he can do were apparent in flashes and none more so than in the 11th minute when he backheeled the ball superbly at the start of a move that saw Spurs take the lead. He then showed the other side of his game when Rennes equalised and he seemed to pull out of a challenge that was there to be made.
He has the creative edge that Spurs lack, but whether he can deliver on a regular basis is still to be seen. He should at least have earned some good will with the manager for his display in general, however.
Same Issues, Same Tottenham
What is remarkable about Tottenham is that, no matter what business they do in the transfer window, they always seem to be ignorant of two glaring issues. They need a quality back-up striker or one who can play with and without Kane, and a creative midfielder. Director of Football Fabio Paratici has strengthened the defence, bringing in Cristian Romero from Atalanta. But, when Daniel Levy talked of the need to bring back the club’s DNA of attacking, stylish football, many expected the transfer window to expect that.
When Son comes back, then he and Kane will no doubt create and score goals, but, the reliance on those two alone leaves Spurs hoping for injuries to be avoided. Kane has recurring issues with his ankle and Bergwijn’s injury also looks to be the same ankle he has suffered with before.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Injury Crisis Leaves Nuno Few Options
Tottenham face Chelsea on Sunday at the, and they will need some quick recoveries from injury from the likes of Son and Lucas as well as Dier if they are to return to winning ways. Romelu Lukaku is in fine form with his strength causing defenders nightmares.
Romero, Davinson Sanchez and Giovani Lo Celso should be available again for the match following their enforced isolation after breaking Covid-19 travel protocols. Sanchez had started the season well and may be pitted against Lukaku whilst Romero and Lo Celso are likely to be on the bench.
Espirito Santo could bring Gil into the starting 11, but that seems unlikely and his major decision will be whether to place his trust in Ndombele.
What is clear, even at this stage of the season, is that Spurs have once more left themselves with frailties in the same areas that Pochettino talked about nearly three years ago.
Luck can be cursed when it comes to injuries, but consistently poor decision making in transfer windows seems to be a feature of Tottenham and there is already a sense that they have given themselves a huge uphill task for the season ahead.