Spurs’ injury crisis threatens to derail season of promise
Tottenham Hotspur travel to Stamford Bridge tonight holding a 1-0 lead going into the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-final, but three of their regular four attacking players will be missing, with more big games to come. Gregor Kerr looks at how Spurs’ will cope with injury crisis.
During the Christmas period, fresh from putting six goals beyond Everton, and shortly after, five goals against a hapless Bournemouth side, Tottenham looked to have the most potent attack in the Premier League. The interchangeable, dynamic front four of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Heung-min Son and Harry Kane (given the title of DESK) would carve teams open at will. A title challenge looked extremely plausible. Now, the ‘DESK’ has just one leg left standing.
On Sunday, just one of that four remained on the pitch at Craven Cottage. Just Eriksen left standing with Son at the Asian Cup and the English pairing injured until March. Forgotten men like Fernando Llorente and Georges-Kevin Nkoudou were the last bastion of hope for Mauricio Pochettino, with the more-reliable Harry Winks snatching a late winner.
But despite the win, the injury to Dele Alli, a strained hamstring, would have been the main takeaway from the game. It leaves Spurs’ sparse in options upfront, especially considering they remain in all four competitions, with a semi-final, a Champions League knockout-tie and an FA Cup tie this weekend to follow. The absence of firepower couldn’t have arrived at a more perilous time, especially considering Alli was thought of as a striking option over the next month.
Historically, Spurs have actually coped well without Kane in the side. A win percentage of 57% without the England striker is similar to 60% with him in the side. However, usually they have relied on Son or Alli to fill the void. Will all three now missing, there are little players to turn to for inspiration.
It’s not the only department where the Argentinian has faced selection issues this campaign. From November onwards, the only viable selections in midfield has been an ever-improving Harry Winks, and a reborn Moussa Sissoko. The over-reliance on the pair has been telling in recent weeks, with the latter picking up a muscle injury against Manchester United a few weeks ago. Although the return of Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama to training this week is a welcome sight.
With six games to come in less than three weeks, and four in the next ten days, Spurs have just five attacking players to choose from. Some of them, namely Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente, are struggling for any kind of form and fitness. Nkoudou has become a forgotten man but will likely be used as a last resort in this packed run of games. With a small selection of players to rotate, it wouldn’t be a surprise for more injuries to follow as a result of burnout, similar to those that have happened in midfield already.
One player that isn’t being taken into consideration is Vincent Janssen. Whether it be through attitude problems, fitness concerns or simply a lack of faith, the Tottenham manager has already stated the Dutch striker does not fit into his plans: “I think it’s so clear that now it’s one year and a half that he’s not in our plans. He’s not in Tottenham’s plans, the player. That’s so clear. Not in just the manager’s plans but the club’s plan.”, he said.
The logical approach for Pochettino and chairman Daniel Levy would be to reinforce the attack in the last week of the January window, but the manager has continually reiterated how content he is with his squad: “I think our players are heroes, I am going to feel proud tomorrow whatever happens. We are still involved in four competitions, what happens tomorrow and what happens Sunday I am still happy with my squad.”
All of this being said, it’s not the first time that Tottenham have faced adversity this season. As many knocks as they’ve had thrown in their face, they still remain comfortably in the top four, although a title challenge now looks improbable. It seems like they relish difficult situations. Luckily for them, their opponents in the second-leg of the EFL Cup semi-final, Chelsea, have their own problems on the table. A team also lacking upfront, it’s hard to anticipate anything other than a low scoring game, with reliance on defence. A defence that will be crucial over the next few months for Spurs.
If Pochettino can find a way to steer this crippled, currently-homeless side into the Champions League spots, and further into the cup competitions along with Europe, it may rank as his finest achievement so far at the club. Everything seems to be the perfect storm for Tottenham to fall apart, with a depleted squad, a lack of spending and the ongoing stadium dilemma, but their man at the helm has kept the pieces sticking together.