Honeymoons and Injuries: Let’s talk Spurs
As we near the end of the 2023 half of the 2023/24 Premier League season, let’s look back at Tottenham Hotspur’s eventful season so far.
Coming into the 2023/24 season earlier this year, Tottenham was facing the loss of both their top striker and captain Harry Kane, and head coach Antonio Conte. The former left the Premier League team with a day to spare before their opener against Brentford at the Gtech Community Stadium. Against turbulent odds, the game finished in a 2-2 draw, continuing the uncertainty of where the massive changes might take the team.
After his first game as the new head coach, Ange Postecoglou moved the team into their first winning streak of the season with the following game against Manchester United. The clear stand-out from the game was midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, whose inspired play outfinessed Man United’s midfield.
Tottenham continued their winning streak for three more games, beating AFC Bournemouth, Burnley FC, and Sheffield United consecutively. The games especially highlighted the positive impact that James Maddison had on the team, unifying the team from the center midfield.
Cutting off the winning streak was a draw in match week six against Arsenal at the Emirates. Despite this, Tottenham remained unbeaten for another four games, topping the Premier League table for three consecutive weeks in weeks 8-10. The Ange honeymoon period was going strong, the drive was high, and the team seemed harmonic throughout the games under the leadership of their new captain Son Heung-min.
The hope that kills you
At eight o’clock on November 6th, the sun began to set over the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. The game began and Tottenham immediately displayed the ‘Ange way’ of play as they dominated the pitch in the first minutes. Six minutes in, Dejan Kulusevski scored for Spurs and the hope that the undefeated streak would continue shone through the coming play. Sarr steals possession, passes to Udogie, who made running through Chelsea’s midfield look easy, up to Johnson on the left and back to the center with Son who runs up and scores Spurs’ second goal of the game.
Then comes the yellow flag. Son’s goal was ruled offside and disallowed. Following the yellow flag, the harmony within the team seemed long gone as the gameplay got less controlled. First a yellow flag, then yellow cards, followed by red cards, sending off both Christian Romero and Destiny Udogie, which weakened Tottenham’s defense. Cole Palmer scores his penalty for Chelsea and the beginning of the end had begun. The game ended in a 4-1 loss for Tottenham.
Three minutes into the game against Wolves, Brennan Johnson scored his first goal for Tottenham, as they once again dominated the beginning of the game. Hope was reignited as they took more risks in the play and kept possession of the ball. After returning to the pitch for the second half, the team was almost unrecognisable through their plays. Simple mistakes were made and Wolves got too close for comfort with multiple shots at goal. The 90th minute came around and it seemed like Tottenham could get away with their careless play, until Pablo Sarabia scored in the 91st minute, followed by another goal from Mario Lemina in the 97th minute, finishing the game in another loss.
Injuries and replacements
Following the loss to Wolves was another loss to Aston Villa, leaving Tottenham as 5th on the Premier League table.
Tottenham’s injuries this season have taken the centre cogs of winning line-ups. Not only has it upset the harmony within the team and their plays but it has also cut improvements short. Specifically when it comes to Richarlison (9) who struggled under Antonio Conte, but seemed to have found new life under Postecoglou with clear improvements in performance during the team’s undefeated streak. James Maddison (10) began this season having to prove himself as a part of the team and quickly did so, making himself indispensable. While Richarlison is being put back in as a recurring second-half substitution, Maddison is not set to be back until 2024.
The worst victim of the many injuries has been Tottenham’s centre defense line in Micky van de Ven (37), the Dutchman suffering from a thigh injury set to return in 2024, and Christian Romero (17) receiving a three-game ban after being sent off during the aforementioned Chelsea game. Romero returned for the latest game against Newcastle that ended in a 4-1 win for Spurs.
In one of the most exciting games of the season, Tottenham played Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on December 3rd. Both Kulusevski and Son showed brilliant forms throughout the game, Son scoring Tottenham’s first goal six minutes in, and Kulusevski equalising with a header in the 90th minute. Breaking Tottenham’s three-game loss streak with a 3-3 draw. Brennan Johnson also excelled in the game, showing just how fast he is as a player.
The Manchester City draw was supposed to be the game-changer, players and fans let the hope creep back in before it was hammered down by the London hammers, Westham United. Though it was not the first loss of the season or one as severe as the Chelsea game, the Westham loss hurt Tottenham on multiple levels. There is an obvious rivalry between the two London teams, but this game showed some serious issues within the team.
After the Westham loss, the circumstances that were used as valid excuses for prior losses were not as apparent in the Westham game. In the Wolves game, the play was unrecognisable, and the injury crisis was a massive issue. The Chelsea loss could be blamed on the send-offs, but the Westham game led to more critique and questions directed toward Postecoglou as head coach. The coach seemed significantly more disappointed in the post-match interview after the Westham game. It seemed like Tottenham was doomed to continue falling down the table.
Newcastle and forward
Ahead of the Newcastle game on December 10th, the line-up differed from previous games. Richarlison was back in the starting Xl and taking over Son’s forward position, Son who was moved back to left midfield. Kulusevski remained in injured Maddison’s position as centre midfielder after having proved himself during the Man City game. For defense, Christian Romero was back from his three-game ban and harmony seemed to return to the team although it was on the back of some massive line-up changes. The choice of moving Son back stands out and paid off as the Spurs emerged victorious with a 4-1 win. Son Heung-min is a very fast player and had multiple offside rule-offs this season, he is also skilled in assists, proving that by assisting two of the four goals and scoring one.
Moving forward into the coming games, the stats above show the competition ahead of the Tottenham Hotspurs. Although a tumultuous season, it seems that Spurs are balancing again and returning to the form seen at the beginning of the season. On top of that, most injured players are assumed to return at the latest at the end of January. It seems that the honeymoon period with Ange Postecoglou is over, but changes are being put in place to try to move out of the rut, like the change in the starting Xl for the Newcastle game.