Injuries and a change of tactical system meant none of Tottenham's seven summer signings started against Chelsea. So how can club bosses expect to improve on last year's league position?
Tottenham suffering effects of Bale-for-magic-beans exchange
In August, days before the start of a new English Premier League season, it was said Tottenham had sold Elvis and bought The Beatles. Gareth Bale had been dispatched to Madrid in exchange for 100 million of Florentino Perez’s shiny euros and the money had almost single-handedly funded the arrival of seven internationals. A new dawn was breaking over White Hart Lane.
Eight months later and it appears that while Bale continues to show his Elvisean qualities on grounds across Spain, Spurs have replaced him not with The Beatles, but rather The Grateful Dead: a selection of players plagued by injury and probably quite thankful to have missed much of the embarrassing capitulations at the feet of Liverpool, Chelsea and, twice, Manchester City.
Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli. All arrived amid much hype and much expectation. None started against Chelsea on Saturday. Only three were in the squad. Two were fit, but neither deemed suitable to new manager Tim Sherwood’s tactics.
According to physioroom.com, Spurs have more injuries than any team in the Premier League. Lamela has been out with a back problem since December. Capoue has suffered two serious ankle injuries in the space of five months. Chiriches, gifted a broken nose earlier in the season, has a back problem with no expected return date. Christian Eriksen has missed the past two games with a back injury.
Paulinho was seen as incapable of playing 90 minutes after returning to training only on Friday. He had been involved in Brazil’s international match in South Africa, alongside compatriots Oscar and Willian of Chelsea. All three Brazilians started on the bench.
Paulinho was eventually introduced in the 61st minute, three minutes after Younes Kaboul had been dismissed for a soft foul and 11 minutes before Michael Dawson pulled up with a hamstring injury. By the time the whistle blew on a 4-0 defeat, Spurs were playing a back four that included a central midfielder on a yellow card and the 21-year-old Zeki Fryers, who had started just two league games prior.
Every team suffers injuries, but Spurs appear to have been particularly plagued this season. On Saturday, they were missing seven first-team players. Stability is not missing only on the pitch either: the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas effectively set Spurs back six months. If club officials expect to better last year’s fifth-place league position, they are being unrealistic. Kaboul has played just four times since the opening day of the season. Vertonghen, the club’s first-choice centre-half, has played just six games alongside Chiriches, but crucially never as a central pairing. Danny Rose has spent several spells on the sidelines.
Such statistics must make Spurs’ decision-makers wince. The summer transfer of Bale stole all the headlines, but the departure of two defenders might prove just as harmful to the club’s ambitions. Benoit Assou-Ekotto was bizarrely allowed to remain on loan at QPR in January despite Spurs’ obvious lack of cover at left-back, while Steven Caulker, the impressive centre-half who joined Cardiff last July, has not missed a game all season. (Caulker scored twice on Saturday to take his goal tally to four, one more than Chiriches, Vertonghen, Dawson and Kaboul combined.)
The club’s hopes of securing Champions League football are diminishing by the day. They face Arsenal on Sunday and Liverpool two weeks later. In order to get anything from either game, they need to get their best players out of the treatment room and on to the pitch. They need to get their band on stage. Either that or face the music, and another year of discontent.