It was the worst performance of the season for Tottenham Hotspur when the team traveled to Lisbon for their first away game of the 2022-23 Champions League campaign. Despite the bright start to the game, Spurs looked awfully long even with a six-day break after last Saturday’s Premier League game against Manchester City was postponed. Spurs also looked clueless at several points in the game despite outperforming the Portuguese side.
To be fair to Sporting, they saw the opportunity under a promising manager in Rúben Amorim who appears to be one to watch for the future. They defended well enough despite a few injuries to their back line and although they didn’t create much in the first 80 or so minutes apart from a wild run from the former Tottenham academy member Marcus Edwards playing tiki-taka football across the lines, they made Spurs pay late with two goals.
Looking back on the game and the performance, you will see that more impact will be needed from the right wing position. Emerson Royal seemed to be in the sights of many Spurs supporters and although the Brazilian has been OK this season, it was a game where his lack of consistent delivery in the box as well as his struggle in the build-up game was very clear. .
Another complaint against Antonio Conte was his lack of rotation. Despite five substitutes, Spurs only used one in this game – Dejan Kulusevski. It was clear the whole game that Spurs’ front 3 hadn’t been playing well and a player like Kulusevski could immediately come in and play together by linking the midfield attack more effectively with the front three. Against Marseille with 10 men, Conte replaced Kulusevski in place of Emerson with the clear intention of going for the goal. However, against Sporting, Heung-min Son made way for Kulusevski, potentially hinting at the position that Conte might have been comfortable with just a draw in the game.
Either way, it was a frustrating performance and a bad game for Spurs and fans are hoping the performance improves significantly and quickly as we enter a streak where Spurs will have three games a week. Spurs will be back in the league on Saturday and host bottom of the table Leicester City.
To prepare for this match, we play the “Know Your Opponent” series again by talking to Jake Lawson from Fosse Posse, SB Nation’s Leicester City blog. We asked five questions about Leicester, what they’ve been up to this summer and what to expect on Saturday. Plus, we returned the favor by answering questions from the Spurs squad. If you’re interested, check out the Fosse Posse blog in the next few days.
RR: After being a bit of a darling in the Premier League for the past two seasons largely due to their recruitment strategy, the 2022-23 season has yet to really kick off. What’s tormenting the Foxes and Brendan Rodgers right now?
JL: I just wrote an absurdly long article on this same topic recently, but I’ll give you the relatively short version: after narrowly missing out on the Champions League on the last day of the season two years in a row, the property rolled the dice and spent big in the summer of 2021 without selling any players key in an attempt to turn the corner. The bet did not pay off.
The four players we signed this summer, Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, Ademola Lookman and Ryan Bertrand, failed to impress, but we bought Jannik Vestergaard in a panic after Wesley Fofana broke his leg during the last friendly game of the pre-season. We got off to a terrible start, largely because the entire first-choice back line was sidelined multiple times over the fall. When James Justin and Fofana came back and we stopped trying to play Lookman on the right, things started to improve and we got results. However, 8th place flattered us.
Brendan Rodgers wanted to freshen up the squad, but COVID-19, the inability to reach Europe and the disastrous business the previous summer meant we had to sell before we could buy. We expected an offer on Youri Tielemans which never arrived. Soumare and Vestergaard refused the moves because they are on good salaries. You and your readers are probably familiar with the Fofana saga: After signing a new contract in the spring, the defender decided he wanted to move to Chelsea, but we didn’t get a good offer by the deadline, so was everything. It should also be noted that our Director of Recruitment left in April and our replacement, Martyn Glover, was not allowed to start working for us until the window closed.
There was a bit of luck, but we did it largely for ourselves and now we are paying the price.
RR: Leicester moved Wilfrid Ndidi to a more central role in defense and the departure of Kasper Schmeichel led to Danny Ward becoming first-choice goalkeeper. It looks from the outside that Leicester have failed to rebuild and fill these positions, making them positions of need. How are Leicester supporters feeling at the moment? Is it possible the club are in a potential relegation fight?
JL: Let me start with the last question: we are definitely looking at a relegation fight. We are currently on a six-point pace. I’m no math wizard, but I’m sure no team has ever avoided relegation with six points.
Leicester fans are looking for owners to ax Rodgers. There’s really no way to beat around the bush on this one. Our current situation is not entirely his fault, but he seems determined to make it worse by doing stupid things like playing Ndidi in central defense when Vestergaard and Çağlar Söyüncü are available. It feels like we’ve reached the ‘throw spaghetti at the wall’ stage of desperation and the fans want to see a change.
You couldn’t be more right about the failure to fill the gaps in the team. I do an annual club needs series every summer and for the past two years I could have just copied and pasted articles from previous years. Ward has been unconvincing as the new No. 1, although I think Daniel Iversen will claim that starting spot before long. We’ve needed a left-back and a right-winger for years and we keep buying right-backs (James Justin and Timothy Castagne) and left-wingers (Lookman, even though it was on loan).
RR: After more than a decade at the club, Schmeichel left last summer and Wesley Fofana finally left before the end of the window. On top of that, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison have been linked with moves. How do you see Leicester’s strategic plans for the future?
JL: Let me be a little philosophical here: the club has invested heavily in its training grounds, youth system and scouting. This lays the foundation for future ambitions, but the success of the club will always depend on recruitment. Leicester will continue to bring in younger players with ambition, which can be fantastic when it works. When the club fails to meet the ambitions of the players, then they will move on to the clubs that do. The hope is that, if the players move on, the club will at least make a profit on them and can invest in the squad.
This model may work, but there is no margin for error. The difference between big clubs and small ones is not how much they can pay for a player; it’s about whether or not they can afford to be wrong. When a certain club that wears red and plays in Manchester makes a bad signing, they can always go out and spend. When Leicester City make a mistake they are crippled due to the financial impact. So to answer your question in the most roundabout way possible, I think Leicester will revert to their strategy of selling one top player a year to fund further purchases and keep the club’s balance sheet in good shape while continuing to grow the membership. Summer 2021 was an aberration, and 2022 was the correction.
PS I expect Tielemans to be almost gone and no complaints as he was professional about it. I hope we can retain Maddison because he’s not only an incredible player, he’s also a great teammate.
RR: What are the positive aspects of Leicester at the moment? What can Leicester fans be excited about as the fixtures turn quickly ahead of the World Cup in November? (This could be anything from potential academy graduates, healthy players (Barnes), to team players (Dewsbury-Hall, etc.) getting more playing time)
JL: We didn’t do much business this summer, but we brought in defender Wout Faes from Reims. The stats don’t care much about him, but after watching hours of video, I can assure you he’s going to be a fan favorite. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player take to the ground and attempt two-footed tackles in the box as often as the Belgian. He has great hair, he shows off and, unlike Ndidi, he is a central defender, so as far as I am concerned he ticks all the boxes.
Other than that? Is “it can’t be worse” admissible? It’s at rock bottom and things will work out. There is a chance that we will see Tawanda Maswanhise’s senior debut. He scored 5 out of 5 goals for the U23s and he could get noticed soon, even though he is another right winger.
RR: What is your prediction for this game? How do you see the game unfolding? And, which player or match is your x-factor?
JL: If I’m being honest? I see nothing but a heavy defeat for my Foxes. Call it 4-1 with a late consolation goal from Kelechi Iheanacho. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Faes trying to face Heung-min Son as it promises to be entertaining if nothing else. Other than that, I just hope Rodgers finds a form that works without playing any of their key players hopelessly out of position.
Curiously, it was Iheanacho who scored a less significant goal in stoppage time last season when Spurs won 3-1 in the home game on May 1. Three points seem to be the only acceptable result in this game after the frustrating 0-2 loss. in Portugal on Tuesday. Perhaps more important than the result itself, perhaps Spurs are rotating the starting XI and providing opportunities for other players in the squad to get match minutes.
h/t to Jake for now. Check out his work at Fosse Posse.
follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.