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Can an injury-ravaged Spurs side continue going full steam ahead with Angeball?


ange postecoglou, tottenham, spurs

As the Premier League returns from the final international break of the year, all eyes are on Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham Hotspur.

Will the north London club continue playing their way or crumble under the weight of crucial injuries and intense outside noise?

All it took was 20 minutes; two brain snaps, a hamstring injury, and an ankle injury to undo Spurs’ early season momentum. 

In a fiery London derby against Chelsea, Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie received their marching orders, elegant Dutch defender Micky Van de Ven hurt his hamstring, and dazzling playmaker James Maddison’s ankle gave way.  

A nine-man Tottenham side, who took an early lead in that game, eventually fell 4-1 to Chelsea. Less than a week later, they lost again — this time it was a pair of last-minute concentration lapses handed Wolves a crushing victory. 

When it rains, it pours. Unbeaten and top after 10 matches, to wounded and fourth after 12. It was a fortnight from hell for Ange Postecoglou, who’s ‘Angeball’ revolution has taken the Premier League by storm.

ange postecoglou, Spurs
Ange Postecoglou is facing the toughest test of his young Spurs career

Creating further headaches for the Australian manager, an already thin Spurs squad is flattened out by additional injuries to Manor Solomon, Ivan Perisic, and Richarlison. Tottenham will also contend their first match back from the international break against Aston Villa without their midfield fulcrum, Yves Bissouma, who’s serving a suspension. 

With so many injuries, one main question has been asked of Tottenham and their relatively inexperienced manager: can they continue with ‘Angeball’ without the elements crucial to its success?

In Postecoglou’s mind there is no doubt about their next course of action. 

“If we flinch then they’re going to start questioning: why did we play a high line, why were we so aggressive, why didn’t we try and absorb the pressure,” he explained recently.

“So what we do now becomes really important.”

Do Spurs have the cattle to continue with ‘Angeball’?

That style of play, which involves intense, relentless pressing, an ability to quickly launch deadly attacks once securing the football, and their strength in-possession for lengthy spells, relies heavily on many of the missing stars. 

The success of their famously high line hinges on Van de Ven’s speed. He is one of the fastest footballers in recent Bundesliga history, and averages 5.4 ball recoveries per game. Romero, his partner in crime, manages just under five per 90.

In possession, the pair are crucial elements in Spurs attack. Both are fine, but not incisive, ball-playing defenders. Both rank in the Premier League’s top 20 passers this season, and Romero’s passes have progressed the ball further than just about any other outfield player. 

No doubt many of those progressive balls found the feet of Yves Bissouma. After a slow start to life in London, the Malian midfielder has morphed into arguably Tottenham’s most important player. He’s made the fifth most tackles this season, while only eight players have had more touches of the football.

Add to this an unrivalled ability to beat opposition presses and feed his creative talents it could be argued he is Spurs’ most irreplaceable player. So often Tottenham will find themselves up against a tough forward press or immovable midfield block when the ball drops to the former Brighton man’s feet, he somehow dances between four or five defenders, and Postecoglou’s men are away. 

Crucially for the Australian, James Maddison is out until the new year. In a Spurs side that ranks third in the Premier League for both key passes and built attacks this season, his vision and range have been paramount. 

Maddison, tottenham, spurs, FPL Gameweek 7
James Maddison’s ankle injury hurts Spurs as much as him

The former Leicester City man leads the league in key passes per game, shot creating actions per 90 (8.17), and goal creating actions per 90 (1.23), and sits on the podium for assists (five).

When so much of their playstyle depends on the presence and performance of three stars, what should Postecoglou do?

In the eyes of many, maintaining their playstyle within these conditions is kamikaze football akin to a Formula One driver getting behind the wheel of a car with no engine or brakes. 

In theory, they probably cannot maintain their high-octane, relentless style. Ben Davies and Eric Dier are reputable, if flawed, professionals, but neither are as dynamic or skilled as the men they’re replacing

New managers, Premier League, Ange Postecoglou
Will Spurs fans turn on Ange Postecoglou if results dip?

Pierre-Emile Hojberg isn’t the worst short-term stop-gap Bissouma solution. His lack of legs may bite Spurs where it hurts against a quick and decisive Aston Villa side capable of ripping apart most sides in Europe. But once January rolls around and Bissouma is away at the African Cup of Nations, Hojberg’s shortcomings will become more apparent, and painful.

And while loan spells suggest Giovanni Lo Celso is a talented footballer, his Villarreal form has never been replicated in England. Filling the boots of the Premier League’s standout performer this season in Maddison is a tough task he may not be capable of achieving. 

This mini-crisis might force a much-needed splash into the transfer market this January, but reports from The Athletic’s David Ornstein suggest the funding isn’t there, meaning Ange must make do with what he has. 

Results during this period will likely nosedive. Amongst others, Spurs play Villa, Manchester City, Newcastle, Brighton, and a fired up Everton before the year’s end. All tough fixtures where an all hands on deck approach is crucial to victory.

Except, Tottenham will face these challenges without all hands on deck. And the side around them will have limited functionality as a result.

Can Heung-Min Son continue his resurgent goalscoring form without Maddison, who has created one-quarter of his eight goals this season? How will the midfield and defence cope without Bissouma’s anti-press antics and the increased pressure his absence fosters? Or Van de Ven’s incredible recovery speed making a high-line viable?

We don’t have answers to those questions just yet. But even with their crucial squad deficits, it’s not so much a matter of if Spurs can continue playing their way. It’s that they must.  

Criticism comes and goes in sport. Spurs must ride their time in the critical spotlight, as all great teams have before them, if they are to reap any long term benefits under the Aussies tutelage. 

As their manager has stated, if they flinch now what message would that send? Not only to the wider Premier League, but also to the Spurs squad. It would suggest that their style of play isn’t concrete, isn’t theirs and that it can only be successful in certain conditions, with certain players.

There is nothing about this attitude that screams success. And there is nothing about Ange Postecoglou suggesting it’s a path he’d consider taking. The Australian knows better than anyone that persisting with a system will reap long-term success. Just look at his Celtic stint, when the side recovered from three losses in his opening six games to win the Scottish title in 2021-22. 

Spurs were never meant to compete this season. The fact they are is testament to the manager and how quickly the players have absorbed his system, which differs greatly from the pragmatic approach of years gone by. 

Temporarily tweaking tactics to cover for lengthy injury outings may have shorter term benefits, like staying planted inside the top several teams on the Premier League ladder. In the long term, however, it means nothing. 

Ange Postecoglou has alluded to as much. 

“If we can navigate this period like I have done at other clubs, it becomes an important foundation and learning tool for what we want to become.”

What Spurs want to become is competitive again. They will only achieve that if they stick to their guns. 

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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