After eighteen months of Covid restrictions and, just when we thought footballers, clubs and countries had navigated every scenario, the scenes in Sao Paolo were amongst the most impactful to date. The suspension within minutes of kick-off a demonstrations as to how the global game is affected like no other industry. One can only imagine the shock that played through the minds of Tottenham players, Giovanni Lo Celso and Christian Romero as they realised the impact of their actions. Outside of the immediate consequence that the game was cancelled, the fact that their employers were unaware of their actions, their plan to travel home via Croatia, and the resulting isolation period resulting was to unfold in the most public of circumstances.
So what now?
How does the action of the two Argentinians, and Columbia’s Davinson Sanchez affect Tottenham’s September matches? Argentina, Brazil and Columbia are red-listed countries. Upon return to the UK, the players would have expected to spend ten full days in a managed quarantine hotel that would limit their activities and reduce their match fitness. This would have guaranteed that the trio would miss the games against Crystal Palace, (11th), and Chelsea (19th). Instead, the players will continue with their unsanctioned plan to train with Aston Villa’s Buendia and Martinez in Croatia for a 10-day training camp allowing them to retain their match fitness.
One cannot underestimate how crucial these fixtures are to Tottenham’s campaign. Spurs have started with three wins based upon solid defence, having not conceded under new manager Nuno. The squad knows how important it is to maintain momentum after last season’s campaign which started so well and ultimately offered so little.
Davinson Sanchez has been ever present in Tottenham’s back line, finally showing the promise offered when he first completed his move from Ajax. The Colombian was the best outfield player against Wolves, and has made ten crucial tackles or clearances per game to date. Most surprising has been his partnership with Eric Dier at the heart of defence which has frustrated opposition forwards to date.
By comparison, Giovanni Lo Celso, has struggled for time on the pitch and did not feature in the most recent game against Watford. His contribution in the preceding game against Wolves, was best demonstrated by his heat map. Gio spent the majority of time within yards of the corner flag. I’m concerned that the Lo Celso, in particular, has gone against the club’s wishes, and wonder if this demonstrates frustration at a lack of game time under Nuno’s fledgling regime.
The signing of Christian Romero was celebrated by the Spurs faithful, as befitting a Serie A Defensive player of the year. Since then he has played for 2 minutes, touched a match-ball twice and has had no defensive duties to complete whilst on the pitch. This may be partly because of the form of Sanchez and Dier, however, fans will have looked to the September games as ones where Romero would make his presence felt, particularly against fellow-Serie A team of the year alumni Romelu Lukaku.
Crystal Palace v Tottenham
There is no chance of any of the players making the squad for Crystal Palace. This leaves Tottenham short in defence. Joe Rodon is the only recognised centre-back, returning for Wales against Estonia following an ‘unspecified injury’ that has kept him out all season so far. Eric Dier has played well this season, but it remains to be seen if he will perform to the same level without a more experienced partner. Ben Davies is more recognisable as the left-side of a back three, and has yet to feature under Nuno in the league.
The Eagles posed little attacking threat in the first two games this season, but came to life against West Ham. They rely heavily on set-pieces and this is where Sanchez’s presence will be missed. Palace are one of the teams who press least in the League, and will be content for Spurs to retain position, something Nuno’s team were able to exploit in their last game against Watford. Rodon, with Hojbjerg in front of him, will be crucial to Spurs maintaining their league dominance in this game.
Tottenham v Chelsea
Chelsea will be a different proposition however, and Spurs will need their best players available not only for the game, but to train in the week leading up to it. The earliest the players will realistically meet up with the full squad is Thursday 16th September, which is less than desirable from Tottenham’s point-of-view. It is highly unlikely now that either of the Argentian’s will start the game, subject to Rodon staying fit. I don’t believe Romero will grace the field in a white shirt until Aston Villa on October 3rd, ironically against Buendia and Martinez.
Heung-min Son’s calf injury, coupled with Olly Skipp’s groin concern may mean a shift in tactics by Nuno, as he did for the last quarter against Wolves. However, it’s more likely that Lucas Moura slots into Son’s role with Winks, Alli and Hojbjerg in the middle of the park. Sanchez will hope to slot back into his role in the centre of defence, and given his strength and speed, he is the best match for Romelu Lukaku who will lead the line for the Blues.
Although a PR nightmare for Tottenham, the loss of these three should not dramatically impact on the club’s plans. There remains the possibility that one of the five training in Croatia has contracted Covid however, which would lead to a more lengthy stay abroad. In addition, should results go against Nuno’s team in either game, it is likely that this story will be recalled as part of the narrative. It is perhaps more concerning that the players have gone against the club’s wishes in such a public manner. One can only hope it is the desperation to play against their biggest international rivals that persuaded Lo Celso and Romero to act in this way, rather than dissatisfaction at their lack of first team action to-date.
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