Premier League crisis club of the week: Tottenham Hotspur (again)

If watching Arsenal essentially stroll to their first Premier League title in nearly two decades hasn't been painful enough for Tottenham Hotspur fans (a reverse jinx here would be lovely, ta), their own season has started to unravel.

Spurs went into the second half of this term in a top-four place, through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and with the promise of a healthy Dejan Kulusevski to watch.

Just two games back from the World Cup break, though, and everyone in N17 is running around with charcoal lines on their cheeks, neck-ties around their heads and scrounging to find materials to build a fire.

Here's why Spurs are, for the second time this season, 90min's Crisis Club of the Week (patent pending).

What's the crisis?

Since returning to Premier League action, Tottenham have taken one point from a possible six available against mid-table sides Brentford and Aston Villa.

Spurs now sit in fifth, two points behind fourth-placed Manchester United but having played one game more than the Red Devils and Liverpool in sixth, a further two points back.

A second successive top-four finish looked the bare minimum for Antonio Conte's side earlier this campaign, but now they face another uphill battle to reach the Champions League again.

What's more, Conte's uncertain future - his contract expires at the end of the season and talks over a new one have slowed - and Kane's dwindling 18-month deal are casting a dark cloud over Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Kulusevski, who is now firmly Spurs' second-best player behind Kane and their only real creator, has picked up what is hoped to be a minor injury and has joined Rodrigo Bentancur on the treatment table. As such, Tottenham's lack of depth and inability to play as protagonists is being deeply exposed.

During Sunday's dismal defeat at home to Aston Villa, supporters chanted for Daniel Levy and ENIC to leave the club - a sentiment only previously expressed on the return of fans to stadiums in May 2021, and a few months later in Nuno Espirito Santo's final game as head coach.

Why are they in crisis?

The Spurs fanbase have been split on who is to blame.

On the one hand, Levy and ENIC's cautious approach to the transfer market (dating all the way back to the 18 months between 2018 and 2019 where not one single signing was made) means the current squad has a lot of gaps to be filled and Conte still only has about 15 senior players he truly relies on, recently citing a lack of on-pitch creativity and flair.

On the other, Conte's Tottenham have looked a shadow of their former selves. By August 2022, they were the Premier League's top scorers over the calendar year, but since then you could count the number of good attacking performances put in on only one hand.

Where the Italian had Spurs overachieving last term, getting fine performances out of several fringe players, they are now underperforming again, particularly with Kulusevski out of the side.

Another underrated problem is that Golden Boot holder Son Heung-min has scored in just one Premier League game all season, two in all competitions. Tottenham have instantly lost a prolific source of goals, but he is notably playing further away from goal instead of running in behind and stretching play.

What can they do to rectify it?

This is a multifaceted crisis for Spurs and it won't be completely solved with the click of the fingers.

It's still conceivable that they can bring Kulusevski back into the side and he can help steer them to another top-four finish and even a trophy. The team isn't bad, it's just in a bad moment (to quote every Premier League manager ever).

But ultimately, Levy and ENIC need to decide on a direction and stick with it. Are they going to back Conte? Should they back Conte? If not, what's the plan?

All of Tottenham's current competitors are operating exactly as they did five or so years ago - a progressive manager leading a young team playing expansive football. Now, Spurs are the odd ones out. There's more than one way to play football but if they want Conte to be successful then they must tame his unpredictable habits and show he can achieve his ambitions here.

Securing the future of Kane would be an immediate lift, but it would be unlikely for him to commit to whatever the hell this current project is at this time.

Spurs are in need of reinforcements during the January transfer window, but again this can be tied to their Conte conundrum - should they punt on players suited mainly to his system or more adaptable targets? They'll be damned if they do and if they don't, but Conte is definitely right about the current cohort needing an injection of creativity.

Tottenham fans can cling onto the fact that football changes very quickly. You can't always foresee where success will come from - you only have to compare the club's situations at the start and end of last season to realise that. Crises don't last forever.

Source : 90min