Tottenham transfers can help add quality but Villa defeat shows

  • Try telling Tottenham fans the first of January is traditionally a date that elicits warm feelings of hope, positivity and optimism.

    This was as bad as it’s been all season — and probably as it’s been under Antonio Conte. Losing at home to Aston Villa isn’t an apocalyptic result in isolation but the manner of it was so predictable that patience in the stands ran out.

    Those feelings of frustration, and in some cases fury, have been simmering under the surface for some time.

    That they haven’t reached boiling point (save for some boos against Newcastle in late October) is because Spurs have consistently, to their credit, shown character in fairly small passages of play to engineer a series of unlikely comebacks.

    They also, before this, hadn’t lost to a team outside the top six, but seeing struggling Villa (not that they’ll be struggling again in 2022-23, based on this evidence) comfortably brush them aside with a coherent game plan was a step too far.

    On the whole, performances haven’t been good, but those comebacks have kept Tottenham in a good league position, earning an average of almost two points a game up to the World Cup break, with Conte’s side also through to the last 16 of the Champions League next month.

    Although their pre-World Cup results during October and November were mixed — as they tackled a demanding schedule of 13 matches in 43 days and no free midweek for six weeks, while dealing with grief after the death of their fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone — it was reasonable to suggest Spurs were doing pretty well. And certainly that they were well placed to push on post-Qatar 2022 having laid a good foundation.

    With one point won and four goals conceded against Brentford and Villa since the restart, though, they are in danger of dropping down the table rather than climbing it. And clearly, with brief but very noticeable anti-Daniel Levy chants, there are much bigger issues at play here.

    Both chairman Levy (for the first time since, yes, Villa at home in May 2021) and Conte earned the ire of supporters, the latter for his substitutions. The much-maligned Emerson Royal was booed on (not by many, but again it was pretty audible) and there were sarcastic cheers for the 88th-minute introduction of Djed Spence, a player they have been desperate to see more of since he signed in the summer.

    While Conte can rightly point to a lack of squad depth in certain areas (the most attacking option he had to choose from on the bench here was Ryan Sessegnon, a wing-back who has six goal involvements in 50 Tottenham appearances, while injuries also meant he felt forced to start Bryan Gil in a front three for the first time this season) the XI he put out was capable of so much better.

    His New Year’s Day starting line-up cost the club a combined £160million in transfer fees, which isn’t spectacular in today’s money, but it only lacked three injured players (Richarlison, and the sorely-missed pair of Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski). Instead, the team looked uninspiring and predictable.

    Conte’s tactical plan has served him well during his managerial career but at the moment his inflexibility is damaging Spurs.

    Nevertheless, he said afterwards that he was pleased with the performance — one which generated six shots, two on target, and saw them fail to force a meaningful save out of stand-in (and error-prone) goalkeeper Robin Olsen.

    Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa: Unai Emery's never lost in the Premier League against Spurs:

    Dec 2018 with Arsenal (W 4-2) Mar 2019 with Arsenal (D 1-1) Sep 2019 with Arsenal (D 2-2) Jan 2023 with A.Villa (W 2-0)