Tottenham Hotspur fans got some affirmative news when Antonio Conte said Spurs’ best defender was back to practice and ready to play this weekend.
Over the last six weeks of club play, Tottenham Hotspur has struggled to keep a clean sheet. The most recent Tottenham shutout of an opponent was back on 15 October when Spurs beat Everton 2-0 in north London. Tottenham has conceded first in every match in the nine games since that win – including against Brentford on Boxing Day – and has won only three. A common thread in eight of the nine matches was the absence of Spurs’ best defender, Cristian Romero.
Tottenham is markedly better when Romero plays in defense
Scoring has not been an issue for Tottenham this season; with 33 goals in League play, Spurs have the third most goals, behind only Manchester City (43) and Arsenal (36) but ahead of high-scoring sides like Liverpool (31) and Newcastle (32). At slightly over two goals per match, scoring is not the problem for Tottenham Hotspur; it is a leaky defense that has been conceding at an alarming rate.
Tottenham has conceded 23 times in League play, which is 11th best. Everton and West Ham – both looking at a relegation scrap in 16th and 17th place – conceded fewer goals. Fulham (26 against) and Brentford (27 against) are the only top half teams to concede more than Tottenham, and they sit 9th and 10th.
As we look at the goal differential, which may determine who finishes where in the middle of the top half, Spurs are fifth (+10) thanks to the goal-scoring exploits but are behind Liverpool (+13) and well behind the top three, who all have goal differentials better than 20.
Ultimately, the poor defense has led to Spurs falling down the table and likely into a battle to finish fourth with several other sides. The excellent part is Romero is now returning, and the team was much better defensively, with Romero playing.
Across all competitions, Spurs have conceded 1.66 goals per match when Romero is not on the pitch. Alternatively, when Romero has played, the goals against average drops down to 1.23, a difference of almost a half-a-goal per match.
In the nine games Romero has missed, Spurs have conceded 15 goals, and 16 in the 13 matches he has played, including four of the team’s six shutouts.
Is Romero the best player on Tottenham? No, he is not; that is Harry Kane. However, if we ask whether or not Romero is the most important player for Spurs to be successful, the answer might be yes.
After seeing Lionel Messi finally win two major international trophies with Romero by his side, maybe the Argentine defender can do the same for Kane. Whether or not Romero will help Spurs win some silverware remains to be seen, but we do know Tottenham is much better with the defender in the side, and the good news is he is coming back.