Tottenham has been about as erratic this season as you could imagine. They beat Manchester City, one of the world’s top clubs, only to get destroyed by Leicester City the next.
At different times the team appears to either be positioned for a top-four finish or spiraling so severely that fans call for everyone’s resignation. Now a string of injuries has put the team in a dangerous position.
Given the mix of injuries, loans, and simply out-of-form players, Antonio Conte needs to find a new way to deploy his available roster. He remains wedded to a back three and almost always a 3-4-3, but that system should be reconsidered. The backline has looked shaky for months, and with no center-backs acquired during the transfer window, the team needs to find another way to shore up its defense, possibly through a formation change.
The midfield took a significant hit last week, with Rodrigo Bentancur going down for the season with an ACL injury not long after Yves Bissouma’s ankle surgery. Pape Matar Sarr has looked quite good, including being the top player against AC Milan, which provides some hope. Even so, the team remains short a progressive-minded midfielder (even just an experienced one). The left wing-back spot took a hit, too, as Ryan Sessegnon suffered a hamstring injury, which is especially worrying given Ivan Perisic’s middling play outside the World Cup.
Tottenham has talent aplenty in some areas of the pitch
The team has a wealth of talent at its forward position. Harry Kane, of course, remains one of the planet’s best center forwards. Richarlison somehow sees only limited minutes despite being Brazil’s top striker. Dejan Kulusevksi has been class since his acquisition last year (although his recent form suggests that something’s off, possibly a minor nagging injury). His struggles persist, but Heung-min Son should be a top-tier winger. Recent transfer Arnaut Danjuma offers quality depth.
Spurs need something desperate to get them moving forward again, and with no real danger of relegation, now is the time to take some risks. None of the suggestions below are foolproof (or probably even reasonable!). Still, each would offer ways to work with Tottenham’s current situation rather than trying to shoehorn available players into Conte’s standard system.
First, the team could go to a 4-2-3-1. Move Davies wide to the left and drop Emerson Royal – surprisingly one of the squad’s most reliable players over the past month – into the right-back role. Emerson has defended well. The defense is a mess right now, with Dier wandering all over the place, so there’s no real risk to implementing something new. Maybe the team could find a way to tone down Cristian Romero’s senseless card collecting while they’re at it.
The formation would also allow Hojbjerg and Skipp to play the double-pivot and puts someone reliably in place to aid the defense when Emerson moves forward on the attack. Sarr’s recent performance argues against this suggestion, but he would be available for the 10 if necessary. Furthermore, it gets a load of attackers on the field at once. Kane could drop to the 10, with Richarlison up top. Deki and Danjuma could each take a wing. It’s time to get Son off the field, admitting that he’s no longer out of form in a way he can play through. He’d make an incredible super-sub, though.
More oddly, the team could go to a 4-2-4, with more or less the same starting XI (Sarr does get squeezed out here). Kane and Richarlison have played together similarly during the latter’s limited minutes. The dual attack could prove deadly, and Richarlison’s energy up top could maintain the sort of high press that has proven effective during its carefully timed implementation.
Expanding that idea a bit (and getting goofy), Tottenham could also go to the old 4-2-2-2. With a lack of available midfielders, the system could help overload the middle of the field with bodies, taking some pressure off the team’s limited resources while providing additional defensive coverage. Kane and Richarlison still create danger up top, with Kane retaining the freedom to drop a little. To supply width on the right, Emerson gets to run forever, a task he’s well suited for. This plan has a few weaknesses, mainly covering the left flank.
None of these plans find a proper role for Sarr or new putative savior Pedro Porro, but with a little creativity, either could slot in. The team right now lacks any risk-taking, but if it wants to stop what looks like the beginning of a freefall, it needs to try something unexpected. No matter what happens – even if doing nothing – the team looks assured at staying in the top half of the table, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll be playing in Europe’s top competition next year at this rate. Trying something ridiculous right now is a low-risk-high-reward endeavor, so they might as well go for it.