A “back to reality” week for Postecoglou’s Tottenham

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Ange Postecoglou, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur, looks on during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 19, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Ange Postecoglou, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur, looks on during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 19, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

After an impeccable start to the season, where Tottenham Hotspur sat top of the Premier League table on 26 points through 10 games, a reality check was expected at any moment. However, even the most pessimistic of Spurs’ fans wouldn’t have expected such calamity so quickly.

With a 4-1 loss to Chelsea, a dramatic 2-1 loss to Wolves a week later, and multiple players injured and suspended, Tottenham has seemingly come crashing back to Earth in peak Icarus fashion.

The Chelsea match was the first difficult pill to swallow for fans of the Lilywhites. The highly anticipated return of former Spurs gaffer Mauricio Pochettino, now at the helm of an eternal rival in Chelsea, made for an emotional contest. Spurs began the match in dreamland, as Dejan Kulusevski opened the scoring after just six minutes. But, from then on, a match initially boasting beautiful football devolved into chaos.

Disallowed goals for Spurs’ Heung-min Son and Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling and Moises Caicedo gave VAR the spotlight. With that spotlight, came the start of Tottenham’s downfall.

Following a VAR review, center-back Cristian Romero was sent off for a challenge on Enzo Fernandez inside the box, with Cole Palmer equalizing for the Blues from the spot.

VAR’s impact on this contest would continue for the remainder of the match, much to the chagrin of Spurs’ fans in attendance. Reece James was reviewed for violent conduct after elbowing Destiny Udogie, but VAR deemed the Chelsea captain innocent of any serious infraction. After reviewing the video during the halftime interval, some fans could say, me included, that James got lucky.

Injuries to Micky van de Ven and James Maddison at the end of the first half cemented the period as one of the worst spells of play all season from Tottenham, with the loss of the duo signed this past summer effectively snapping the spine of Spurs’ in two. Given the reactions from both players at the moment of their injuries, the anxiety within every Spurs fan watching reached critical levels. By the end of the week, those concerns were only enhanced, as Postecoglou confirmed that both Maddison and van de Ven will be unavailable until at least the New Year.

The second half proved to bear even more poisoned fruit for Tottenham, as Destiny Udogie was the second player shown red by referee Michael Oliver. A reckless challenge while on a yellow card brought Spurs down to nine men, and the rest is history.

While Spurs defended valiantly despite continuing to launch attacks, Chelsea’s numbers proved enough, as a late Nicolas Jackson hat-trick made the match a greater blowout than it should have been.

Moving on, the Wolves match featured less controversy and more genuine disappointment. With multiple core starters injured or suspended, Big Ange was forced to send out what was effectively Spurs’ “B Team” vs the struggling side from the Midlands. Amid these changes came a second consecutive start for Welsh winger Brennan Johnson, a €55 million signing from Nottingham Forest. With his second start came Johnson’s first goal for the club, as the Welshman got Spurs up and running after just three minutes at the Molineux.

After the goal, Spurs continued to command the match, albeit, Wolves were knocking on the door. Even so, it seemed that Tottenham were destined to rebound from the embarrassment vs Chelsea with three points on the road. That was until Pablo Sarabia entered the game. Subbed on in the 87th minute, the summer signing from Paris Saint-Germain scored an absolute stunner in the 91st minute, before setting up midfielder Mario Lemina for Wolves’ 97th-minute winner, leaving the Spurs’ squad bewildered.

As the Molineux erupted in jubilation following the final whistle, Postecoglou and company were left to revel in their pity, dropping from 1st to 4th in the table in the space of a week.

It is still very early in the season, and two losses in a row are not the end of the world. But, it’s understandable that Spurs fans are worried about the immediate future.

Depth has been a considerable issue for Tottenham recently, showcased particularly during the EFL Cup loss to Fulham a few weeks ago. As shown during the Wolves game, Tottenham is still competitive even with the loss of Maddison and Van de Ven, but with injuries already to Richarlison, Solomon, Perisic, and Sessegnon, the squad has been left thin, to say the least.

Postecoglou has been adamant from the beginning of his tenure that the 2023/24 season is a transitional year for Tottenham Hotspur, as the squad learns his play style and is rebuilt to his liking. The unprecedented success early on in this Postecoglou era has possibly raised expectations to a point where people forget just how young, inexperienced, and raw this Spurs squad is.

Expect Tottenham to be active during the January window to combat the injuries plaguing the roster. Furthermore, Postecoglou won’t change his philosophy just because some players are injured. No matter the opponent, Tottenham will continue to produce attacking, free-flowing football, even if the academy kids are needed to make up the numbers.

The vibes are still high in North London, and weeks like this are just part of the journey.