Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr have returned to North London following their respective African Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaigns with Mali and Cameroon. Their return is a welcome sight at the Tottenham training ground, as Spurs could really need their presence in the midfield after a few shaky results.
As The Athletic's Charlie Eccelshare writes, Spurs could no longer ride their luck this past weekend. Perhaps it was more than the defensive lapses on corner kicks, which saw Everton equalize in the 94th minute, which led to the draw. A comment on the tweet pointed out how the midfield hasn't been as controlled with Bissouma and Sarr out. More specifically, it's Bissouma's ball-carrying and composure in the defensive third that's been missed, while Sarr's work rate and box-to-box style of play have been equally as important to Ange Postecoglou's tactics.
While Rodrigo Bentancur has been solid since returning from injury, he hasn't completed a full 90 minutes in the last four matches. At halftime against Brentford, the Uruguayan came off for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Then, the two started the match at Everton, until Bentancur was replaced by Sarr at the 64th-minute mark. It could be a matter of Postecoglou preserving Bentancur's fitness, but still, he's been subbed off earlier than some would expect.
Hojbjerg has been good about matching the expected work rate, but he doesn't have the passing like Sarr or Bissouma; Neither does Oliver Skipp, who also put in good shifts against Manchester United and Brentford. With James Maddison back, who will undoubtedly start behind Richarlison, there's space for two midfielders. As such, it's fair to say that Tottenham are bound to have "good" problems when it comes to selecting their central three on match-day. With ample talent and a range of abilities to pick from, Ange will have to be strategic about his substitutions as well, an area of his coaching which he came under scrutiny for after the Everton draw.
With the many options, however, as we have seen from August to December, Sarr and Bissouma make the midfield hum. Their ball-carrying, passing, and defensive acumen help Tottenham thwart goal threats, giving the defense extra support and the ability to play the high line Postecoglou is known for. With both players back, it will be interesting who gets the call.
It is no secret Tottenham were incredibly lucky not to concede late equalizers to Burnley in the FA Cup, Everton at home, and Brentford at home. This latest draw shows that they might need more security in front of the defensive line. Set-piece defense will be on the docket for training, and so will sorting out the midfield balance. Maddison is for sure locked in to start, but will Bissouma and Sarr be match-ready for Saturday against Brighton? We can only wait and see.