·27 November 2023
·27 November 2023
In different circumstances, three defeats on the spin would be nearing crisis territory for Tottenham, particularly with a trip to champions Manchester City up next, followed by matches against West Ham and Newcastle.
Now, though, is not the time to panic, and Sunday's 2-1 loss to Aston Villa should go down as frustrating but encouraging, suggesting Spurs remain on track under Ange Postecoglou and will be just fine this season, especially when their best players return.
Postecoglou was missing 10 first-team players to injury or suspension, including both his preferred centre-backs, his entire first-choice midfield and a raft of useful squad options.
Spurs started the match with a back-four made up entirely of full-backs, no obvious defensive midfielder, a bench of kids and misfits, and with three players returning to the fold.
Ange Postecoglou pointed to his squad's many injuries after the game
Rodrigo Bentancur, who was forced off after just 32 minutes, made his first club start since ACL surgery in February, while goalscorer Giovani Lo Celso was named in a Premier League XI for the first time since the 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United in October 2021, Nuno Espirito Santo's final game in charge.
Bryan Gil made his first Spurs start since January, and Dejan Kulusevski and Emerson Royal both moved out of their usual positions.
In spite of all this, Spurs created enough chances to win five matches, played some exhilarating stuff and had the better of an impressive Villa side for significant periods — notably in the first half when they breached the visitors' high line repeatedly, although frequently fell foul of their offside trap.
They had three goals by captain Heung-min Son ruled out by the VAR for tight offside calls and twice struck the woodwork. Emi Martinez in the Villa goal was not quite inspired but made several smart saves.
Spurs were wasteful but on another day Postecoglou's side would have scored a hatful, and there was a sense that they are not far from clicking in the final third; a yard here, a touch there, the occasional second's pause was all that were missing and, assuming they do click, Spurs will thrash some good sides this season.
Admittedly, the goal they scored, Lo Celso's first in the Premier League since November 2020, came with a touch of fortune, as the Argentine's fierce effort took a slight deflection on its way past his international teammate Martinez in the 22nd minute.
The defeat marked a definitive end to Postecoglou's honeymoon period
Villa, too, had a goal chalked off a fractional offside against match-winner Ollie Watkins moments after Lo Celso's strike, hit the post through substitute Leon Bailey and had the chances to score more than two.
Defensively Spurs were vulnerable but — while there are legitimate questions about their summer business — that is to be expected until Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven are available again.
Villa had the beating of Spurs in the air and equalised on the stroke of half-time through an excellent Pau Torres header. Unai Emery's side had more control in the second half and, undeterred by his limp display for England in North Macedonia, Watkins provided the sucker-punch on the hour with a clever finish.
Villa have now taken 77 points from 38 games under Emery — comfortably top-four form — but they were near full strength and their opponents were decimated.
There is no side in the League, City included, who would not suffer from 10 absentees and, in the circumstances, Postecoglou's selections and his team's football were commendable — evidence that the entire club, from terraces to dressing room, has bought into the Australian's revolution.
At this stage of his project, that buy-in feels more important than scraping results.
Heung-min Son had three goals ruled out for offside
Postecoglou's line-up was risky but it is clearly more palatable for supporters to lose on fine margins than in the manner of their defeat at Wolves before the international break, when a team made up largely of players who pre-dated Postecoglou predictably caved in stoppage-time.
There were no boos from the home fans at full-time, although their patience will be more acutely tested if Spurs' losing run extends well into December.
Most encouraging for Postecoglou was the display of Lo Celso, who was busy and bright, suggesting he can help to fill the creative chasm left by James Maddison's injury.
Bentancur was also sharp, although Spurs face an anxious wait to discover the extent of an ankle injury which cut short his long-awaited return following a nasty challenge by Matty Cash.
The Villa full-back sparked fury from the Spurs fans, players and bench by clattering Bentancur, and was rightly booked before Emery withdrew him at the interval.