With results having nosedived and an injury-ravaged squad stretched to its limits, we consider the business Tottenham might do in the January transfer window.
Whoever you are, you’ll have probably found it difficult not to laugh at Tottenham’s recent injury misfortune.
If you don’t support Spurs, then you’ll likely find their current plight hilarious. If you are a Tottenham fan, you have to laugh, because if you don’t you’ll probably cry.
At the time of writing, James Maddison, Rodrigo Bentancur, Micky van de Ven, Manor Solomon, Ivan Perisic and Ryan Sessegnon are all missing from the first team with serious injuries. Youngsters Ashley Phillips and Alfie Whiteman are also out.
There have been other players missing of late, too. Cristian Romero (three matches), Destiny Udogie (one match) and Yves Bissouma (two matches) have all been suspended for recent games. Those bans have all been served now, with all three featuring in Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to West Ham, but their absences alongside the current injury crisis only served to further highlight just how threadbare this Spurs squad is in key positions – at least compared to many of their rivals for a top-four spot.
Until recent years, chairman Daniel Levy hadn’t tended to do too much business in the January transfer window. Tottenham have only made six January signings in the last decade, and four of those have been made in the last two years. After only signing Lucas Moura (2018) and Gedson Fernandes on loan (2020) in the eight winter windows between 2014 and 2021, Spurs have had much more success with mid-season signings. Three of their four signings in the last two years – Pedro Porro, Dejan Kulusevski and Bentancur – have been successes, and so Levy may now be convinced of the merits of going big in the January transfer window.
Given Tottenham’s injury crisis and the fact they’ve not won any of their last five Premier League games, there is a genuine need to go out and spend money this January. In all honesty, back in the summer – before all of these injuries – it was clear Spurs would need reinforcements in January. That need just became that much more apparent following three consecutive losses after Maddison and Van de Ven were injured and Romero and Udogie were sent off in the defeat to Chelsea.
Furthermore, Spurs will lose captain Son Heung-min, plus Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr for a few weeks in January to international duty for the Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.
So, what should Spurs do in January? Here, we take a look at their problem areas and who they might sign to solve their issues.
The drop-off from Romero and Van de Ven was always going to be a big one, simply because their partnership was so brilliant so instantly at the start of their time together, but few could have predicted things being quite as bad as they have been.
While fans thought Eric Dier or youngster Phillips – both natural centre-backs – would step in, manager Ange Postecoglou clearly doesn’t trust either. Full-backs Emerson Royal and Ben Davies have instead been preferred at centre-back in the absence of Romero and Van de Ven, and it hasn’t gone well.
Spurs had already looked light there but with Phillips and Dier both overlooked they had a period without any good option in Postecoglou’s mind. This has to be a priority position in January.
The difficulty is, with Van de Ven expected back early in the new year and Romero returning from suspension on Thursday, they are likely to be Spurs’ long-term centre-back pairing (any more Romero suspensions notwithstanding). So, Spurs are probably going to be looking for someone who is happy to be a backup to those two – at least to begin with – but also good enough to play straight away.
Jean-Clair Todibo of Nice is a name that has popped up as someone who Spurs could turn to in January. A right-sided centre-back who is extremely comfortable on the ball, Todibo’s form this season for high-flying Nice has earned him his first caps with France.
Still just 23 years of age, Todibo has benefitted from having the experience of 40-year-old Dante alongside him, but playing with someone in their fifth decade also requires a defender who has recovery pace and great anticipation. Fortunately for Nice, Todibo has both in abundance, and the partnership has worked perfectly. Nice have conceded just five goals in 14 Ligue 1 games this season.
In possession, Todibo is bold and confident. Only two players in the whole of Ligue 1 have completed more passes than him this season (997, or 83.1 per 90) even though he has only played 12 of his team’s 14 games. Only three players’ passes have covered more distance than those played by Todibo (16.2km).
His passes tend to be safe rather than risky and rewarding, completing 90.1% of his attempted passes and ranking down in 24th in the league for progressive passes (53) and 18th for progressive pass distance (966.9m) despite ranking third for total passes.
It is by carrying the ball, though, that he progresses play more effectively. Only Dante (384) has made more carries than Todibo (376) in Ligue 1 this season, while only PSG’s Marquinhos (180) has made more progressive carries – defined as carrying the ball at least five metres up the field towards the opponents’ goal – than him (178).
Postecoglou has prioritised ball-playing ability in his defenders far more than previous Tottenham managers and any new centre-back will have to be accustomed to getting on the ball.
Another consideration may be the need for a Premier League-ready defender. If Spurs were to look for someone who is already playing in the English top flight, they could look to Marc Guéhi of Crystal Palace or Lloyd Kelly of Bournemouth.
Guéhi is in the Premier League’s top 20 for completed passes this season (789) despite playing for a team that averages just 44.7% possession, and having come through at Chelsea and spent two successful loans to a possession-based team in Swansea, he is arguably ill-suited to Palace’s playing style.
Kelly, meanwhile, offers the benefit of being a left-footed centre-back. His passing ability over longer distances sets him apart; of outfielders to play at least 600 minutes in the Premier League this season, Kelly ranks eighth for both the average length of his successful passes (19.8m) and the average length of his progressive passes (22.9m). Both are higher than any Spurs player.
Spurs are too reliant on Son for goals. Kulusevski has hit some form of late, but it speaks volumes that his four goals make him Spurs’ second-highest goalscorer this season. The other wide forwards – Richarlison, Brennan Johnson and Bryan Gil, plus the injured Solomon and Perisic – have just two Premier League goals between them in 1,620 minutes (27 hours) of collective game time.
Postecoglou has a decision to make. One option is sticking with what he’s got, hoping that Son can continue to shoulder the burden, £50 million Johnson and £60m Richarlison can play their way into some goalscoring form, Solomon can get back to fitness soon, and Gil can make the odd helpful contribution.
Another option is buying an out-and-out goalscorer who can play up front, allowing Son to revert back to the left-sided position in which he has thrived for years at Tottenham. Brentford forward Ivan Toney is nearing a return from his ban from football and is also entering the final 18 months of his contract. He has made no secret of his desire to play at a higher level and plenty of clubs are said to be interested, Spurs being one of them.
Postecoglou’s side, however, arguably don’t play to one of Toney’s main strengths – his aerial ability. Their passes average the shortest distance (15.1m) in the Premier League this season, and they have played significantly fewer long balls (481) than any other team in the division. It isn’t in their game to look for the big man.
That’s not to say Toney couldn’t adapt his game. He is primarily a goalscorer, ranking third to Erling Haaland (36) and Harry Kane (30) in last season’s top scorer’s chart, scoring 20 goals for ninth-placed Brentford.
Although he does a great deal of work in battling for long balls and holding the ball up to bring others into play, it isn’t as if he only threatens goal with his head. Of his 32 Premier League goals since Brentford were promoted, just four have been headed. Twenty-six of them were first-time shots, showing just how much his game is focused on finishing.
What’s more, despite their reliance on Son, Spurs have actually outperformed their non-penalty expected goals by 5.0 goals this season – the fourth-highest such rate in the Premier League, behind Brighton (6.9), Man City (6.6) and Aston Villa (5.1) – suggesting they are having no issues finishing off chances. The fact they rank ninth for non-penalty xG this season (24.0) implies the problem could lie with a lack of creativity.
Perhaps it would therefore make sense to keep Son – a genuinely elite finisher – as close to goal as possible and sign another winger to compete with Johnson, Richarlison and Gil, and provide further backup for the next injury crisis?
That would explain the links to Juventus’ Samuel Iling-Junior. The Chelsea academy product is a talented wide forward but is yet to establish himself properly with the Italian giants – he has made only four appearances, all from the bench, in Serie A this season. The 20-year-old is a tricky attacker who plays almost entirely on the left, and is stronger with his left foot but is also adept cutting infield onto his right.
He has played at youth level in central midfield and has got a little game time in his Juventus career there, but most of his minutes for the first team have come as a left wing-back in a 3-1-4-2 formation. This obviously limits his attacking freedom, but he has still produced some impressive numbers nonetheless.
In just 674 minutes of game time for Juventus in all competitions this season and last, he has three assists to his name. He took just six minutes of Champions League action to set up a goal for Arkadiusz Milik against Benfica last season, and this season he came off the bench to set up Dusan Vlahovic’s equaliser against Bologna in a Serie A game that Juve might have otherwise lost.
Iling-Junior grew up in north London – very close, in fact, to Arsenal’s former Highbury stadium. One potential sticking point for any deal could be the fact that the 20-year-old has admitted to being an Arsenal fan.
There has also been some talk of a short-term deal for Jota, who Postecoglou managed at Celtic to great success. Jota created the most open-play chances (100) and had the most goal involvements (42) in the Scottish Premiership of all players during Postecoglou’s reign at Celtic. The question would be whether he is good enough to make the step up to Premier League level.
Giovani Lo Celso’s mini resurgence has dampened the need for a Maddison replacement, but injuries to Sarr and Bentancur, as well as the absences of Sarr and Bissouma in January for AFCON, have meant Spurs could do with a little more depth there. Postecoglou doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of either Pierre Emile-Højbjerg or Oliver Skipp, both of whom have been available all season – and throughout this injury crisis – but have just four Premier League starts between them in 2023-24.
If Maddison and Bentancur were to return before Sarr and Bissouma have to leave for AFCON, then Spurs would probably be okay in central midfield, but that is a very unlikely scenario, and Postecoglou might well consider reinforcements in this position a priority.
Kalvin Phillips, out of favour at Manchester City and surely looking for some more game time ahead of next summer’s European Championship, will be after a move in January, though it’s not clear that he would be able to get into the first-choice Spurs XI ahead of Bissouma.
There has been talk of a loan move for former Wolves man Rúben Neves, who would bring Premier League experience and a bit of versatility. Also, having moved to the Saudi Pro League in the summer, he might not expect to go straight into the first-choice XI, and could make a good squad player as a result.
At the same time, in Bissouma, Sarr, Bentancur, Maddison, Lo Celso, Skipp and Højbjerg, Spurs are pretty well stocked in central midfield, while Kulusevski has done a decent job as a number 10 in recent games.
Levy will know the club has to shell out for a couple of players in January, but he might consider a new central midfielder a luxury too far.