It would be tempting to just call this the Giovani Lo Celso show, and let’s move on to Palace, such was the complete performance that our Argentinian midfielder put on display tonight in N17. We won the group, and with the seed we avoid the possibility of playing Real Madrid.. (No, they qualified) PSG (Oops, them too), Atletico Madrid them too?), Inter Milan (sorry, Christian. You’re out of Europe altogether. Somehow I don’t think that was what was on Jose’s mind when he made the three substitutions of arguably our three most important players at the hour mark.
Nothing is unplanned with Mourinho, nothing is done on a whim. This was obviously pre-planned given the nature of the game, and perhaps a signal, since Anfield looms in six days as the biggest game perhaps from here until Boxing Day, that he might be thinking a bit differently about the next two fixtures in terms of the seemingly settled starting XI. Or at least that he hopes to be able to draw from his substitutes perhaps earlier than normal to rest these same players some Sunday, and wants the likes of Bale and Lucas firing on all cylinders. Whatever it, of course, creates talking points about two former regulars who must be unhappy with their current position on the squad, both of whom exited, stage Tunnel, though perhaps (?) for Dele it was a trip to the loo, or maybe he wanted to console Winksy or who knows?
So before I get to the game, let’s assess those two, in the context of what we are seeing on the pitch and how our manager wants us to play. The obvious caveat is we are not present in the practice sessions and can’t judge what is seen or not seen the two or three times a week Jose has a serious training effort. First off, I see no room for either Dele or Winks in our starting XI. Neither fit the bill of how Mourinho wants this team to play—which happens to have brought us the most success in the league in several years and the longest stretch top of the table we have ever enjoyed in this era. He wants speed up front—neither have it—steel in the back (ditto) and in between two players who have the ability to turn a field in Ndombele and Lo Celso, which has a) never been Winks’ forte and b) seems to have left Dele’s skill set in the dust. So they are each consigned to competition on the B team.
One of the reasons I surmised we didn’t, other than Lo Celso and, in fits or starts, the front line, play all that well is what competition is there really? Not in goal. Sanchez and Tanganga know, with Rodon’s arrival, that they are fighting to become the choice for centre back #4. Davies is well aware of Reguilon’s advantage over him—his only real chance to play in big games will come if Jose decides at some point to try out tonight’s formation, and even then he might be slated behind Toby-Dier-Rodon. Doherty is fighting for a place, but for the moment surely he understands that Aurier is simply a much better defender and thus unless the “Trap Six” formation with Hojgberg and Sissoko assisting the back line fails, and Spurs trail in a game, his role is now more marginal. Vinicius is simply a back-up. So is Lucas. Bale (who played better last night and not just the wonderful free kick that Vinicius gladly converted from a yard out) knows he is playing a certain role and his time in the starting XI will await either injury, or a matchup in which the pace of Bergwijn and the twin tower defence in the midfield becomes less effective. Sunday, perhaps? And even then he will probably only come on in the final half hour. Lo Celso knows that he does/did have something to play for, as it may a) matter which of he or Ndombele get the call and b) the team might hit a point where both will be needed to start alongside each other. Interesting that it was he that bailed Tanguy last night from some uncharacteristic mistakes. Winks ostensibly did have something to play for, but maybe the quick hook in the second half told him that perhaps it’s an illusion. He was, as he often is, just OK. A few nice through balls, a few overly safe decisions, nothing egregious but then again nothing that was going to get us a goal or win us the three points. He is neither fish nor foul in a holding role, sadly—and lacks the physicality needed against certain opposition or the deft touch and ball skills needed against others. Game report—Sanchez and Tanganga grew into game, so did Lucas and Vinicius. Bale was pretty good. Gio rules.
So now the speculation will grow that either or both Dele or Winks may not be long for this Spurs world. The January window beckons and I suspect, if it hasn’t happened already, Jose will be getting visits from each requesting a transfer. Winks would seem to be the most likely to stake that claim—Dele seems a bit more mysterious in all things so I just wonder where his head is precisely. This as the team is reaching perhaps its most exalted place in their entire time here—which must both excite and grate both. After all remember that White and Shipp are standing by, Lamela will return soon—so either the near-term or long-term future for both must not seem all that promising with Tottenham. But that is why Daniel and Jose are paid the big bucks. They won’t allow the situation to fester—we saw what happened to Eriksen last year, and the move was made to Italy as soon as it could have been. I am sad for each, particularly the “only cost 5 mill” former star. Right now the only thing he might be better than Ozil at is watching a game in person.
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