A friendly that never was
Spurs vs Arsenal was never going to feel like a friendly. The two sets of players and the 24,186 fans inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday afternoon were never going to allow that.
There were plenty of yellow cards dished out to both sides, rough tackles galore, the woodwork struck four times, one well-worked goal for the hosts and the sight of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg upsetting Mikel Arteta with a slide that almost took out the Arsenal manager, who was out of his technical area.
The only moment the rivalry was briefly paused was for applause to ripple around the stadium as Bukayo Saka entered the game, the Tottenham fans making their feelings very clear about the racist abuse the young England winger had received following the final of the Euros.
The day also brought two matches for the fans as the women’s sides did battle in an end to end encounter afterwards, with the more clinical visitors coming away 4-0 victors in that game as they rattled in late goals.
For Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side, the 1-0 victory completed an unbeaten pre-season campaign under his stewardship.
Friendlies, of course, are not about the results but what will have pleased the Portuguese most is that Tottenham have looked progressively more organised, fitter and more attractive to watch with each passing match.
Ahead of the pre-season, many fans would have feared the prospect of throwing in matches against Chelsea and Arsenal for a new manager before the Premier League campaign began, worried about the potential hit for morale ahead of a tough opening test against Manchester City.
Instead it’s ended up being the best preparation Espirito Santo’s side could have possibly got.
Unless he pulls out some major surprises next Sunday, the Spurs head coach appears to have settled on the bulk of his starting XI with the number of minutes he has been dishing out to certain players, ensuring they reach their peak fitness and sharpness in time for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s side.
That the final game of pre-season was not so much played like a friendly will benefit Spurs the most. The tempo was high throughout and the step up to the Premier League pace will not be as great in a week’s time.
Tottenham impressed with their movement and patterns of play, they were on top for most of the match and could have scored more, pushed on by the fans and they will have far more behind them next Sunday. Espirito Santo was not satisfied, he wants further improvement but it’s heading in the right direction.
“Good game, good game,” he said, clearly unaware of the unintended Bruce Forsyth impression. “Tough one, tough one. We started really well with good combinations and recovering the ball well.
“Then we lost a bit of control and possession until we had the chance to adjust. We finished the game really well in terms of fitness and intensity. That’s a good sign for players in the way they are preparing themselves.
“Finishing games stronger is what we will try to improve and keep on going. Amazing reception from the fans, fantastic in our home. It’s important to feel good at home and the amazing supporters push us all the way. So a big thank you to them.”
While results were not the important thing about pre-season, there’s no denying that coming out of the matches against Chelsea and Arsenal with plenty of positives will help confidence going into the coming campaign.
There is a confidence in the ideas that Espirito Santo is trying to get across just a month in to his time at the club and he has been quietly impressing.
Those working with him inside Spurs describe him as quiet and very calm but clear in what he wants and asks of his players. He observes everything very closely before making his opinions known.
The Portuguese is already being seen by staff as somewhere in between his predecessors Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino in the way he works and acts.
It’s a long and tough road ahead for Espirito Santo but he’s set off confidently and many of the Tottenham players appear to be responding.
Dele catching the eye and absent Ndombele
This was Dele Alli’s best pre-season game by a long way as he finally looked like he fitted the role Espirito Santo has allocated to him.
Even though he was scoring in previous games against the non-Premier League teams, the 25-year-old didn’t look entirely comfortable in a midfield three in the centre of the pitch.
At Stamford Bridge, Alli still had not got to grips with it, but against Arsenal he seemed to have finally cracked it.
His growing fitness will have played a part because his role demands the ability to get from box-to-box for the full 90-plus minutes.
What also helped was that the formation was fluid around him as when Tottenham were out of possession, he sat on the left of a hard-working midfield trio containing Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp, who looks more and more ready to start against City with each passing week.
Then when Spurs had the ball, Alli had to shift quickly into gear to advance up the pitch as the 4-3-3 became the 4-2-3-1 he is more familiar with.
With Giovani Lo Celso and the absent Tanguy Ndombele being more natural fits for the role, Alli has had to work hard to adapt and this was his best audition yet for Espirito Santo.
He could have ended the day with a couple of goals had his two close range stretching efforts not thudded off a post at both ends.
Alli has lacked rhythm to his performances in the past year, due to his lack of starts, but he has been getting exactly that under the new manager.
The link-up between Alli, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min has been growing with every match.
With Harry Kane absent but now finally back at Hotspur Way and isolating until Thursday following his holidays, Son has been revelling in the role of the fans’ hero and after signing his four-year deal, that attachment has never been stronger.
Giovani Lo Celso also returned to action following his Copa America-winning summer and he looked bright and played his part in Son’s goal.
For the 25-year-old, it is now about being injury free and, like Alli, getting some rhythm to his career again, which ironically might not happen at the same time for both of them too often.
Lo Celso will fit in well into Espirito Santo’s plans because he can be the playmaker on the left of the midfield three, as he played for Argentina at times during the summer triumph, and he can also push up like Alli into a more advanced role.
He also has the work rate, ability to carry the ball and tigerish bite to his tackles that could make him a favourite of the new head coach.
There is also Ndombele, who has missed the entire schedule of Tottenham’s pre-season matches.
Early in pre-season he became a father for the first time but has since returned to training only for Espirito Santo to not judge him ready to play in matches.
After leaving him out again on Sunday, the Spurs head coach simply said: “We have all the players, we have to assess all the individual aspects of each and every one of the players. Tanguy is not with us today. He is not injured but we consider it is not yet the moment for him to be part of the game.”
As football.london revealed earlier in the week, Ndombele has been considering his options once again this summer.
There is a worrying trend for Tottenham’s record signing when it comes to those who decide the team.
He is the most gifted footballer at the club by a stretch, yet since Mauricio Pochettino was relieved of his duties Ndombele’s relationship with all of his three head coaches since appears to have been mixed.
The troubles with Mourinho were clear in his first season as he struggled for game time. The second campaign brought a much fitter and improved Ndombele and his manager responded in kind with plenty of starts.
Then interim head coach Ryan Mason started him once on his first game and not again during his spell. Now Espirito Santo has not deemed him ready to even play a single minute from the bench for him yet.
Ndombele boasts remarkable natural talent, but two years into his time in England and frustrations will start to grow inside and outside the club if the 24-year-old cannot consistently produce what he is capable of.
Whoever gets the best out of the French midfielder could end up with one of the best players in the world and that is what will give Tottenham pause over allowing any other club to take him away this summer, particularly as their club record fee of around £60m is unlikely to be recouped right now.
However, Ndombele needs to produce what he’s capable of week in, week out in training and in matches in order to fulfil his incredible potential. If he doesn’t then it could make the decision to keep him, despite his ridiculous ability, all the more difficult.
Cristian Romero’s recovery and Davinson Sanchez making a point
Tottenham’s latest signing Cristian Romero travelled with the squad for the match on Sunday and he appeared on the pitch with them to applaud the fans after the game.
There was no official unveiling, with perhaps that being held until there’s a full house next Sunday against City.
That’s because at the moment it’s doubtful the 23-year-old Argentine will play a part in the season opener.
football.london revealed on Sunday morning that Romero is currently recovering from a minor injury to his medial collateral ligament in his knee.
Romero suffered the injury during the Copa America final against Brazil on July 11, before leaving the pitch in the 79th minute.
Now almost a month later, Tottenham’s newest centre-back is in the latter stages of recovery following that twisted knee and is doing outdoor ball work.
Espirito Santo confirmed the news was correct, but was not giving away when Romero will make his debut.
“He didn’t train yet with the group. It’s true, he finished the Copa America in the last game with a problem,” he said.
“It’s much better, much better now but we have to be very careful first, not take any chances. He, like all the players, Gio for example didn’t have too many sessions. Hugo [Lloris]. We have to manage a lot of aspects until the moment that we decide to put the player on the pitch.
“He is here, looks good and when he starts training in a normal way he will become an option.”
Romero could be a real game changer for the Tottenham defence and they’ve secured a huge signing with a clever deal.
He arrives at Tottenham initially on a season-long loan with an option to purchase him, after the Italian club made his own loan to them from Juventus permanent on Friday.
While it is being officially termed as an option rather than an obligation, all parties expect the permanent move to Spurs to go through in a £42.5m deal and a five-year contract following the year loan – to make it a total of six years – has already been agreed with the Argentine.
The complicated deal, which saw Atalanta sign Merih Demiral from Juventus on the same day in a similar loan-to-buy move, means both Atalanta and Tottenham can put off their main transfer payment until next year when their revenue streams have returned to normal.
Romero has been able to interact with his new Tottenham team-mates and the staff instantly as, having had an all-in-one single dose vaccination jab in Italy, he does not have to isolate following his arrival in the UK.
Espirito Santo is clearly excited about the player Fabio Paratici has brought in for him to work with.
“He is a fantastic defender. Very good player,” he told football.london.
“He proved himself not only in Serie A but the national team in Copa America. We looked at him in detail, and analysed him and think he can help the team.”
Romero was named Serie A Defender of the Year in Italy last season and he will be looking to make a similar impact on the Premier League.
His presence in travelling with the squad on Sunday also appeared to have the desired effect on his new defensive team-mates.
Davinson Sanchez was excellent on the day, not only mopping up everything with his defending, but also transforming unexpectedly into Toby Alderweireld, in regards to three excellent diagonal long passes that all led to chances for Spurs.
Those inside the club say the 25-year-old Colombian has returned to the club with plenty of confidence, not only from his exploits as his country finished third at the Copa America but also the interest in his services from other clubs during this transfer window.
He was not alone in impressing in the backline as both full-backs Japhet Tanganga and Sergio Reguilon put in eye-catching performances at both ends of the pitch.
It was Tanganga’s battling against Pepe in the corner of the pitch that led to Tottenham’s winning goal for Son.
The 22-year-old is understood to have rejected an offer for the moment from Galatasary as he assesses his options in the coming weeks, with Spurs preferring to send him on loan to a British club if he is to head out.
Tanganga’s display might just have bagged him the right-back spot against City next weekend, with Matt Doherty having picked up a knock in midweek and Serge Aurier looking to leave Spurs.
Tottenham have previously held talks over signing Bologna’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, who plays in similar positions to Tanganga.
These coming weeks bring the chance for the England U21 international – a homegrown player at a time when that’s a rare commodity – to press his claims to Espirito Santo to play in a defence that looks set to change further.
Lautaro Martinez and Espirito Santo’s nod towards Pep
Following the signing of Romero, Spurs’ managing director of football Fabio Paratici’s next two priority positions to fill first were another centre-back and a right-back.
However, it was made clear to them that an opportunity further up the pitch that was just too good to pass up might just be brewing at Inter Milan.
The Serie A side are having dire financial problems right now and desperately need to raise funds.
That helped Tottenham enter talks to sign another Argentine in striker Lautaro Martinez, who scored 19 goals and laid on 11 assists for Inter last season as they swept to the Serie A title. The previous year he netted 21 times for the Italian side, with eight assists.
Martinez, who turns 24 later this month and has two years left on his contract, scored three goals in six matches in the Copa America this summer as Argentina won the competition, including strikes in the quarter-final and semi-final.
Those who know Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy say he rarely gambles when it comes to business, but he will occasionally do so if the target is as close to a sure thing as you can get.
Paratici is believed to have convinced Levy that Martinez is such a player and one who could thrive up front in a partnership with Harry Kane as both players can drop deeper if required.
Spurs initiated talks with Inter and reached a figure of more than 60m euros, which included numerous bonuses for the Italian club.
Tottenham believed they had reached an agreement in principle for a fee for Martinez last week only for the landscape to suddenly change thanks to a certain club across London.
Chelsea came in strongly to advance a deal for their former striker Romelu Lukaku and now a near £100m move for the 28-year-old is all but done.
That huge windfall changed Inter’s mind on Martinez as they were loathed to lose both of their free-scoring strikers in the one summer and Lukaku clearly was the one who would bring in more money.
football.london understands Martinez is keen on the move to join up with his international team-mates Lo Celso and Romero but personal terms had not yet been agreed with the player before the landscape changed.
What happens next is in Inter’s hands.
Amid fan fury over losing their two star strikers, they are strongly denying any agreement was found with Tottenham and making it clear that they do not want to sell Martinez, who played 80 minutes on Sunday in a friendly victory at Parma.
The Milan side have been heavily linked with signing Atalanta’s Duvan Zapata and Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Spurs will hope that Inter’s owners decide that to balance their books they could sign both and sell both Lukaku and Martinez.
At the moment, Tottenham are not hopeful following the expected Lukaku exit but just how bad Inter’s finances are will play their part in the weeks ahead if they cannot sell other players.
Espirito Santo was asked about Martinez but, in what seemed like a nod towards Guardiola’s very different handling of a question about Kane, he said: “I will not speak about any player. I will speak only about my Tottenham players, Spurs players, nothing else. Thank you.”
Spurs also have a strong interest in Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic. The 21-year-old is less established than Martinez but had a real breakthrough season in the last campaign with 21 Serie A goals.
The Serbian would cost less than Martinez, however reports in Italy suggest Fiorentina could tie him down to a new contract that contains a release clause closer to the Argentine’s value.
Spurs are still maintaining that Harry Kane is not for sale and the later it gets in the window the more difficult it would become to adequately replace one of the world’s best all-round strikers.
Tottenham’s interest in both Martinez and Vlahovic shows a real shift in their focus, away from signing back-up forwards for Kane such as Vincent Janssen, Fernando Llorente and Carlos Vinicius to big money strikers who can form an effective partnership with the England captain and also push him on.
The transfer window is in full swing and big moves are happening at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so we want to keep you in the know and hear your thoughts and reactions.
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Levy has seen other clubs starting to spend big money in this window, and with some of Spurs’ £200m in lost revenue during the pandemic addressed in the short-term by the £175m Bank of England Covid Corporate Finance Facility loan and then pushed to longer term debt by a later institutional fund raising of £250m, the club are trying to examine ways of keeping up with their rivals.
At a time when the fans and their star player are looking for the north London outfit to show their ambition, their dealings so far in the window with the arrival of Pierluigi Gollini, the talented young Spanish winger Bryan Gil and particularly the capture of Romero have been promising.
There is much more to do though with just over three more weeks to go in the transfer window and Paratici will be working like mad to perform the necessary surgery to Spurs’ squad.
More money and ambition must be found in order to give Espirito Santo all the support he requires in taking Tottenham back up the table to where the club feels it belongs.