Explained: Why female fans at Qatar World Cup risk prison or flogging for reporting sexual violence

By Jacob Whitehead, The Athletic

Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup has been controversial ever since the Gulf nation was awarded the tournament by FIFA 12 years ago.

Campaigners have highlighted human-rights abuses there including the illegality of homosexuality, the deaths of thousands of migrant workers and five-year prison sentences for protest.

Now, human-rights groups have expressed concerns to The Athletic over the reporting of incidents of sexual violence at the tournament this November and December, owing to precedents set by Qatari law.

FIFA — world football’s governing body — and the Qatari government have responded by stating they are happy with existing measures, with the latter saying they “protect and promote the rights of women”.

Yet several recent cases have seen the victim of a sexual or physical assault accused of extra-marital sex instead of receiving physical and emotional support.

This crime carries a prison sentence or, if the defendant is Muslim, the prospect of flogging — being beaten repeatedly with a stick or whip.

Flogging is prohibited by international human-rights law and is considered to breach the UN Convention against torture.

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, tells The Athletic: “At any major sporting event, the risk of sexual violence increases greatly.

“In Qatar, women who face sexual violence — whether by their partners, colleagues, friends, or strangers — can find themselves prosecuted for extra-marital sex.”

May Romanos, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Amnesty International, adds: “The testimonies we have already heard from domestic workers are harrowing. They ended up not wanting to report the case in court and wanting to return to their own country because they know they’ll probably lose their battle.

“You go to the police, and instead of being the victim, you become the accused.”

Survivors of sexual violence could also find themselves unable to access basic health services, such as emergency contraception or specialist antibiotics, without a marriage certificate.

Qatar’s supreme committee, which oversees the whole World Cup 2022 project, argues that “Qatar protects and promotes the rights of women, and this extends to all women visiting for the World Cup”, while FIFA insists “any fan who reports a sexual assault will have access to Qatar’s high-quality healthcare system irrespective of marital status”.

With travelling supporters from across the globe facing this possibility, and female fans disproportionately affected, The Athletic will explain:

  • Laws surrounding extra-marital sex, and how it is policed in Qatar
  • Repercussions for cases of sexual violence
  • Why major tournaments are a hotspot for these issues
  • The vulnerability of migrant workers
  • Whether Qatar is expected to relax its laws during the World Cup
  • How FIFA and Qatari organisers have responded

What are the laws in Qatar?

Qatar’s penal code contains a series of laws related to sexual intercourse, described by the Islamic legal term “zina”. Accusations of extra-marital sex are colloquially known as “love cases”.

Sex between unmarried couples is illegal in Qatar and covered by Article 281 of the penal code, which states: “Whoever copulates with a female over 16 without compulsion, duress or ruse shall be punished with imprisonment for a term up to seven years. The same penalty shall also be imposed on the female for her consent.”

Importantly, zina cases are interpreted through Islamic law, leading to different sentences if the defendant is Muslim. In the case of extra-marital sex, this could lead to a sentence of flogging — with 100 lashes a typical punishment.

These are among the most brutal sentences in the region. For example, in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, a six-month prison sentence can be conferred only upon a complaint by a spouse or guardian of an involved party.

Until 2012, Qatar publicly announced the number of individuals convicted for having extra-marital sex. Typically, around 100 cases occurred per year, with 40 of those leading to flogging sentences. Public reporting has since stopped.

Similar laws exist for alcohol consumption, also regulated under Islamic law, with drinking only allowed in a small number of licensed public places. Public drunkenness is also illegal. However, flogging sentences are rarely passed for this offence.

In recent years, human-rights groups have sought to establish how widespread the implementation of flogging sentences has been. It is understood that while not always carried out, lashes can be the result if the defendant is physically fit.

Often, the defendant will spend one to three years in prison before then being deported from Qatar.


Why are there concerns for those who report sexual violence?

Multiple issues have been raised, beginning with the claim that zina laws disproportionately target women.

According to Human Rights Watch, this occurs for two reasons. “One is that women can become pregnant as a result of sex or rape, which means there’s evidence of the so-called crime,” Begum tells The Athletic.

“Second, women are far more likely to be victims of sexual violence. When they come to report it, that can be seen as an admission of guilt. If the person they accused claims it was consensual sex, that’s all that needs to happen for authorities to prosecute the survivor for extra-marital sex.”

Several cases have unfolded in this way, with Qatar’s rape laws — generally bringing life imprisonment for the guilty, or even the death penalty in certain scenarios — ensuring the accused will often claim mitigation by stating the sex was consensual.

This is acknowledged by the UK government, which warns in guidance on the foreign, commonwealth and development office website about visiting Qatar that “the survivor of the rape and/or sexual assault also faces being charged with having sex outside marriage”. The government do not explicitly recommend reporting the incident, instead leaving it to personal “choice”.

The United Kingdom Football Policing Unit, which works with the Home Office to provide policing and guidance for matches involving UK teams, confirmed to The Athletic that it would recommend the same advice.

Photographs of unmarried men and women together in a public space, without a facial covering, have been used as evidence in zina cases. Possessing your attacker’s phone number, or willingly getting in their car, might also be seen as proof.

Additionally, survivors of sexual violence are expected to show evidence of physical abuse, such as cuts or bruises, as part of their allegation. Without this, cases are often not seen to fulfil the penal code declaration that pardons extra-marital sex if done under “compulsion, duress, or ruse”.

This is a major concern for travelling supporters before the World Cup.

Qatar World Cup

Qatar will host the World Cup (Photo: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A 2018 study by the University of Glasgow found that 90 per cent of rape and sexual assault survivors knew their attacker — under current interpretations of Qatari law, that majority risk prosecution.

Aside from the legal risk, reporting sexual violence in the country brings other concerns.

“You might need immediate assistance,” explains Begum. “Emergency contraception, specialist prophylaxis (antibiotics) to reduce the risks of HIV/AIDS, testing for STIs (sexually transmitted diseases) — these are not available without a marriage certificate.”

The UK government also warns the survivor may have their passport withheld during any police investigation, or be subjected to travel bans.

In response to a direct question from The Athletic that asked whether travellers would have access to emergency contraception and antibiotics, the Qatari government claimed antibiotics and other “necessary treatment” would be available without a marriage certificate.

It did not comment on emergency contraception, which is not available in that country.

FIFA added to The Athletic that “health-care provisions apply to any fan, irrespective of marital status” but several sources, anonymised to protect their livelihoods, claim this is not always the case.


What cases have there been?

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have recorded dozens of zina cases over the past decade, with not all defendants publicising their stories amid Qatar’s restrictive reporting laws.

However, several examples can be described.

In June 2016, a 22-year-old Dutch woman, named only as Laura, was convicted of extra-marital sex, fined 3,000 Qatari riyals (£580 then) and given a one-year suspended sentence.

Laura claimed she was drugged in a nightclub in Qatar before being sexually assaulted. She was arrested by Qatari police immediately after reporting the incident.

The defendant, who claimed the sex had been consensual, was sentenced to 140 lashes but not convicted on rape charges.

The following year, The New Humanitarian documented the story of Jo, a 26-year-old Filipino woman, who was sent to prison after her pregnancy was reported by her employers. She was released when her baby son was seven months old, on the condition she married the child’s father.

Qatar World Cup

Qatar has faced questions over human-rights issues (Photo: Christian Charisius/Getty Images)

Paola Schietekat, a Mexican national, was working in Qatar for the World Cup’s delivery and legacy committee, focusing on health and sustainability.

Last summer, she was the victim of a physical assault by a fellow member of the Latin American community in the country. She reported the assault and burglary to the authorities, but the defendant claimed he lived at Schietekat’s address to avoid those more serious charges.

Both parties were instead prosecuted for extra-marital sex. Schietekat, as a Muslim, faced the prospect of flogging.

Interrogated in Arabic, the police refused to believe she was not in a relationship with the man. After her case was referred to the public prosecutor, she was forced to relive the assault in front of an all-male courtroom.

It is understood the supreme committee was in contact with Schietekat throughout the process.

Though Schietekat was eventually found innocent, she was forced to leave her dream job in Qatar, having not wanted to remain there after the court process.


Why do major tournaments increase the likelihood of sexual violence?

Qatar’s issues with reporting sexual violence will become even more of a concern during the month-long World Cup, with cases expected to rise.

Although the host nation’s strict alcohol and drug laws could dampen down some aggravating factors.

“The issue with the World Cup, or any major sporting event, is that the risk of sexual violence increases,” Human Rights Watch’s Begum explains. “It’s not just for fans, but for low-paid migrants such as hotel workers.”

The Athletic submitted Freedom of Information requests to the police forces of all cities that hosted matches at the men’s European Championship last summer, requesting a comparison between sexual violence figures before, during and after the tournament.

In London, the North West BCU (the policing unit in which Wembley Stadium, which staged five tournament games that month, is located) had a record 188 reports in June, higher than any other month on record.

Narrowing the focus to Brent, the borough in which Wembley Stadium is situated, last June saw 73 reports of sexual offences, then July, when both semi-finals and the final were played at the venue, saw 72. Those months’ figures were the highest recorded in five years, and significantly higher than the numbers for the May and August on either side, with the June number just one below the record high.

More widely, across the entirety of London, last June recorded more sexual offences (2,247) than any other month on record, with July only narrowly behind (2,153). The June tally was eclipsed by those for last October.

In the Spanish city of Seville, which hosted four games between June 14 and 27, there were 39 cases of sexual violence that month, 70 per cent higher than any other June on record. In Romania’s capital Bucharest, also the venue for four matches, there were 34 cases that month — 62 per cent higher than any other June.

Information supplied by police in Danish capital Copenhagen, another city to stage four games during the finals, revealed no statistically significant increase.

When contacted by The Athletic, domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, which helps to address sexual violence, said in a statement: “Football does not cause abuse — there is no excuse for abuse and using football, alcohol, or other external factors as reasons or justifications for abuse, denies the true responsibility, which always lies with the perpetrator.

“However, increased alcohol consumption and the strong emotions associated with the game can cause existing abuse to increase in both severity and frequency.”


Why are migrant workers particularly exposed?

The World Cup should, of course, not be viewed in isolation. Migrant workers in Qatar have been experiencing these laws before the tournament, they will be dealing with them after it ends on December 18, and they are particularly vulnerable to their impact.

“The whole system is biased against the victims, especially when it’s a woman, let alone a migrant worker who is already discriminated against by laws such as the kafala system,” Amnesty researcher Romanos explains.

“Your sponsor could cancel your ID, and you become an illegal in the country as well as having this case to fight.”

Migrant workers will typically live in their employer’s home, raising the likelihood of being reported, while the unequal power dynamic can lead to further issues.

A United Nations report details this, writing: “The most vulnerable live in abject terror, reinforced by the threat of ‘absconding’ charges and the reasonable fear that their abusers will use morality laws, which criminalise premarital sex, to accuse them of zina.”

It adds that racial stereotyping could heighten issues, reporting that “sub-Saharan African women are presumed to be sexually available”.

There are also concerns over the language barrier during police investigations, with interrogations frequently occurring in Arabic, sometimes without a translator present.

Additionally, a person accused of having extra-marital sex will require legal aid or potentially the funds to leave Qatar.

“If you’re a migrant domestic worker, you do not have access to that,” Begum says. “You cannot always leave the employer’s home without permission. They are much more at risk of arrest and imprisonment, potentially flogging, and then deportation.”


Is Qatar likely to relax these laws during the World Cup?

Some observers have suggested the Qatari authorities may loosen the laws detailed here during the World Cup to avoid controversy amid the attention of the tournament.

However, no survivor or expert spoken to by The Athletic thought this would be the case.

Around the tournament, the main change is the creation of extra zones in which the purchase and consumption of alcohol will be allowed.

More widely, Qatar changed its kafala laws — a traditional system of labour-force governance — after international pressure in January 2020, making it easier for migrant workers to leave their employers without legal reprisal.

Asked about extra-marital sex, Begum said: “They haven’t done anything to change the laws. It was scary how in Paolo Schietekat’s case, a more privileged case, they went out of their way to prosecute her.

“By ultimately dismissing her case, the court were sending a message that, ‘Our judicial system works’.

“But the truth is that’s terrible. However you’re going (to the World Cup) — a fan, staff, working, whatever — you should not be in a situation where you’ve experienced violence and are being prosecuted by the state.

“Qatar should repeal all laws criminalising consensual sex, ensure measures to assist survivors to report sexual violence, and provide healthcare including emergency contraception and prophylaxis for HIV without requiring a marriage certificate.”


How have World Cup organisers responded?

The Athletic asked the Qatari government and the country’s supreme committee for delivery and legacy the following questions:

  • Will it be safe for female supporters to report sexual violence at the 2022 World Cup?
  • Will fans have access to support, translation and healthcare in the aftermath of an accusation of sexual violence?
  • What steps has the supreme committee taken to reduce the risk of sexual violence in Qatar?
  • Does the supreme committee recognise that visiting fans could be sentenced to flogging — a practice that breaks UN regulations on torture — for extra-marital sex or drinking?
  • What support did the supreme committee offer Paolo Schietekat during her case?

In response, a Qatari government official told The Athletic: “All visitors are protected by Qatari law. Assault is criminalised under the penal code and access to justice is a guaranteed right for all through Qatar’s legal system.

“The government operates women’s shelters and support services for victims of violence, including sexual violence. We have a process in place to ensure that protection, care and support is provided.

“Qatar protects and promotes the rights of women, and this extends to all women visiting Qatar for the FIFA World Cup 2022.”

It is understood the supreme committee will deliver an awareness session for all of Qatar’s hotels focused on harassment, abuse, and exploitation, while the organisers are also in dialogue with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over support for assault victims.

However, with the NHRC being a government-run body, questions remain over whether Qatar will be marking their own homework.


What about FIFA?

The Athletic asked FIFA:

  • Will it be safe for female fans to report sexual violence at the World Cup? Does FIFA have any concerns?
  • Will FIFA pressure the supreme committee to ensure survivors of sexual violence have access to support, translation and healthcare?
  • Has FIFA put out any guidance around reporting and preventing sexual violence at this World Cup?
  • Has FIFA put out guidance on how to report and prevent sexual violence at previous World Cups?
  • What steps has FIFA taken to reduce the risk of sexual violence at previous tournaments?
  • Has FIFA received any assurances that zina laws will be relaxed during this World Cup?
  • How can FIFA guarantee a safe tournament in Qatar?

In response, FIFA claimed the legislation in place at the tournament fulfilled a “duty of care” to potential victims of sexual violence. Despite this, it also revealed it was still working to provide “psycho-social support to allow for the required care”.

FIFA also insisted that “any fan who reports a sexual assault will have access to Qatar’s high-quality healthcare system irrespective of marital status”.

A spokesperson told The Athletic: “FIFA has a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse, harassment and exploitation. FIFA’s commitment to protecting any individual from all forms of sexual violence is steadfast and we are implementing wide-ranging safeguarding measures across FIFA’s activities, including during FIFA competitions.

“In that respect, FIFA requires the hosts of all its competitions to ensure the safety and security of everyone participating at FIFA events, including a duty of care for potential victims of abuse. This will also be the case in Qatar, as the host country of the FIFA World Cup, and the legislation in place during the tournament allows for the implementation of this requirement.

“Furthermore, any fan will have access to Qatar’s high-quality healthcare system in case of any form of health hazard whilst in the country.

“In addition, FIFA operates its own human-rights grievance mechanism through which potential victims of abuse can report cases and is looking to collaborate with local institutions specialised in providing psycho-social support to allow for the required care.”

(Top graphic — photos: Getty Images/design: Eamonn Dalton)

Tottenham’s thrashing of Leicester proved that 3-5-2 is now a viable option for Conte

By Tim Spiers, The Athletic

We tend to think of game-changing substitutions swinging a result from one direction to another — ie, a player coming on to transform a draw into a victory.

On Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur were beating Leicester City 3-2 with 70 minutes gone when Antonio Conte swapped Dejan Kulusevski for Yves Bissouma and switched formation from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. Son Heung-min, on the field having replaced Richarlison in the front three, then scored three goals in 13 minutes.

But in terms of the tactical state of the game, adding Bissouma and a bit of extra steel to a midfield that had been overrun by Leicester’s trio of Youri TielemansKiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Wilfred Ndidi (and the floating James Maddison), turned the advantage of the game towards Spurs.

Up until that 70th-minute switch, Leicester had been the better team. They had taken the game to Spurs, which made for a surprisingly open and compelling contest.

They had had more shots (15 to 10), enjoyed more of the ball (59 per cent to 41 per cent), scored two goals and forced Hugo Lloris into some fine saves. It felt like an equaliser was inevitable, while at the other end Spurs’ joy had come from set pieces (Leicester’s kryptonite) or a horrible Ndidi mistake, fully taken advantage of by Rodrigo Bentancur who pounced on Ndidi’s dalliance in possession facing his own goal and advanced to clinically dispatch his first Spurs goal.

From the 70th minute, possession was split 50/50, Spurs had six shots to Leicester’s four and they ran out comfortable winners as Brendan Rodgers’ team wilted.

This is how the team lined up after the change, with Harry Kane (No 10) dropping deeper to help launch counter-attacks, of which Son was the main beneficiary.

Two goals came from counter-attacks and having an extra ball-winner in midfield helped increase the number of transitions, obviously factoring in that Leicester were also pushing further forward as they attempted to get back into the game.

Earlier in the game, Spurs had lacked control in midfield and Leicester exploited the space offered to them. Here, Wout Faes gallivants out of defence and only has to play a basic pass to dissect the midfield.

Clement Lenglet is forced out of the high back line to intercept the pass.

But he succeeds only in directing the ball back at Faes, who plays Patson Daka through on goal.

Daka should score but places his weak attempt too close to Lloris.

Spurs had been on the attack before this happened but even allowing for a quick transition, they should not be sliced open so briskly and easily by a centre-back darting 30 yards upfield.

The game state from 70 minutes has to be taken into account but there’s no doubt Spurs looked more resolute with that extra man in midfield, as you would expect them to. But having the extra cover of Bissouma also allowed Bentancur (on the right of the midfield three in the image below) to press a little higher.

Bentancur, having dropped in here to cover for Emerson Royal who is further upfield, immediately closes the Leicester player down in this example…

… leading to a hurried pass infield that Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg slides in to intercept. Leicester were now finding it much harder to play their way upfield.

For the fourth goal, Bentancur can push a little further forward and, with fewer passing options for the Leicester player, he wins back possession…

… and plays to Son who has two Leicester players to run at and goes on to score from 20 yards out.

For the sixth goal, it’s Bissouma who wins the ball back just outside his own penalty area.

Hojbjerg takes over and drives forward into the space vacated by Leicester who have committed players into the Spurs half.

And Hojbjerg slots in Son (clearly onside, lino), who completes his hat-trick.

“When I decided to bring Bissouma in and play with three midfielders and move Sonny nearer to Kane to exploit the spaces it was really good because it gave us more balance and we exploited the ability of Kane and Son,” Conte said.

It is a tactic Conte may be less reluctant to exercise from the start of a match given his penchant for 3-4-3 and the fact he would have to sacrifice one of Son, Richarlison or Kulusevski to accommodate an extra midfielder. Playing Kulusevski as an attacking right wing-back (given the assurance of having three centre-backs and three midfielders covering behind him) would be bold but the idea has its charms — it would free up Kane to be that link man in the No 10 slot, Son could dart in behind defences to latch on to through balls, and Bentancur might push a little further forward to press the opposition midfield and make use of his technical ability higher up the pitch.

Conte was asked before the Leicester game if he had considered playing with a midfield three, which he has only sporadically done in his 10 months in charge, notably for the pulsating 2-2 draw against Liverpool last season when his squad was ravaged by COVID-19. The absences forced him to play a midfield trio of Harry Winks, Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele, none of whom are now in his plans or squad. Kane and Son played up front and scored. Conte also went 3-5-2 for the closing stages of the recent 2-0 win away to Nottingham Forest.

“We tried to sign a player with the characteristics to play in a two,” he said last week. “Then it happened during the game when sometimes we were winning to play with the three midfielders. In the past, I’ve played with two strikers and three midfielders but when you have players like Sonny, Richarlison, Kulusevski and Kane, the best system we can play is (with two midfielders).

“We need only a bit of time to work with (Bissouma) for him to understand well. Now we have two reliable and important players in Hojbjerg, who made important progress and now he’s a really strong player. The same for Bentancur. Don’t forget Skippy (Oliver Skipp), who is really young (22).

“We’re talking about a prospect but he’s always been reliable. Skippy is an important player as a midfielder and gives me the opportunity to rotate.

“We need all the players in the squad because every game is massive. We need to have energy, energy, energy. If we think we have to play with the same players we’re not going to have good results.”

Energy was certainly lacking in the first half against Leicester and as much as the formation switch created new angles in attack, simply introducing fresh legs was crucial. Suddenly, Spurs’ midfielders were snapping at Leicester’s heels and Son was buzzing around in the final third.

But for certain opponents or to change the state of a difficult match, 3-5-2 looks to be a viable option.

Tottenham v Leicester

TEAM NEWS

Tottenham have reported no new fitness concerns, with their only absentee being Lucas Moura, who is still nursing a calf issue.

Head coach Antonio Conte, who said on Thursday “no players are undroppable”, must decide whether to keep faith with out-of-form forward Son Heung-min.

Leicester will continue to assess midfielder Dennis Praet, who is doubtful with a foot problem.

Ricardo Pereira and Ryan Bertrand remain sidelined.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have won seven of the nine most recent Premier League meetings. They could win four consecutive league matches against the Foxes for the first time.
  • Leicester have lost four of their past five top-flight fixtures away to Spurs, conceding at least three goals in each defeat.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Spurs have won six successive Premier League home games, their best such run at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
  • A seventh consecutive home league win would be their longest streak since a sequence of 14 victories at White Hart Lane between November 2016 and May 2017.
  • This will be Tottenham’s seventh league match of the season and the sixth to be played in London.
  • Antonio Conte is unbeaten in eight Premier League matches as a manager against Leicester, winning seven.
  • Son Heung-min has had 17 shots in this season’s Premier League – no player who is yet to score has had more prior to the latest round of fixtures.

Leicester City

  • A sixth consecutive league defeat for Leicester would be their worst run since a similar streak between November and December 2014.
  • They are in danger of failing to win any of their opening seven top-flight games for the first time since 1983-84, when their winless start extended to 10 matches.
  • Leicester have dropped 24 points from winning positions in the Premier League in 2022, eight more than any other side. That includes a league-high eight points this term.
  • Jamie Vardy is set to make his 277th Premier League appearance, surpassing Kasper Schmeichel as Leicester’s record appearance maker in the competition.
  • Vardy is one short of scoring 100 Premier League goals since turning 30.

BBC Sport

Richarlison is making himself undroppable. Son and Kulusevski beware

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

In the space of two matches, Richarlison has surely made himself undroppable.

In Tottenham Hotspur’s win against Fulham on Saturday, Richarlison did everything but score, and then, as Spurs toiled on Wednesday night, he popped up with two headed goals to secure a 2-0 win against Marseille in the Champions League.

Two starts, two goals, and an instant fans’ favourite at Tottenham.

His performance against Marseille was generally less eye-catching than the all-action one against Fulham but he showed why Spurs spent up to £60million ($69m) on him this summer with two moments of game-changing quality. On Brazil’s independence day and with his father and stepmother in the crowd, the 25-year-old stole the show again.

But if Richarlison has made himself tough to drop, head coach Antonio Conte has a decision to make.

The sense around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was that Richarlison had kept his place against Marseille ahead of Dejan Kulusevski partly with Saturday’s trip to Manchester City in mind. Kulusveski played a key role in Spurs’ 3-2 win at the Etihad last season with a goal and an assist, and has generally been undroppable himself since joining the club in January, so would likely return on the weekend.

His place must surely be under threat, though, and so too must Son Heung-min’s. Son also played a pivotal role in last season’s City win, producing two assists, and has so often been the scourge of Pep Guardiola’s side. He has scored six goals in his last eight appearances against City and is perfectly suited to Spurs’ often very effective tactic of trying to exploit Guardiola’s high line. In general, Son scuttling in behind opposition defences is when Tottenham are at their most effective — his 23-goal Golden Boot-winning season in the campaign just gone is testament to that.

And, in fairness, it was Son’s run in behind that drew the lunging tackle from Chancel Mbemba that saw the Marseille defender sent off on Wednesday night. It was a turning point that came so soon after half-time in a match that Marseille had edged up to then.

Richarlison, Tottenham

Richarlison, sporting the Brazil flag on his boots, celebrates giving Tottenham the lead against Marseille (Photo: Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

But clearly, Son is some way off his best form. He hasn’t scored in seven games this season, registering just one assist six matches ago, and struggled again against Marseille.

There were even a few boos when he scuffed a shot wide from the edge of the box in the second half. Earlier in the game, it was alarming to see Mbemba dispossess him so comfortably as he tried to burst into the box. This happened on a couple of other occasions, and then when Son did find space on the counter with Spurs 1-0 up, he got too close to Ivan Perisic and the opportunity went.

It’s getting to the point where the South Korean looks like he needs a break and it was telling that, before the Nottingham Forest game two weeks ago, Conte was dismissive of any suggestion Son was struggling, before admitting afterwards that the forward’s lack of goals was on his mind.

The counterargument is that Son has proven he follows these lean periods with hot streaks, but he does also need to soon justify his selection, given the strength of Spurs’ alternatives. Conte has already said everyone will have to be rested during the run Spurs are in of seven matches in 21 days.

Kulusevski, meanwhile, made a difference on Wednesday night when he came on after 61 minutes as a right wing-back, almost squeezing in a goal at the near post and then whipping in a dangerous inswinging cross from a short corner. It helped that, by this point, Marseille were down to 10 men and very much on the back foot.

But this was undeniably Richarlison’s night. Conte reminded him on the morning of the game that he had said upon joining Spurs that his dream was to play in the Champions League, and stressed to him that he deserved the opportunity. Richarlison grasped the chance and could hardly have envisaged his Champions League debut going any better, especially with his father over from Brazil and in the crowd, with whom he shared a warm embrace at the end of the game.

Looking ahead to Saturday, Conte said that when picking his front three, “I have for sure a big decision”. He added that Richarlison’s versatility “is very important because (it means) when you make a change you don’t drop the quality in attack”.

The Tottenham head coach also stressed the tight turnaround from the Marseille game and then another tough match next Tuesday against Sporting Lisbon meant some of his decisions for Saturday will be informed by who most needs a rest. That could be Richarlison, given he has played both of Spurs’ last two games after not starting before then.

But it feels like a competition between Kulusevski and Son to start with Richarlison and Harry Kane at the Etihad — and that’s an amazing position for the former Everton man to be in, considering he’s competing with last season’s Golden Boot winner and a forward, in Kulusevski, who has been sensational since joining Tottenham; someone whose creativity and left-footedness arguably gives Spurs a greater balance than the Kane-Son-Richarlison trio. Perhaps that will tip things in the Swede’s favour when Conte is selecting Saturday’s team.

But, for the moment, Richarlison is doing precisely what he was brought in to do: providing Conte’s already all-star front three with competition and giving the head coach a genuine selection dilemma.

City’s defenders will have bad memories of facing Kane, Son and Kulusevski last season, but you can bet they would breathe a big sigh of relief if Richarlison doesn’t start on Saturday, and that fear factor is part of the reason Conte knows he can scarcely afford to rest a suddenly undroppable player.

(Top photo: Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Spurs v Fulham

TEAM NEWS

Tottenham pair Cristian Romero and Rodrigo Bentancur have been passed fit.

Romero is back in training following a groin issue, while Bentancur has been observing concussion protocol after being forced off against Nottingham Forest last weekend.

Fulham’s on-loan defender Shane Duffy is back after missing the midweek game against parent club Brighton.

Deadline-day signings Willian, Dan James, Carlos Vinicius and Layvin Kurzawa await their debuts.

Harry Wilson and Manor Solomon remain out with knee problems.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Spurs have taken 34 points out of 39 in their last 13 Premier League encounters with Fulham and have lost only one of those games.
  • Fulham have won away to Tottenham just once in their last 12 attempts and have lost eight of those fixtures.
  • The Cottagers have scored only five goals in their last 12 games at Spurs and have not managed more than one goal in any of those matches.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham are currently on an unbeaten streak of 11 matches in the Premier League and have lost only one of their last 16 games in the top flight.
  • Spurs have not been kept scoreless in their last 10 Premier League outings, scoring 23 goals in that run.
  • Antonio Conte’s side have won their last four Premier League London derbies at home, two short of their club-best streak of six.
  • Son Heung-min has yet to score this season despite 13 attempts on goal.

Fulham

  • The win against Brighton in midweek was Marco Silva’s 100th Premier League game. He has won 34 and lost 45 of those matches.
  • Aleksandar Mitrovic can become the third Fulham player to net in four successive Premier League matches, after Steed Malbranque in 2003 and Dimitar Berbatov in 2013.
  • Fulham have played 140 games against London teams in the Premier League and have just 26 wins to show for it – the lowest success rate among 10 London teams to have played in the league.

West Ham v Tottenham

TEAM NEWS

West Ham will check on the fitness of defenders Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell, who are nursing respective hamstring and groin issues.

New record signing Lucas Paqueta is unlikely to be involved as he is yet to train with his new team-mates.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte has hinted at making changes, including a potential first start for Richarlison.

Cristian Romero and Oliver Skipp have returned to training, while Lucas Moura and Bryan Gil are ruled out.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • West Ham are looking to win three consecutive home Premier League matches against Tottenham for the first time since a run of four between 1997 to 1999.
  • There hasn’t been a draw in this fixture in any of the last 13 games, with the Hammers winning six and Spurs seven.

West Ham United

  • West Ham could lose their opening three home league fixtures of the season for the first time in their history.
  • Despite scoring in every home game last season, David Moyes’ side are yet to get off the mark at the London Stadium this campaign.
  • The Hammers are at risk of losing five consecutive Premier League London derbies for the first time since 2010.
  • Michail Antonio’s next appearance will be his 200th in the Premier League for West Ham, making him the fifth player to reach the milestone for the club.
  • Antonio has scored in each of his last three league home games against Tottenham.
  • David Moyes has lost just one of his last 10 home league matches against Spurs (W5, D4).

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham have earned 10 points out of a possible 12 – the only Premier League season in which they made a better start was 2009-10.
  • Spurs have won 39 points since March, more than any other side in the top tier (W12, D3, L2).
  • Their next victory in a Premier League London derby will be their 100th.
  • Harry Kane has been involved in seven goals in his last six Premier League games against West Ham, scoring four and assisting three.

Forest v Spurs

TEAM NEWS

Nottingham Forest welcome Jack Colback to their squad for the first time since the opening day of the season following illness.

Moussa Niakhate and Omar Richards are long-term absentees but boss Steve Cooper has no fresh concerns.

Tottenham remain without Cristian Romero and Oliver Skipp, both of whom will return to training next week.

Antonio Conte will make a late decision on Lucas Moura and Bryan Gil after the pair missed training on Friday.

Nottingham Forest celebrate their winner against West Ham, their eighth consecutive home league win
Nottingham Forest went 12 games unbeaten between November 2009 to March 2010

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Nottingham Forest have won six of the last 10 league meetings but lost both fixtures in 1998-99, their most recent top-flight campaign.
  • Tottenham have won four of their last five meetings in all competitions.
  • Spurs are one short of 50 league wins over Forest.

Nottingham Forest

  • Nottingham Forest have only conceded seven goals in their last 16 league games at the City Ground, keeping 10 clean sheets.
  • They are vying to win their opening two home league games in a top-flight season for the first time since 1984.
  • Steve Cooper’s side have allowed their opponents to take 61 shots this season, at least 14 more than any other top-flight side.
  • Dean Henderson has made 18 saves in the Premier League this season, more than any other goalkeeper prior to the latest round of fixtures.
  • A goal for Brennan Johnson, 21, would see him become the youngest player to score in back-to-back Premier League appearances for Forest, breaking the record set by Roy Keane in 1992.
  • Taiwo Awoniyi can become the second player to score in both of Forest’s opening two home matches of a Premier League season, emulating Stan Collymore in 1994-95.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham last avoided defeat in their opening four league matches in 2016-17, going on to finish second that season
  • They have attempted a league-high 69% of their shots in the second half of matches this season (27 of 39).
  • Spurs kept a clean sheet in all six meetings versus promoted opposition last season, only dropping points in a 0-0 draw at play-off winners Brentford.
  • Antonio Conte has lost just one of his 17 Premier League games against newly-promoted sides, going down 3-0 at Newcastle in his final league game with Chelsea in May 2018. He’s won four of his five such games with Spurs without conceding a single goal.
  • Harry Kane is just two goals behind Andrew Cole in third place in the overall Premier League top scorers list.
  • Nottingham Forest will be the 32nd different Premier League opponent Kane has faced. He has scored against 30 of the previous 31, failing to net only against Brentford.

Conte’s Tottenham don’t often control the midfield – but does it matter?

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

The first half of Tottenham Hotspur against Wolverhampton Wanderers was a reminder of one of the biggest issues still facing Antonio Conte and his team.

What to do against a midfield that not only outnumbers their own but also has the quality to make it look second best. This was the challenge facing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur against the seemingly eternally effective duo of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, supplemented by the impressive £42 million ($49.7m) signing Matheus Nunes.

And it was one they struggled with, as they did against Chelsea last weekend when Mason Mount frequently dropped in to support Jorginho and N’Golo Kante and leave Hojbjerg and Bentancur overwhelmed.

In a first half where Wolves were the better side, the challenge was made more difficult by Daniel Podence dropping into midfield pockets, and at the other end Harry Kane not being able to get close enough to Neves. Wolves also effectively blocked the passing lanes to Dejan Kulusevski, forcing Spurs to go long through Eric Dier.

Conte then asked his wing-backs to tuck in a little bit, and this — coupled with the chance to get into his players at half-time — helped change the momentum of the match, which Spurs ultimately won 1-0 to continue their positive start to the season.

How much, then, does ceding control of the midfield matter? Is it something Spurs should fundamentally be worried about? Or is it simply a consequence of a 3-4-3 system designed to create overloads on the flanks and relying, as Wolves manager Bruno Lage said afterwards, on “leaving the three guys — the two runners and Kane — so if they recover the ball in three or four seconds they can be near the ball to create chances”?

The first thing to say, as tends to be the case, when questions are asked of Conte’s system is that it has worked exceptionally well so far for Tottenham. Results have been very good on the whole and especially since the back end of last season. In their last 14 matches, Spurs have picked up 33 points, scoring 34 and conceding eight. The numbers suggest the system is working well. The system is not infallible, of course, but with the formation being an exception rather than the rule, it invites greater scrutiny whenever it shows a weakness.

But perhaps that and other orthodoxies need to be challenged. Another key one is the idea that controlling the ball and the midfield are prerequisites to being an effective Premier League team. Let’s call this the Pepification of modern football.

Spurs are not a team that hoover up possession — having 50 per cent of the ball on Saturday, and just under 40 per cent against Chelsea — nor are they one that dominates the midfield very often. It’s hard to do that when you’re outnumbered most weeks.

But as the numbers from the last 14 matches show, they are still finding ways to be very effective.

“For sure we are trying to do different situations and also during the game we did this,” Conte said after the Wolves match when asked if the lack of midfield control was a concern. “Maybe for someone it was difficult to understand this because we are talking about tactical situations, but we did and also I repeat in the second half it was really difficult for Wolverhampton to find the right solution to avoid and score and create chances.”

The final claim is certainly valid, with Wolves offering very little threat in the second period. They also struggled to test Hugo Lloris in the first, though that was more down to a lack of cutting edge than effective Spurs defending.

Conte went on to insist he and the team are working to make life more difficult for opposition midfields, and it will be interesting to see if the situation changes as and when Yves Bissouma is deemed ready to start matches. He has experience of playing in a midfield two while at Brighton and can be more disruptive than Hojbjerg and Bentancur.

The counter-argument is for the second week running, Spurs were the second best in the first half and the result could easily have gone in a different direction. Returning back to those earlier questions of whether this is a fundamental issue Spurs need to worry about, perhaps the answer is that it’s only fundamental if they have designs on really competing with Liverpool and Manchester City. The evidence suggests their current way of playing is enough to have them as the third or fourth best team in the Premier League.

Over the course of this season, Spurs may need to find other ways of structuring their midfield if they want to take that next step, and it’ll be interesting to see if they stiffen it up in games against sides like Liverpool and City (not that they did badly at the Etihad or Anfield last season with a midfield two).

But for the moment, even if it can feel alarming to see opponents dominating that area, Spurs are progressing nicely. They’ve picked up seven points from games they picked up zero from in last season’s equivalent fixtures and are expected to bring in another attacker now that Bryan Gil is close to joining Valencia.

Spurs’ results this season vs 2021-22TEAM2021-22 RESULT2022-23 RESULT

Southampton

L 3-2

W 4-1

Chelsea

L 3-0

D 2-2

Wolves

L 2-0

W 1-0

Whether that will be someone who can also play as a No 10 as well as wide will be interesting as the lack of creativity from midfield has been an issue for Conte’s Spurs at times.

Thankfully, like their other areas for improvement, it’s not yet one that’s affecting their results this season.

(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Spurs v Wolves

TEAM NEWS

Tottenham’s Cristian Romero, who played every minute of the first two games of the season, is ruled out with a muscle injury sustained against Chelsea.

Summer signing Clement Lenglet is fit again, while Oliver Skipp has resumed training following a pre-season injury.

Wolves could give a debut to record signing Matheus Nunes following his move from Sporting Lisbon.

Joao Moutinho returned to training this week and might make his first appearance of the season.

Kane looks to tie Sergio Aguero's one-club Premier League goal record
Kane currently has 184 Premier League goals – tied with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have lost four of the past seven home league meetings, as many as they had in the first 38.
  • Wolves have won three away games at Tottenham, more than anywhere else since returning to the top flight. Four of their five Premier League victories against Spurs have come in London.
  • The home team has won only one of the past 11 league fixtures; both meetings last season were won by the visiting side.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham have lost just one of their past 13 league matches, scoring 33 goals and conceding eight.
  • They have earned four consecutive league wins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, equalling their best home run since leaving White Hart Lane.
  • Spurs could become the fifth team to score 1,000 goals at home in the Premier League, emulating Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.
  • Antonio Conte’s side has conceded first in both Premier League games this season to beat Southampton and draw with Chelsea. The last time they conceded first but avoided defeat in three consecutive Premier League games was in October 2010,
  • Son Heung-min has an unrivalled 15 Premier League goals in 2022 but has failed to score in seven meetings against Wolves.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • Wolves are winless in nine Premier League games, their longest streak without a top-flight victory since a run of 17 between February 2012 and August 2018.
  • They had just one shot on target in their goalless draw with Fulham last week.
  • Bruno Lage’s side have won just 29% of their Premier League fixtures without Raul Jimenez in the starting line-up (12 of 41), compared to 41% when he does start (46 of 113). The Mexican has scored in all three of Wolves’ wins against Tottenham since 2018.
  • Wolves can lose their opening two away fixtures of a Premier League season for only the second time. They did so in their 2003-04 debut campaign: 5-1 at Blackburn Rovers and 1-0 at Manchester United.

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham: ‘Spurs show they now have fight as well as depth’ – Jermaine Jenas analysis

I’ve been waiting a long time for Tottenham to play as badly as they did against Chelsea and still get a positive result.

One of my biggest criticisms of Spurs for many months has been their inability to put in a poor performance and still avoid defeat.

All the best Premier League teams have always been able to do that – so it’s important that Antonio Conte’s side have now shown they can too.

I was already feeling very upbeat about their prospects this season anyway but what happened in their 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge gives me even more confidence, if anything.

I know some Tottenham fans might be jubilant about the result while also thinking ‘hang on, we didn’t play very well’ – but that’s the reason why they should be even happier, especially in a fixture with a history like this one.

Plenty of Spurs teams of the past – including the ones I played in – went to Chelsea, played really well and got beaten. When we didn’t perform, we always lost.

On Sunday, we finally saw that a Spurs side can go there without getting anywhere near the levels we know they can, and still get a result against a Chelsea team that – to a man – has played out of their skin.

The ability to do that is what Conte was searching for with the signings he has made, to meet his demands as a manager.

He has players in his team now who have got character and set standards in matches even when the team are playing poorly and getting dominated the way they were by Chelsea.

That’s why Spurs weren’t beaten on Sunday; because they are starting to develop an understanding of what it means to go all the way in games, not to give up – and how to fight.

Late equaliser will feel extra sweet

I played in plenty of games like this one where my team has nicked a draw we didn’t deserve, away from home and right at the death. You get on the coach afterwards and go ‘how the hell did that happen?’.

It feels like a win, whoever you are playing, but Harry Kane’s 96th-minute equaliser will feel especially sweet for the Spurs players given the opposition, and what they had to do to get a point at Stamford Bridge.

They were up against a direct competitor for the top four, who have played probably the best they have done for a long time, on top of the historical rivalry between the two clubs.

I can still feel the needle between Chelsea and Tottenham now I am watching their games rather than playing in them.

Nothing has changed there. On Sunday you saw exactly how much it meant from the way both teams – and their managers – were scrapping for 90-plus minutes.

Richarlison adds bite and energy

It was far too easy for Chelsea to play through Spurs in the first half, while the home team were snapping into Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski whenever they got the ball.

What Blues boss Thomas Tuchel did tactically for most of the game was absolutely brilliant, switching between four or five at the back depending on whether his side had the ball, and finding pockets of space for his creative players.

But it was just as impressive by Conte to recognise what was happening and understanding what he could change to respond and hurt Chelsea.

Richarlison coming on definitely shifted things in the second half, with the bite and energy he provides and also by tightening up the Tottenham press.

I wondered where the Brazil forward would fit into this Spurs team when he signed from Everton in the summer, but just having him to come off the bench in a game like this shows the progress they have made with their squad.

He is the kind of player who will have been watching everything that has been happening and thinking ‘get me on, I want to have an impact’ and, because he plays on the front foot, you could tell he lifted the Spurs side instantly.

Now Conte can make changes that count

The beauty of all the signings Conte has made is that they give him the depth and flexibility to make the changes he needs.

His options now are vast, to change shape as well as personnel, instead of him looking behind him during a game and thinking ‘what’s the point?’, because he might as well stick with the best XI he has got on the pitch.

Tuchel was able to do it as well, when he brought Cesar Azpilicueta on at 1-1 and pushed Reece James forward to score his side’s second goal.

What I loved about both managers today was that most of the tactical tweaks they made during the game were attacking moves.

But solving any kind of problems with your substitutes is another ability all the other top teams have, and it’s something else Tottenham can say they can do now too.

Jermaine Jenas was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

Chelsea v Tottenham

TEAM NEWS

Chelsea will be without Mateo Kovacic on Sunday because of a knee injury.

Left-back Marcos Alonso will also be missing; head coach Thomas Tuchel said he “is not training as he tries to finalise his transfer (to Barcelona)”.

Tottenham could hand a debut to £60m summer signing Richarlison after his return from suspension.

They will be without defender Clement Lenglet, who has slight tightness in his adductor muscle, and Oliver Skipp, who has a foot injury.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have won only seven of their 60 Premier League matches against Chelsea (D20, L33).

Chelsea

  • Last season, Chelsea picked up more points away (40) than they did at Stamford Bridge (34).
  • Chelsea have dropped points in their opening Premier League home fixture in four of the past seven seasons (W3, D2, L2).
  • The Blues will face a former manager for a second consecutive league match, with Antonio Conte following Everton’s Frank Lampard.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Spurs have earned four successive Premier League victories, the longest current winning run in the division.
  • Tottenham have won 99 Premier League London derby matches, and could be the third side to reach 100 victories after Chelsea and Arsenal.
  • However, Spurs only took one point in their five away London derbies last season, scoring just one goal.
  • Harry Kane needs two goals to break Sergio Agüero’s record of most Premier League goals for a single club: 184 for Manchester City.

BBC Sport

Which of the ‘Big Six’ has had the best transfer window?

By Mark Carey, The Athletic

Which of the so-called “Big Six” Premier League clubs have had the best summer transfer window?

Manchester City have brought in one of the most dangerous strikers on the planet in Erling Haaland, while Liverpool continue to evolve their forward line having swapped Sadio Mane with 23-year-old Darwin Nunez

Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have got their business done remarkably early with multiple strong signings, while Chelsea and Manchester United are still looking for some further recruits to add to their latest incomings.

The question is, which players will make the biggest impact for their new club? Whose departure will be felt the most? Can we predict who will make the top four?

Spoiler alert: fans in north London should be the most happy with their club’s business.


It’s difficult to accurately quantify who might have had the best window so far, but can it be done?

The Athletic have teamed up with football data consultancy TASPA, which employs experts in understanding sporting data to create actionable insights.

TASPA has a concise metric that calculates the positive or negative goal differential impact each player can have on their team — known as Player Impact Value (PIV).

By measuring team strength and PIV in goals, you can simulate a new player’s impact on their team’s results and subsequent league finishing position.

Crucially, it allows you to quantify the impact a new signing would have compared with a departing player, or a squad member competing for a role in the starting XI. For the baseball fans among you, this is similar to the “Wins Above Replacement” metric used to show a player’s contribution to their team.

Let’s run through an example. If a new signing had a PIV of +0.08, it would mean the incoming player is increasing the team strength by 0.08 goals per game compared with the player they are replacing. That might not sound a lot, but across the course of a season, that incremental difference can be significant.

By contrast, if a strong player departs and is replaced by a weaker player, the new signing would have a negative PIV, thus weakening the overall team strength. Think Rickie Lambert coming in for Luis Suarez in Liverpool’s 2014-15 summer window.

erling-haaland

Haaland celebrates his second goal for Manchester City on Sunday (Photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

A PIV of zero would mean the new signing is the same quality as the player they are replacing — and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but they would have no expected additional impact on their team’s strength. 

So, who is predicted to have the biggest impact among the top six clubs?

Unsurprisingly, TASPA tips Haaland to be the player with the biggest impact, increasing the team strength with a PIV of +0.14 goals per game for Manchester City. 

Closely behind Haaland are City departees Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus — now at Chelsea and Arsenal, respectively — with the pair predicted to increase their team strength by +0.1 goals per game.

Haaland’s impact is predicted to be greater than new Liverpool signing Darwin Nunez, whose impact is still predicted to be positive to his new side (+0.1 PIV) as he offers a new dimension to Jurgen Klopp’s attack.

At the other end of the scale, new Liverpool signings Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay are not predicted to positively impact their new side over-and-above the players they are replacing.

However, this is unsurprising given their teenage status and their jump from a weaker Championship and Scottish Premiership, respectively. The pair are certainly ones for the future, more so than the present.

Meanwhile, Spurs’ incomings of Djed Spence and loanee Clement Lenglet are also not predicted to increase their new side’s team strength compared with the players they are replacing. For Lenglet in particular, this would make football sense given his arrival from being a squad player in a weak Barcelona team last season, as he rates less favourably when compared with the current option of Ben Davies.

Finally, this is also the case for England international Kalvin Phillips, whose impact is predicted to contrast with Haaland’s among the new Manchester City signings (-0.01 PIV). Whether or not Phillips can adapt to the Pep Guardiola style of play after the swashbuckling Bielsa approach will be interesting to monitor.


As well as the incoming signings, how much have the departures affected the team strength among the “Big Six”?

Sadio Mane’s loss is predicted to be felt by Liverpool, with an outgoing value of -0.08 PIV from Liverpool’s team strength. Chelsea’s defensive gaps at left centre-back look to have been replaced like-for-like, with the departing PIV of 0.08 from Antonio Rudiger regained by the arrival of Kalidou Koulibaly (+0.08 PIV) to Stamford Bridge.

Elsewhere, the departure of Nuno Tavares from Arsenal is predicted to have little effect on their team’s overall strength as the left-back seeks more regular minutes on loan with Marseille this season. This is also the case for Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi from Liverpool and Juan Mata from Manchester United as outgoing squad members. While each of them performed well when they did enter the action, all were ultimately limited by their minutes played across the course of last season.

Taken together, we can then map the overall “net” change in each squad’s player impact value considering all the incomings and outgoings. When there are fewer outgoing players, as is the case with Spurs, TASPA instead maps the incoming player to an existing member of the squad who they will compete with — for example, Ivan Perisic competing with Ryan Sessegnon for a left wing-back role at Tottenham.

With Spurs in mind, it will be Antonio Conte who should be most happy with the improvement made to his squad over the summer. By bringing in quality players in positions where they currently have weaker squad members, the overall impact of his new signings has contributed a net PIV of +0.15 goals per game.

At the other end, TASPA projects Chelsea’s summer window has seen them tread water compared with their rivals, as their overall incomings of Sterling and Koulibaly have simply restored the balance from the outgoings of Romelu Lukaku, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger.

The return of Conor Gallagher from his loan spell at Crystal Palace plus the arrival of teenage sensation Carney Chukwuemeka may prove to be an overall positive to Chelsea’s squad, but the data suggests Thomas Tuchel is justified in voicing his frustrations over the summer business completed at Stamford Bridge.

Meanwhile, TASPA outlines Liverpool’s summer business to have an overall subtle negative net PIV as they replace their squad players with relative inexperience. The age profile of Liverpool’s squad is an interesting one, as Jurgen Klopp is slowly transforming the make-up of his side with each transfer window. Whether they will match the heights of last season remains to be seen.


So, what does this mean for the title race? Unfortunately for the chasing pack, TASPA predicts Manchester City and Liverpool still have a stranglehold on the battle for the Premier League trophy, with none of the remaining competitors doing enough to push for a genuine attempt at threatening Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola.

Interestingly, TASPA predicts Manchester City’s transfer business has actually boosted their title hopes from 60 per cent to 64 per cent, while Liverpool’s chances take a slight dip from 35 per cent to 31 per cent.

More broadly across the top-four race, TASPA still tips Chelsea to make the top four, despite seeing their chances reduce from 84 per cent to 78 per cent. Meanwhile, Spurs also remain favourites to stay in those Champions League spots by the end of the season, with a 52 per cent chance boosted from 41 per cent at the start of the window.

While Arsenal have improved their chances of top four from 39 per cent to 46 per cent with the shrewd signings of Zinchenko, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira, it is currently not predicted to be enough to bring Champions League football back to the Emirates in 2023-24.

Finally, Manchester United look to have done little to change their status as the outsiders for the top four, with their chances dropping slightly from 18 per cent pre-window to 16 per cent currently.

The arrivals of Tyrell MalaciaChristian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez have been unable to significantly outweigh the departures of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani from Erik ten Hag’s squad, with the rebuild at United looking likely to be more of a slow and measured approach. The arrival of potential signing Adrien Rabiot may turn the tide slightly, but it is unlikely to sky-rocket United’s chances beyond the current favourites.

Of course, predicting such outcomes will always be a difficult task as there is a high element of uncertainty across the game. Manager changes, injuries and pure luck can influence the outcome of a Premier League season to a greater or lesser degree.

As The Athletic have recently analysed, transferring between leagues comes with a great deal of uncertainty, with factors off the pitch influencing player performance as much as those on the pitch.

So much could happen and so much can change with less than three weeks left of the transfer window remaining.

But as things stand, Antonio Conte and Mikel Arteta can be most happy with their transfer dealings as we begin the 2022-23 Premier League season.

(Top photo: Getty Images)

Tottenham’s new transfer policy: Have Conte and Paratici convinced Levy to tear up his playbook?

By Jack Pitt-Brook, The Athletic

For years, Daniel Levy has been accused by some fans of stubbornness and predictability in how he runs Tottenham Hotspur. Of being too set in his ways, too loyal to his own playbook: negotiate hard, sell at a premium, buy at the end of the window, come out on top on every deal, and never, ever blink first.

Depending on which side of the argument you take, it is either a far-sighted approach that has helped bring Tottenham to the brink of the elite without benefactor billions, or an unambitious one that has seen them win only one League Cup in more than 20 years of ENIC ownership. (Our point here is not to relitigate this particular debate, there is plenty of room for that elsewhere on the internet.)

But even the Levy defenders The Athletic has spoken to over the years have pointed to his reluctance to mix things up or vary his approach as his biggest weakness, something that has stopped Spurs from taking advantage of positions of strength. There have been moments — under Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pochettino — when Spurs found themselves at a juncture of opportunity, when an out-of-character gamble might have won a huge pot, but Levy stuck to his cautious policy instead.

In this hot summer of 2022, Tottenham Hotspur have found themselves at another one of these junctures. But this time it feels as if Levy has taken the other fork in the road. He has prioritised the potential of the moment over loyalty to his own policy. Spurs have bought early, before they have sold, they have bought experience, and they have bought in positions of strength. It almost makes you wonder: who is this chairman of Tottenham Hotspur and what has he done with Daniel Levy?

Go back to May 2021, when Levy first spoke to Antonio Conte and Fabio Paratici about coming to work at Spurs. Levy was very clear and honest with them that there was not a lot of money to spend. Spurs had lost hundreds of millions of pounds during the COVID-19 pandemic and had not yet reopened their stadium to full crowds. If they wanted to spend big that summer, they would have to sell.

While Conte was not convinced and did not join until Levy went back four months later, Paratici was undeterred. He quickly took over the football side of the club, trying to find a new head coach. And his first summer window saw permanent deals for Bryan Gil, Emerson Royal and Pape Matar Sarr, with a loan plus obligation for Cristian Romero — all players aged 23 or under. It felt like typical Tottenham and a typical Levy window.

But we’ve seen something else this summer. The old transfer policies have been dumped in favour of a new, bold approach.

Take, for instance, the timing of the arrivals.

Levy has always been of the view that the best deals of the transfer window are to be found at the very end. He is a master of patient brinkmanship, happy to use the ticking clock as leverage, whether he is selling or buying.

At times it has worked very well. The classic example is Rafael van der Vaart arriving from Real Madrid in the final minutes of the summer 2010 window for just £8million (around $9.6m). That move was so successful that it became part of the Levy playbook. A year later, Scott Parker joined Spurs on the last day. In 2012, it was Hugo Lloris and Clint Dempsey who arrived. In 2016, Moussa Sissoko. In 2017, Serge Aurier and Fernando Llorente, and so on.

Deadline-day signings have become almost as much a part of Tottenham as Chas & Dave.

But it is not a policy that always works.

They left it too late to sign Joao Moutinho from Porto in 2012, which left them without a real replacement for Luka Modric in the middle of the pitch. Four years ago, they low-balled Aston Villa over Jack Grealish when he was up for sale after they were condemned to a third straight season in the Championship, wasting time before a change in ownership kept him at the Midlands club.

The next summer, they ran out of time to tie up a complicated but achievable deal for Paulo Dybala of Juventus on the last day of the window.

Spurs missed the chance to sign Jack Grealish in 2018 (Photo: Getty)

Back in the present, Spurs will start their Premier League season at home to Southampton tomorrow (Saturday) with six players already through the door this summer, and all of their areas of relative weakness addressed. They may add one more midfielder, but even then he would be unlikely to someone who’d come straight into the first team. And while some of those signings are what you might call typical Tottenham buys — Conte was at pains to call Djed Spence a “club signing” — some of them are absolutely not.

To start with, there’s Ivan Perisic, who arrived at the end of May, just days after the news that Conte would in fact be staying  for 2022-23. Spurs have signed the 33-year-old on a free transfer and are paying him in excess of £180,000 per week, making him one of their top earners.

The only other time they have signed an outfield player as old as him in the last decade was Fernando Llorente, to be the backup striker behind Harry Kane, in 2017. And yet Perisic, who relies on athleticism that will not last forever, arrives on that big contract to come straight into the starting XI.

Conte has been speaking about the importance of signing experience ever since he arrived last November.

This was the main argument in his famous Sky Italia interview, talking about the benefit of signing experienced rather than young players. But it is not just Conte who has said this. Kane has been making this point internally since before Conte arrived, that Tottenham should be focusing on signing experienced, established players who can come straight into the first team.

But even Perisic is less atypical than Richarlison.

Levy has been reluctant in recent years to spend big money on forwards, given that Spurs already have Kane and Son Heung-min in those positions. (The last forward they signed before Richarlison was Carlos Vinicius on loan from Benfica in the summer of 2020. Before him, it was Llorente from Swansea three years earlier.)

And yet, this window, Levy bought the Brazil international for an initial £50million, plus £10million in add-ons.

Spurs accelerated negotiations with Everton in the last week of June and the deal was more or less in place by June 29. Yes, Everton needed to sell by the end of the month, but for Levy to pay that much money, that early in the window, for a player who is not a guaranteed starter, was maybe the most uncharacteristic thing he has ever done.

Even now, while there is plenty of admiration for the player and what he will bring, there is bafflement inside the football industry that Levy has broken the habits of a lifetime to do it. (Suddenly, the days of Tottenham digging in over their valuations of Grealish or Wilfried Zaha or James Ward-Prowse or Bruno Fernandes feel like the distant past.)

Throw in Yves Bissouma, Spence, Fraser Forster and a loan for Clement Lenglet, and it has been a remarkably proactive window.

Of course, it has been made easier by the £150million equity injection that was announced at the end of the season, Levy arranging for ENIC to borrow the money so that they could buy new shares in the club. But even that was a radical change in policy for Tottenham, their first major fundraiser since £15million in 2004, which they used to buy Jermain Defoe.

Other Spurs managers of recent years — not least Pochettino and Jose Mourinho — could be forgiven for wondering where this Levy was when they were in charge and when every transfer window was a battle to get the money for the players they needed.

What cannot be forgotten here is that Levy spent most of the last decade working on building – and paying for – a new £1.2billion stadium. Tottenham did not have hundreds of millions to spend on players when they were building White Hart Lane’s replacement. Now the ground is open and bringing in money, the picture is different.

So the old policy of selling before you buy — or at least selling and buying at the same time — seems to have gone out of the window. (This was perhaps the single biggest cause of the decline of the Pochettino era because the clear-out the Argentinian demanded never happened, meaning no new players and no chance to build a second young, hungry Spurs team.)

But so far this summer, the only first-teamer sold has been Steven Bergwijn to Ajax.

Conte did not take Harry WinksSergio ReguilonGiovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele on the pre-season tour to South Korea tour, making clear where they stand in his thinking.

Even this was an unusual approach for Tottenham, given what leaving those players at home means for their valuations in the market. The last time they had a ‘bomb squad’, at the start of the 2014-15 season, was when Pochettino excluded unpopular players who were inimical to his group ethos. Winks, Reguilon, Lo Celso and Ndombele are not exactly that, they are just not in Conte’s plans.

Ndombele, Tottenham

Tanguy Ndombele (right) did not travel to Korea for Spurs’ pre-season matches (Photo: Getty)

But all of this just brings us back to the main question: why would someone as clear in his own mind as Levy suddenly change course this drastically? Why would he start behaving so out of character, 21 years into the job?

One theory is that maybe Levy has realised what many of his critics say, which is that his own caution has held Tottenham back in the past.

You can look back at January 2012, when Spurs only signed Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha, and failed to build on a strong start to the season, which ended up with them slipping from third to fourth and missing out on Champions League football because Chelsea finished sixth and then won the European Cup to take England’s fourth and final spot as holders. Or you can look at the more recent failure to grant Pochettino a clear-out and a rebuild when he needed them most. But sources familiar with Levy’s thinking, speaking on condition of anonymity, do not believe this is how he sees the situation.

Another theory is that this is ultimately to do with Spurs’ position in the market.

The idea was always for the club to be more assertive in terms of transfers once they had the new stadium up and running and it is only now, three years after it opened, that they have enjoyed their first season of full crowds. Another season of matchday revenue on the way and the return of Champions League football, plus the fact it is a buyer’s market right now, makes this the optimum time for Tottenham to throw their weight around. (Nor will it have escaped attention that another London club, one lacking Spurs’ quality of facilities, have just been sold for £4.25billion.)

But perhaps the most persuasive theory boils down to politics.

It was one of the masterstrokes of Levy’s tenure to convince Conte, at the second attempt, to coach Tottenham.

Levy is understandably proud of that fact and believes the Italian to be the best manager he has ever appointed. The players returned for this pre-season more enthusiastic and optimistic than ever before. The fans love Conte, too, and see him as the man to finally take their club to the promised land.

The problem here for Levy, given Conte’s popularity, is the power balance between the two men.

When Conte joined, he only signed an 18-month contract, which now has less than a year to run. Since almost day one, he has dangled the possibility that he might walk out on Spurs if he was not happy. He did not want to be yet another Tottenham manager who was not fully backed.

Even towards the end of last season, the mood was still that he might quit, right up until the point when he decided to stay. And Levy knew this was not just an empty threat, as shown by Conte’s past departure from Juventus and Inter Milan.

This fear of Conte abandoning Spurs — and the fans blaming Levy for it — has hung over the last nine months in N17, far more so than it ever did with Pochettino.

The Argentinian was much more reluctant than Conte is to criticise the chairman in public, and Levy tied him down to the club with long-term contract extensions in 2016 and 2018.

The power dynamic there was very different to now, and Levy has been under huge pressure both to keep Conte happy and to show the public that he is doing so, as shown by the proud announcement of that £150million equity injection.

The internal pressure has not only come from Conte, either.

Paratici has proven to be the most assertive and ruthless director of football Spurs have ever had, dominating the training ground like a manager himself and persuading Levy of the value of signing early.

When Levy appointed Paratici, the hope was that he could bring “Juventus standards” to Tottenham and help them conduct themselves more like a member of Europe’s elite.

In this assertive transfer window, that is what we are seeing.

Maybe this summer’s change of policy was inevitable from the point Levy brought in Paratici and then Conte last year.

There is no point in making such big hires unless those hired are going to change how your club is run.

Levy moved heaven and earth to get them in, so naturally he is desperate for them to succeed.

After a difficult few years, optimism has returned to Tottenham Hotspur.

It has just taken a different Daniel Levy to help deliver it.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur’s season preview: Best XI, Conte worries and the Romero factor

By Charlie Eccleshare
Aug 4, 2022

Most exciting signing? Player with a point to prove? Chant that needs to be sung?

Before the start of the new season,  The Athletic answers the important and not-so-important questions surrounding Tottenham Hotspur.

There’s plenty of optimism, despite Saturday’s friendly against Roma.

What would be a good season?

Top three and a trophy. The former would mark progress from last season and ensure a Champions League spot. The latter would end what will be a 15-year wait for silverware. A run in the Champions League would be nice, too.

What would be a bad season

Finishing outside the top four. Not qualifying for the Champions League would be a massive blow and would make keeping hold of Antonio Conte that much harder.

What could be the manager’s undoing?

His restlessness. Everything’s going swimmingly right now, but it wouldn’t take much for Conte to combust and start criticising the club. At which point everyone will panic that he’s about to leave immediately or at the end of the season.

Player who will most impress

Cristian Romero had an excellent first season, but he missed large chunks of it through injury and the odd quarantining trip to Croatia. I expect him to go up another few notches this season and emerge as the club’s third superstar alongside Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Most exciting signing?

Yves Bissouma was someone who, whenever I watched at Brighton, I wondered why one of the Premier League’s biggest teams hadn’t signed him up. Not least when he ran the game in Brighton’s 1-0 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in April. And now here he is, with the potential to sprinkle stardust on a hitherto functional midfield.

Player with most to prove?

Discounting players like Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele who have plenty to prove but won’t be here, I’ll go for Ryan Sessegnon. He improved a lot in the second half of last season, but he needs to show he can stay fit for a whole campaign and add the edge to his game to go from solid to more spectacular.

Song they should sing that they don’t?

To the tune of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain and assuming he one day gets in the team: “Alfie Devine, I bet you think this song is about you. Alfie Devine! Alfie Devine!”

How affected will they be by World Cup absentees?

Spurs will have several players at the World Cup and this could be an issue. Especially as a few of them — Kane, Romero and Ivan Perisic, for instance — may end up going quite far in the competition. It feels absurd to think that Kane could captain England to World Cup glory on December 18, then eight days later be expected to turn out for Spurs at Brentford.

Should be in the England squad but isn’t?

Eric Dier. How he isn’t after the season he’s just had remains a mystery. Dier was outstanding last season and Spurs kept 16 clean sheets in his 35 league games. While in South Korea last month, Dier told reporters that getting back in the England squad is “a clear objective of mine. I would never shy away from that”.

The best XI?

Conte is, of course, trying to move away from this idea — it’ll very much be a squad game this season — but since you ask: Lloris – Romero, Dier, Davies – Spence, Bissouma, Bentancur, Perisic – Kulusevski, Kane, Son.



It’s that time of the year again. Dust off yer boots and get ready for the next exciting instalment of the Nutty Spurs (Gooner Free Zone) Fantasy Football League for the 2022/2023 season. There’s only 24 hours to go before the season starts so get your teams in

As usual all you have to do to join is click the link below and you’ll be automatically added after you’ve selected your initial squad and entered the game.

https://fantasy.premierleague.com/leagues/auto-join/xy4r02

League Code: xy4r02

One rule only – No gooners in your squad at any time. I have ruthless spies everywhere.

COYFS!

Tottenham transfer outgoings: Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and other players who could leave

By Charlie Eccleshare and others, The Athletic

When it’s come to transfers this summer, Tottenham Hotspur have generally adopted a policy of buy first, sell later. With six signings secured already, they have completed the majority of the first bit of that equation.

This means much of the focus now is on the second part, which will trim the wage bill. It will also ensure the squad is not bloated and rid it of unhappy players once the season starts.

This is proving to be a complicated task. The lack of funds available to clubs in most leagues outside of England in a post-COVID world makes selling to countries like Spain and Italy a lot harder than it used to be. The wages of many Spurs players are problematic too, and that’s before transfer fees are even discussed.

With the season starting early and five rounds of Premier League matches before the window closes, some players also feel there’s a lot of scope for their situation to change and do not want to rush into a move.

Despite that, there is some progress being made. Here The Athletic breaks down the situations of the players Tottenham are hoping to move on before the end of August…


First of all, it should be said there are some players Spurs are set on moving on, and others they would accept leaving because of a need to reduce the size of the squad.

In the first camp are the quartet of players left behind from the tour of South Korea: Giovani Lo CelsoTanguy NdombeleHarry Winks and Sergio Reguilon.

Starting with Lo Celso, Villarreal — where the midfielder impressed on a loan spell during the second half of last season — and Fiorentina are among the clubs competing for his signature. Spurs are asking for around €20million (£16.8m), which is less than half what they paid for him and partly reflects how much the market has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which leads to perhaps the most pre-pandemic signing of them all: Ndombele for £55m on big wages and a six-year deal. Ndombele still has three years left on that contract and finding a buyer has proved impossible in both of the previous summer windows since he joined the club. That’s likely to be the case again over the next month or so, meaning another loan is the most likely option. Milan looked at the midfielder but were put off by his wages, while Marseille are among the interested clubs — though there’s nothing especially advanced at this point.

The Winks situation is at a similar stage, with no deal imminent. Everton have backed off and while there was tentative interest from Leeds United, that is not expected to go any further. With more than a month of the window left, many buying clubs are still assessing their options.

There’s also the issue for a number of clubs of not being able to make signings until they know the futures of players that might be moving on. This is the case for Sevilla, who are interested in bringing back Reguilon on a loan with an obligation to buy. Talks over Reguilon remain ongoing but before they can make signings, Sevilla need to finalise the sale of centre-back Jules Kounde, who is expected to join Barcelona.

Away from that quartet are the players Conte likes but accepts can leave if Tottenham receive an appropriate offer.

Japhet Tanganga is in this category and is attracting interest from Milan. The two clubs are in talks, with Tottenham’s managing director of football Fabio Paratici in Milan last week, but for now Tanganga is more an opportunity than a priority for the Italian club. And they would prefer a loan with an option to buy (at lower than the €20million — £16.8million — Spurs are after). The extent to which Milan push for Tanganga may depend on if they can bring in Eintracht Frankfurt’s Evan Ndicka, who has emerged as a key target.

Japhet Tanganga is attracting interest from Milan and Bournemouth (Photo: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

Bournemouth, as The Athletic has reported previously, also retain an interest in Tanganga and have made enquiries about the defender.

Spurs are also open to selling fellow defender Joe Rodon, even though, like Tanganga, Conte is a fan of the player’s attitude and application. Fulham are among the interested clubs, with a loan a possibility given the player’s contract doesn’t expire until 2025. If he were to go permanently, Spurs would want to recoup the £11million they paid Swansea two years ago.

Bryan Gil would also be allowed to leave on loan again. He spent the second half of last season with Valencia, who are interested in taking him back if they can sell Goncalo Guedes.

Then there’s the unresolved situation at right wing-back. With the arrival of Djed Spence, one of Emerson Royal or Matt Doherty needs to be sold. The former makes more sense given that at 23, he’s seven years younger than Doherty and would attract a much higher fee but, like the Irishman, he is keen to stay and fight for his place. Doherty also has the advantage of being comfortable playing on the left.

As it stands, neither player is close to leaving and it may be that it takes those first few games of the season for clarity to emerge on who is more likely to be competing with Spence (and possibly Lucas Moura) for the right wing-back slot.

Either way, Spurs have their work cut out to ensure the second part of the buy first, sell later policy runs as smoothly as the first.

(Additional contributors: Jack Pitt-Brooke, James Horncastle)

(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Djed Spence spoke of joining Spurs in January – this is how he finally did it

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

For Tottenham Hotspur fans it has felt like an interminable wait to sign Djed Spence; but for the player, the move has been trailed for considerably longer.

As early as this January, Spence was telling his Nottingham Forest team-mates he would be moving to Spurs. There was a chance he could even have made the switch that month, although for that to happen, Middlesbrough would have had to exercise their option to bring him back from his season-long loan at fellow Championship side Forest early and then sell him permanently to the Premier League club.

In the end, there were too many moving parts for it to be possible in the winter window, but Spence was aware of Tottenham’s interest. Upgrading at right wing-back has been a priority of Antonio Conte’s pretty much since he took over in November, though the expectation in January was that Spurs would sign Adama Traore of Wolves to play that role.

It was interesting hearing Conte make clear this week that rather than being his own signing, “Spence is an investment of the club”. He added that: “The club wanted to do it. I said OK. This player is young but he showed he can become a good, important player for us. The club decided to buy him.”

As The Athletic reported last week, the negotiations on the deal were led by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, his Middlesbrough counterpart Steve Gibson and the player’s representative Scott Smith — whose relationship with both men helped smooth out the process. Eventually, a five-year deal with an initial fee of £12.5million ($15m) plus another £7.5m in potential future add-ons was agreed, and Spence was finally confirmed as a Tottenham player on Tuesday morning. The 21-year-old described the move back to hometown London as a “dream come true”.

This is how that dream eventually did come true — despite interest from Forest and Chelsea — and what it tells us about Tottenham’s recruitment policy.


It has been clear since Conte took over at Spurs that some of their transfer deals are going to be pushed for more by him, some are going to see Levy more involved, and others will be dealt with almost exclusively by managing director of football Fabio Paratici. Then there will be some, like signing Everton’s Richarlison, where everyone was bought into the idea from the start.

There is also an element of pragmatism to all this — clearly, if they are trying to sign players from Juventus then it makes sense for Paratici to lead negotiations, as was the case with the arrivals of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur from the Italian giants in January. In the case of Spence, Tottenham made use of Levy’s long-standing relationship with the player’s representatives.

The fourth man in all of this is Paratici’s deputy, Spurs’ new performance director Gretar Steinsson, whose recruitment team in his previous job at Everton had looked at Spence and concluded he was a player with great potential — even if they ultimately decided against making the move.

Ultimately, as long as Conte is happy with the signing, as he says he is — “I said OK. This player is young but he showed he can become a good, important player for us” — then there shouldn’t be a problem. Spence undoubtedly has a lot of talents Conte can harness — as illustrated in our in-depth analysis of his game published yesterday.

The signing is also representative of Spurs signing a mixture of more established and less experienced players, with the common denominator being they are all considered Premier League-ready.

This is a non-negotiable of Conte’s that he outlined soon after the January transfer window, during which Bryan Gil had been loaned out only a few months after joining the club — during Conte predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo’s brief reign as head coach — because then then 20-year-old Spaniard was not considered physically ready for English football.

That shouldn’t be an issue for Spence, who has more than held his own in the Championship, playing at least 40 league games in each of the last two seasons.

It is interesting though that Spence is by far the least experienced of the eight signings Spurs have made with Conte as coach. The Italian’s previous actions and words have suggested his focus is on the here and now, and perhaps that’s why he seemed to distance himself from the purchase of the relatively green Spence.

Signing the best players from English football’s second tier is, incidentally, something a number of Tottenham supporters have been advocating for a while, similar to the way Crystal Palace have brought in Eberechi Eze (Queens Park Rangers) and Michael Olise (Reading) over the last couple of years with a lot of success, although Jack Clarke’s switch from Leeds to Spurs in 2019 was considerably less successful.

That Spence counts as a homegrown player was an important consideration, given the club desperately need to boost their numbers in that regard. His wages are also relatively low, reflecting that he has been signed from the Championship.

But ultimately Spence has been signed because of his potential, and Spurs’ belief that he can fulfil it. He only turns 22 next month and has won his first three England Under-21 caps in 2022, but will be expected to adapt quickly to the demands of the Premier League.

Since that period in January when Spence began telling team-mates at Forest that he would be moving to Tottenham, his level has improved considerably.

Promotion-bound Forest were desperate to keep him back then and effectively bought out the recall clause Middlesbrough had in his loan deal.

Performances like the outstanding one against Arsenal in the FA Cup third round on January 9 illustrated why he was considered indispensable.

Spence tore Mikel Arteta’s side to shreds, making such an impression on Gabriel Martinelli, who tried and failed to stop his incursions forward, that the Brazilian told The Athletic Spence is his toughest ever opponent. “He is very strong, good on the ball, calm and quick. I was surprised; he is a really good player,” Martinelli, who admittedly is only 21 himself, said in February.

In the next round, Forest knocked out holders Leicester City, with Spence excelling again, and scoring, in a 4-1 win.

By the time Forest played Liverpool in an FA Cup quarter-final on March 20, Spence had developed a big reputation and was extremely popular with the team’s supporters. But he was poor for the first half hour that day, frequently out of position, and then, in the second half, was caught out for the only goal of the tie.

Some at Forest felt as though he was playing more for himself than the team in a match shown live on free-to-air TV in the UK. A few of his team-mates were exasperated with the way in which he left his right-sided centre-back Joe Worrall exposed.

There were quite a few occasions during last season when Worrall had to cover for Spence, who you expect will learn a huge amount playing on the outside of Cristian Romero in the months and years ahead.

His form dropped off a touch after that Liverpool game as opponents became wiser to his threat, but he was still so integral to the side that the club’s fans were desperate to avoid a play-off semi-final against Middlesbrough, which would have seen Spence ineligible against his parent club.

In the end, Middlesbrough didn’t make the play-offs, and Forest went up after beating Sheffield United in the semis and then Huddersfield Town at Wembley, returning the twice European champions to a top flight they were last part of in 1999.

Spence celebrated promotion by tweeting a photo of himself with a cigar and the trophy in the Forest dressing room alongside a caption: “Oh, Where’s my Manners! Welcome to Twitter @warnockofficial”.

This was a dig at his former Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock, who had not been a fan of Spence and had told him, “You can go to the top or you can go non-League”.

As The Athletic reported in March, Spence was viewed by some at Middlesbrough as a disruptive influence. An accident involving an electric scooter led to Warnock becoming increasingly frustrated, and he was loaned out to Forest on deadline day last August for the remainder of the season. Other clubs interested in him were put off by this reputation.

At Forest though, Spence was largely a very popular figure.

Yes, there were frustrations at his occasionally questionable timekeeping and some senior team-mates dished out a few home truths, but generally it was felt Steve Cooper’s arm-around-the-shoulder management, after he replaced Chris Hughton in September, was an effective way of sorting out any issues Spence had. The fans adored him, and his mother Aisha became a cult figure for her enthusiastic celebrations — including leading the chanting on the City Ground pitch after Forest won a penalty shootout against Sheffield United to reach the play-off final.

Spence thrived as he felt the love at Forest that he had never had at Middlesbrough, after joining from Fulham’s academy set-up in summer 2018, and the view at the Riverside Stadium was that this is a player who reacts better to the carrot than the stick. And while he could give off the impression of not being massively approachable, many were surprised at how damaged the relationship between him and Middlesbrough had become.

It will be interesting to see how Conte approaches things should Spence step out of line. Even Cooper, who was a huge fan of the young full-back, was not afraid to confront him on occasion — for instance, pulling him to one side following a draw with Stoke City in February when he was not pressing in the manner he was asked.

As the season wore on, Forest resigned themselves to the fact that even if they won promotion, Spence’s most likely destination was Tottenham.

They were aware of Spurs’ interest and that having played in a 3-5-2 for Forest, he would be well suited to Conte’s wing-back system. His considerable strengths defensively — Spence was viewed at Forest as being almost impossible to beat in one-on-ones — allied to his searing pace mean the foundations are there for the Italian to develop him into an extremely effective wing-back.

Spence and Brennan Johnson, second left, never quite clicked as a partnership despite their talent (Photo: Getty Images)

Even if, contrary to the popular perception, he is not yet as effective going forward as he is defensively. Spence registered a reasonable two goals and four assists in the Championship last season, but Cooper urged him to work on improving his end product. And, despite both being lightning quick and playing on the right-hand side, Spence and Forest’s star man Brennan Johnson didn’t link up particularly effectively.

Once the season had finished and as the weeks wore on without a breakthrough in negotiations between Middlesbrough and Spurs, Forest did follow up on their interest to see if they could re-sign Spence after all. They had been given an asking price by Middlesbrough during the season of around £12million, but that had now been almost doubled to £20million, including add-ons. Middlesbrough were aware of how much Spence’s value had gone up after his excellent season on loan, and these sums effectively priced Forest out of a possible deal.

Chelsea also made inquiries, viewing Spence as a possible understudy for Reece James, but their interest didn’t develop into anything concrete.

For Spence himself, Tottenham were always his favoured destination.

He is from London (growing up near the BRIT school in Croydon, which counts singers Amy Winehouse and Adele among its alumni) and played with new team-mate Ryan Sessegnon from under-12 to under-16 level while at Fulham. Spence referenced this in his interview upon signing for Tottenham, before adding one of his attributes is he is “prepared to work hard”. As he plays the position himself over on the left flank, Sessegnon will surely have explained to him just how much Conte demands from his wing-backs.

But until last week, the move still remained tantalisingly out of reach.

Finally, a few days after Middlesbrough had left Spence out of the squad for a pre-season training trip to Portugal, Levy and Gibson finally achieved a breakthrough in negotiations.

And now, with the deal agreed at last, it’s down to Spence to show that the hype is justified, and that he deserves to start at right wing-back ahead of Matt DohertyEmerson Royal (who is expected to leave, just one season after being signed), and even Lucas Mourawho has played a half of each of the two warm-up games so far in the position.

If Conte can improve elements of his game, like crossing from deep positions and not leaving his fellow defenders exposed, then the club will have an extremely accomplished wing-back on their hands.

And if the environment at Spurs complements rather than constrains Spence’s natural instincts, then he promises to be even more popular with their fans than he was among their Forest counterparts.

(Top photo: Getty Images)

What Tottenham can expect from Djed Spence: Crosses, beating a man, but lots to learn

Liam Tharme and Mark Carey

Jul 19, 2022

“I basically said to him that you can go to the top or you can go non-League.”

That was Neil Warnock’s assessment of Djed Spence, who appeared 51 times under him at Middlesbrough. And we now know where Spence is going — to the Premier League, having joined Tottenham.

Technically and tactically bursting with potential, Spence required the right type of manager to unlock him. Steve Cooper’s background in developing England’s best young footballers (coach of the England Under-17 side that won the 2017 World Cup and were runners-up in the Euros) meant he knew how to help the 21-year-old flourish.

And flourish he did. Spence played more than 3,400 minutes as Cooper’s side won the play-offs. The Fulham academy graduate operated as a right wing-back in Forest’s 3-5-2, so adapting to Conte’s system shouldn’t require a style overhaul, and last season 42 per cent of Forest’s attacks were channelled to his right flank. Jack Colback as a slightly square peg in the round left wing-back hole may have contributed to this, but given Spence’s attacking quality, maximising his attacking opportunities makes sense.

What does a Tottenham wing-back need?

  • Highly physical, demanding large volumes of running and high-intensity actions
  • Stamina and ability to play for 90 minutes, despite fatiguing nature of role
  • Capable of operating as a winger when attacking (high and wide positioning, running at defenders, overlaps/underlaps, delivering crosses)
  • Defending like an orthodox full-back (duelling one-versus-one in wide areas, positioning in a set defence and defending in own half)

In Antonio Conte’s own words, wing-backs are “very important” to his system; Matt Doherty tends to play inside better than out on the wing, and is a more technical passer than dribbler and crosser, and Emerson Royal is a better athlete but technically less competent — this gave Spurs a mini-crisis at wing-back last season.

Neither run at defenders particularly well, and don’t get in behind. Through percentile ranking (1 being the lowest, 50 the median and 100 the highest, with the number indicative of the proportion of positional counterparts that a player outperforms in that metric), we can see that both Doherty and Royal are low-volume dribblers and pretty average crossers, particularly when compared to the left-side options.

Tottenham’s wing-back percentile ranks

PLAYERDADSSCTCXA
Royal
(RWB)
4090566553
Doherty
(RWB)
3190615092
Sessegnon
(LWB)
478775696
Reguilon
(LWB)
837998093
DA – Dribbles attempted
DS – Dribble success %
SC – Succ crosses (open play) into box
TC – Total crosses attempted
XA – Expected assists

Conte turned Tottenham into the best crossing team in the league last season, and he needs his wing-backs to supply.

Line Graph showing Tottenham's crossing frequency.

So what do Spurs need?

They are lacking a player who can do the three sides of the game Conte demands — the physicality and attacking and defensive elements. Spence ticks some boxes in all categories and of course is a player still developing at 21.

Comparing Doherty and Spence in terms of pizza charts, we see the former retains possession well and passes neatly (ball retention ability and link-up play volume), but isn’t particularly direct (progressive passing and carry & dribble volume), and across the board defensively is lacking.

Matt Doherty's 21/22 Pizza chart, using smarterscout data.

Notably, Spence’s outstanding areas appear to be in Doherty’s weak points, and the same vice-versa. Spence stands out for his ball-carrying (carry & dribble volume), but also the ability to regain the ball when defending (ball recoveries & interceptions). His attacking output, however, is limited.

Djed Spence's 21/22 Pizza chart, using smarterscout data.

And positionally, they look different too. Michael Cox wrote that there is a lot more to right-backs than playing on the right and being at the back, and the pair show that. Spence is typically more of a touchline receiver, but also positions himself high and wide (he loves an overlap, which we’ll come to) in attack, whereas Doherty is more conservative and operates in the half-space more.

Pitch maps showing location of passes received by Matt Doherty and Djed Spence.

Attacking as a winger

To get an insight of his playing style, in Forest’s cup run last season (where they played Arsenal, Leicester, Huddersfield and Liverpool), Spence played 3.7 passes for every dribble he attempted. FBref data, via StatsBomb, has that ratio for Doherty as almost 6.0, and 5.3 for Emerson. Spence ticks the directness box.

At home to Leicester, Spence receives a pass back after taking a throw-in.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Leicester City in the <a class='ath_autolink' href='https://theathletic.com/fa-cup/' srcset=

Initially positioned out on the touchline, he spots the space inside and drives towards goal…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Leicester City in the FA Cup.

… playing a one-two with No 10 Philip Zinckernagel, who slides him in behind the defence…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Leicester City in the FA Cup.

… and Spence slots past the goalkeeper.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Leicester City in the FA Cup.

Of course, he has scored, so this is being hypercritical — but after the touch to control the set pass, all of Spence’s touches are with his dominant right foot; this is a smaller detail, but when coming inside, it opens up way more passing and shooting angles if players can use either foot.

His style is often effective, but looks inefficient and slightly awkward on occasion, and it’ll be a lot harder to play this way regularly in the Premier League. But he’s 21, there’s ample time to develop, and Spence has all the necessary fundamentals. Analysis from The Athletic in November 2021 found that Premier League full-backs (over the past 10 seasons) peaked at 25, with fewer than 4 per cent aged 21 or younger.

Statistically, in that cup run, he was one of Forest’s best players, and one of just three players to play every minute.

Djed Spence’s 21/22 FA Cup Stats

METRICDJED SPENCE’S TOTALFOREST RANK
Minutes360Joint 1st
Touches2581st
Passes attempted896th
Pass accuracy %82.42nd
Dribbles attempted241st
Dribbles completed111st

Of those 24 dribbles, arguably his best came against Arsenal. Forest play short from the goal kick and Arsenal press, so Joe Worrall plays wide to Spence, positioned deeper on the touchline. He receives on his back (right) foot, with Gabriel Martinelli pressing him.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Arsenal in the FA Cup.

Spence speeds past Martinelli on the outside, and then ever-so-neatly megs Martin Odegaard, skipping past him…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Arsenal in the FA Cup.

… and Martinelli then cynically hacks him down.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Arsenal in the FA Cup.

But he must work on picking his moments for when to duel. Younger wide players attempt more dribbles than older ones, which can lead to mazy runs, like the one above, so Spence’s game is likely to evolve as he matures. There were examples of the possible dangers when it goes wrong.

Take the goal conceded against Liverpool, which knocked Forest out of the FA Cup. Spence reads the pass, and jumps to intercept…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… then looks to drive forward and start a counter (white arrow). He misses the option to play into Sam Surridge early with a forward pass (red arrow)…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… and gets dispossessed by Luis Diaz, with Liverpool playing out wide early…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… Spence then has to recover quickly and uses his speed to get back and press Kostas Tsimikas…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… but he’s going too quickly, and hasn’t slowed — another example of how he struggles to dictate players one-versus-one. Tsimikas bluffs him with a cross and cuts inside, which takes Spence out the game…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… Tsimikas then has acres of space to deliver a cross to the back post…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

… where Diogo Jota pokes home. Tough lessons to learn for Spence, who has a lot of good ideas, but needs to improve his decision-making and execution.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest versus Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Consulting his take-on map, it looks exactly how you’d expect: an abundance down the touchline of the attacking half, but the success rate of 39 per cent shows while he is high-volume, he is not always high-output.

Graphic showing Djed Spence's take-ons from the 21/22 Championship season.

When teams half-press Spence, that is when he can be destructive. In the Championship against Barnsley (defending in a mid-block), Cook works the ball out to Spence, who again has dropped deeper.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Barnsley.

The defender shows him inside, which seems appropriate given Spence’s strength going down the outside, but doesn’t get particularly close to Forest’s No 2. He willingly drifts inside and speeds between the Barnsley left midfielder and left central midfielder.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Barnsley.

Midfield line broken, Spence attacks the left-back, zooming round the outside, then cutting back into the box at the byline…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Barnsley.

… and pulls back a low cross for Brennan Johnson.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Barnsley.

He can do this against a set defence, too.

On his second (of three) cap for England Under-21s, Spence can be seen dictating play, pointing out the switch pass to the winger. Albania are defending incredibly compactly in a 5-4-1, which gives almost no space for central ball progression, so Spence must be a solution down the side.

Screengrab from the England U21 game versus Albania.

As Tommy Doyle switches play, Spence overlaps the winger, timing the run perfectly so that he can cross with just one touch and without breaking stride — given the top speed he can reach, Spence has to make conscious efforts to prepare himself to cross, and is improving at balancing himself prior to delivery.

Screengrab from the England U21 game versus Albania.

In behind their left wing-back, Spence whips a cross low, across the face of the six-yard box. Folarin Balogun’s run is slightly too late, and he can’t connect enough to score.

Screengrab from the England U21 game versus Albania.

His chance-creation map shows remarkable consistency; lots of low crosses and pull-backs from the right-hand side of the area, targeting the penalty spot. Tottenham only ranked joint-tenth last season for successful, open-play crosses into the box (77), so having a different profile crosser, especially one that can create their own angles with runs beyond the ball and dribbles, is valuable.

Graphic showing Djed Spence's chances created and assists - 21/22 Championship season.

Spence’s immense direct speed was a key tool for Forest last season — they had the joint-most direct attacks (ones that start in their own half, with more than 50 per cent of movement being forwards, ending with a shot/touch in opposition box) in the league (97); Cooper’s side were very prepared to sit in their 5-3-2 out-of-possession shape, defending either the midfield or defensive third, before winning the ball and springing forward. That is very similar to Conte’s Tottenham.

Spence showed his capabilities on the counter away at Birmingham, making a darting forward run to exploit the out-of-position left-back, and can be seen pointing for the pass…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus <a class='ath_autolink' href='https://theathletic.com/team/birmingham-city/' srcset=

Zinckernagel spots him (another link-up with the attacking midfielder), and threads it through to Spence…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Birmingham City.

… who controls, and then fires into the top-right corner.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Birmingham City.

Tottenham are more expansive than Forest, though, and require wing-backs to be progressive and break lines. Spence has shown glimpses of this, but doesn’t regularly progress the ball through passes, likely due to a combination of his super-strengths in ball-carrying and direct running, as well as Forest’s attacking patterns, which involved playing from the back three into the front two.

Three glimpses that stand out: first, against Barnsley again, curling a neat pass around the opposition wing-back against a well-set defence, which gets Lewis Grabban into a crossing position down the right channel.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Barnsley.

Against West Brom, Forest recover possession from an opposition throw-in and James Garner plays wide to Spence, who opens out with his first touch…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus <a class='ath_autolink' href='https://theathletic.com/team/west-bromwich-albion/' srcset=

… and breaks the midfield line by punching a pass into the feet of Surridge.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus West Bromwich Albion.

You’re picturing it now, aren’t you? Spence into Kane, who feeds him the return pass on the overlap, with Spence then crossing for Son to score. The Spurs attacking arsenal seems to suit Spence’s style.

It ought to be said that Spence’s first touch and decision-making have room to develop; when under close pressure and receiving out on the touchline, he often struggles to play forward and often checks inside with his first touch. He tends to scan little before receiving, so can miss the opportunity to play forward early, and can resort to trying to dribble out of trouble, which isn’t the most sustainable method.

The third and final glimpse, at Bournemouth. Again, Forest recover the ball from a Bournemouth possession and Spence drives into space in the midfield…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Bournemouth.

Surridge is positioned on the blindside of the defence, and Spence splits the defence with a diagonal pass between the two central defenders, finding the Forest forward who is making a straight run in behind.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Bournemouth.

Defending as a full-back

Slotting into the back line is essential for a Conte wing-back, and being a proactive defender is especially important since Tottenham ranked fifth for high-line share last Premier League season.

Horizontal bar chart showing high line share (%) among Premier League teams in the 21/22 season.

His neatest out-of-possession moment in a defensive line came against Liverpool. Forest are compact, but can’t quite regain the ball in their own third, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picks up the loose ball on the edge of the area, with no pressure…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game against Liverpool.
Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game against Liverpool.

You’ll notice that Spence is already on the move here, and his positioning is clever because it allows him to see Diogo Jota (closest attacker to him, starting to run) and the ball, plus he has the acceleration to recover.

As Oxlade-Chamberlain dinks it in behind, Spence recovers, getting his body between Jota and the ball, giving the goalkeeper an easy pickup. It looks straightforward but it’s incredibly smart.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game against Liverpool.

A lot more of his defending will have to be in wide areas, though, and this is another area where he can rely on his pace at times, which is largely fine but certainly imperfect. In this zoom-in against Bournemouth, you can see his defensive body shape. Spence gets close, which is good, and bends the knees to lower his centre of gravity, making it easier to shift and be reactive. But he’s square to the ball and his feet aren’t staggered, which makes it tricky to move quickly, and players can easily get half a yard on him…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Bournemouth.
Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Bournemouth.

… which happens here, but Spence recovers with his speed to block the cross.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's Championship game versus Bournemouth.

Again, this probably seems like a small detail, but given the added quality, speed and technical ability of Premier League wingers, it seems more dangerous to have to stop the cross rather than be able to prevent it in the first place. Using his body shape to dictate play is the next level for Spence.

Against Leicester, he shows Harvey Barnes inside, which is sensible, but again he is quite square to the ball.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game versus Leicester.

Where he does go wrong here is with Ryan Yates. Evidently there is a breakdown in communication, as the midfielder has tracked Luke Thomas’ underlapping run, with Spence having pressed Barnes.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game versus Leicester.

But he doesn’t then drop and recover shape (note the neatly organised back four at the top of the picture, missing their right wing-back), giving Maddison room to play between Spence and Yates…

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game versus Leicester.

Thomas then receives it, and Barnes goes beyond — Forest were repeatedly stretched vertically by Leicester’s overlaps and underlaps, particularly early on, and Spence definitely needs to improve on passing players on and tracking runners. Thomas then slides a diagonal pass beyond Spence, into Barnes, who has Worrall dragged wide, and the sequence ends with a clumsy foul from Spence.

Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game versus Leicester.
Screengrab from Nottingham Forest's FA Cup game versus Leicester.

In terms of solving the Spurs right-wing-back situation, Spence fits Conte’s criteria and boasts an impressive play style. But translatability, as it always is, will be a key factor here. His high-risk, high-reward style will have to compromise with some of the structure that Conte wants, but he seems a worthwhile investment, and finally looks to be proving himself at the upper end of Warnock’s assessment.

Don’t forget that this is a player to have already topped a ton of Championship appearances, and acted as a standout player for a side who were the best in the Championship following Cooper’s appointment, plus the shape similarities and style synergies aren’t to be overlooked. Forest aren’t Spurs, but the technical actions, tactical requirements and positioning of Spence aren’t far removed from that of a Tottenham wing-back.

And what he guarantees is balance. Doherty and Royal are, as wing-backs go, pretty much extremes in terms of play style and tendencies, and Spence is probably a hybrid of the two.

Nutty Spurs Fantasy League is back!


It’s that time of the year again. Dust off yer boots and get ready for the next exciting instalment of the Nutty Spurs (Gooner Free Zone) Fantasy Football League for the 2022/2023 season. There’s only three weeks to go before the season starts.


As usual all you have to do to join is click the link below and you’ll be automatically added after you’ve selected your initial squad and entered the game.

https://fantasy.premierleague.com/leagues/auto-join/xy4r02

League Code: xy4r02


One rule only – No gooners in your squad at any time. I have ruthless spies everywhere.


Congratulations to Bruxie for his epic win last season, but let’s all give him a decent challenge this time.

COYFS!

Which Premier League clubs faired best financially in last two seasons? Grading each club

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

In The Athletic’s first annual review of Premier League club accounts, in April 2020, we explained that England’s top flight might be about to expose their bottoms, as the pandemic had taken the tide out and some clubs had been paddling naked.

In our second review, in May 2021, we pointed out the league had indeed caught a bad case of COVID-19 but added the true cost of coronavirus would take at least another year to become apparent.

Now, in our third review, we can reveal that we were wrong, that COVID-19 was just the flu, had very little impact on the game and our clubs are just fine.

Only kidding.

According to the Google search we just did, there are 182 cute ways to say “I love you”. And there are at least that many ways to demonstrate just how bad the pandemic was for the Premier League.

Lost revenue of £1.5billion ($1.8billion) over the two seasons; a cumulative pre-tax loss of almost £1.6billion; nine-figure losses for ChelseaEverton and Arsenal; matchday revenue decimated after a season-plus played behind closed doors; wage/turnover ratios up; player-trading profits down. It has been grim.

That said, nobody has gone bust, the league’s broadcast revenue has grown, commercial income has held up and fans are back in the stands. And, if anything, the Premier League has emerged stronger, relatively speaking, as the pandemic has hurt Europe’s other leagues even more. There are certainly still plenty of people who want to buy Premier League clubs.

The picture we are left with remains incomplete, then. Yes, the pandemic has cost everyone a lot of money but we cannot say for certain yet if these losses have really changed anything.

So, we are not going to try!

Instead, here is a lighthearted summary of where each Premier League club is at as we edge towards the start of the new season in just over three weeks.

The clubs are ranked in order of their average annual turnover for the two pandemic-hit seasons.

We have done this because that is how the Premier League and UEFA have themselves approached those two seasons — 2019-20 and 2020-21 — for financial fair play purposes. It was the only way for the authorities to properly assess how each club fared, as most of them did not include the money they earned when football resumed post-lockdown in June 2020 in that year’s accounts, but they did include the wages.

Those Project Restart earnings were deferred until the 2020-21 books, which helped compensate for almost an entire year without matchday revenue. So, in order, to make some more meaningful comparisons, we have compared the 2019-21 averages for turnover, wages and matchday income, with the numbers for 2018-19.

The only other point to note is we are talking about the clubs that played in the 2020-21 Premier League because that is the most recent set of publicly-available accounts.

This image demonstrates how Premier League turnover was negatively impacted by the pandemic, with the blue bars showing 2019-21 average turnover and the yellow ones 2018-19 turnover:

And this one shows how profit and loss figures changed in the two pandemic seasons:

Premier League wage bills, meanwhile, were not hugely changed when COVID-19 was impacting the division:

Matchday revenue, unsurprisingly, dropped significantly when the games went behind closed doors:

OK? Right, here is this year’s review, done in the style of the school reports my children brought home this week.

1. Manchester City — £524.1million average annual turnover

Attainment: A+

Effort: A+

Headmaster’s comment: Top of the class for the third time in four years! If we were going to pick nits, we might say it took longer for you to hit your stride than usual, there was a dip towards the end of term and that geography field trip to Portugal in May did not live up to expectations, but overall this was another stellar set of results.

You benefited from a strong finish to 2019-20, which ended three months later than usual due to the pandemic closing the school between March and June. Credits earned during the extended summer term were carried over to this year, boosting your turnover grade from £478m to £570m. This increase was largely due to a 56 per cent year-on-year improvement in media studies — from £190m to £297m — and some interesting work in business studies. The latter, particularly a fantastic project on sponsorship, more than made up for the fact that COVID-19 meant we had to shut down all extracurricular activities, depriving you of more than £40m from games and concerts. And your language teachers are especially impressed with the way you engaged with “pen pals” in Australia, Belgium, China, France, Japan, India, Spain, the US and Uruguay, not forgetting the longstanding relationship with our sister academy in Abu Dhabi.

If there was one small area of concern, we notice you have spent more in the canteen and tuck shop than anyone else — an average across the last two years of £353million — and we understand there is still a disagreement over the school fees from a few years ago. That said, despite all of the upheaval, you are a very rare example of being in credit this year. Bravo!

2. Manchester United — £501.6million average annual turnover

Attainment: C+

Effort: D+

Headmaster’s comment: Second in the class on average turnover over the two pandemic-hit years — £501million — but your teachers cannot help but feel this should be so much better. Quite simply, you are resting on laurels earned many years ago and must sharpen up. For example, that turnover figure is £100million down on where you were in 2019 and it is now nine years since you last earned our top prize.

OK, we know the move to remote learning cost some pupils more than others, with you losing more than £120million across the two years, but that does not excuse the decline in marks for business studies and economics. You used to be so good at those subjects! It was pleasing to see slightly better results in PE this year but there just does not seem to be the commitment to excellence we remember. Just making the cut for the foreign trips should not be good enough for a club as talented as you.

My advice is to stop getting distracted by silly measurements of popularity, find a plan and stick to it, and remember that everything gets easier when you achieve some solid results in the classroom.

Manchester United suffered due to a lack of matchday revenue (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Liverpool — £488.7million average annual turnover

Attainment: A-

Effort: A

Headmaster’s comment: If we were talking about results over both of the COVID-19 years, you would be sharing the governors’ award with Manchester City. But the 2020-21 school year was a bit of rollercoaster, wasn’t it?

In your defence, you were among those who really seemed to miss that in-person experience when we had to shut the gates, and your teachers tell me your poor attendance record at the start of 2021 was the result of ill health and bad luck. Perhaps some of these calamities could have been avoided with better planning on your part but we were pleased to see you bounce back in the final term.

Taking a longer view, there is no disputing that your progress in American studies, German and IT has now translated into success across the board. In terms of average turnover for the last two years, you are third in the class on £489million — not far behind Manchester United, with whom I know you enjoy a lively rivalry. Can you overtake them? You will if you continue on your respective trajectories.

Surpassing Manchester City’s results, however, will be a tougher nut to crack, but the competition between you is fantastic for the school. The bursar is particularly delighted with the attention we are getting from abroad. Can you stretch yourself a little further?

4. Chelsea — £421.2million average annual turnover

Attainment: B+

Effort: C-

Headmaster’s comment: Hmmm, your report card is the definition of curate’s egg.

Turnover up (albeit boosted by the same Project Restart rollover as most of your classmates) and a spectacular performance in the end-of-year play, when you stole the show from Manchester City despite them having the best part. But, on the other hand, yours is the messiest report card in the class. It is covered in red ink.

What I see when I look at your results, Chelsea, is a talented pupil who has been spoiled. In the past, you have been able to trade your way out of sticky situations, but that has not been so easy in these more challenging times. Nobody lost more than you last year, with a pre-tax deficit of £156million. That cannot continue.

I am told you have had to deal with some changes at home, so I will not labour the point but you cannot carry on in this cavalier fashion. I believe you aspire to become a hit in the world of finance but that it is not going to happen if your sums don’t add up. And I am afraid to say your flair for Russian is not going to be much use going forward, as we’re dropping that subject.

Chelsea, you are good at lots of things, but I worry for you.

5. Tottenham Hotspur — £376.2million average annual turnover

Attainment: C

Effort: B

Headmaster’s comment: Spurs, everyone can see how hard you are trying — from your impeccable appearance, to your willingness to try new approaches to learning — but consistent performance is still a challenge for you.

The underlying numbers are not bad — your average annual turnover for the 2019-2021 period is a very respectable £376million, which is fifth-best in the class — but, like Chelsea, there have been several backward steps. Your desire to be in the top set for everything is admirable but there comes a time when you have to achieve something.

Perhaps the changes you have made to your home set-up will bear fruit now that the worst of COVID-19 is (hopefully) behind us, and you have an excellent form teacher in Mr Conte. It really does not have to be all or nothing; something will do.

6. Arsenal — £333.1million average annual turnover

Attainment: C-

Effort: C

Headmaster’s comment: What happened to last year’s promises about lessons learnt? What happened to the previous year’s promises, for that matter? Come on, Arsenal, you are better than this. Nice family, great home, popular… when is it going to click again?

Like most of your peer group, you did not enjoy home-schooling, with a marked decline in results after we had to lock the gates. But, frankly, you should be doing better for the amount your parents spend on your education. I suspect you think they do not spend enough, but I assure you not every pupil gets the support you do, particularly during the summer and winter breaks. Some have to make do with far more basic equipment.

All that said, your teachers tell me you are applying yourself in lessons a bit more and they think the penny may have dropped about the need for slow, steady, unflashy hard work. Let us hope so.

7. Everton — £189.5million average annual turnover

Attainment: E

Effort: E

Headmaster’s comment: Your results speak for themselves — they are awful — but perhaps more disappointing are your excuses. None of our clubs has found the last couple of years easy but are you really suggesting the pandemic has hurt you much more than anyone else?

I am told you are claiming COVID-19 has cost you £170million in turnover but I can only see £82million on your report cards for 2019-21. I know this can be a hard figure to quantify, but it may be something that will be looked at again. Anyway, what I can see is signs of extravagance and sloppiness but only very mediocre returns.

Your family has a great reputation at this school, Everton: do not ruin it. In fact, a radical change in approach and scenery might do you good. I know you enjoy history but carry on like this and you will become ancient history.

8. Leicester City — £188.1million average annual turnover

Attainment: A

Effort: B+

Headmaster’s comment: Some in the staff room wondered if your remarkable triumph of a few years ago was a flash in the pan but you have proved any doubters wrong. Well done!

The design and technology project you completed at Seagrave Training Ground was first-rate stuff and you appear to be on top of your accountancy and budgeting modules, too. And then there was your victory at the school sports day at Wembley — I wasn’t surprised!

The next step is to really make the most of your trips abroad. We know you have fostered a great relationship with our friends at the King Power College in Thailand but can you make similar progress elsewhere? Do that, and I am sure you will become a fixture in the top set here.

Leicester achieved on-pitch success in 2020-21, winning the FA Cup (Photo: Getty Images)

9. West Ham United — £166.1million average annual turnover

Attainment: B+

Effort: B

Headmaster’s comment: Much better! Despite not being able to access the Olympic pavilion that you have made your own, your turnover is back to pre-pandemic levels and your grades for the core subjects are all heading in the right direction again.

You have really prospered from taking a more “back to basics” approach and it is good to see you building on your strengths in English, geography and history. I am told you are considering adding Czech to your repertoire. Interesting!

I sense that you are much more “at home” now, which is great to see. Keep it up.

10. Wolverhampton Wanderers — £163.4million average annual turnover

Attainment: B

Effort: B

Headmaster’s comment: Yours is a very unusual report card! I wondered if your form teacher had missed a “-” when she sent me your maths result: a pre-tax profit of £145million in a year with no extracurricular activities at all. Remarkable.

But it seems your spectacular mark is a result of brilliant piece of work in your applied maths module, where you gained £127million via a loan write-off. I am no mathematician but I am tempted to offer you the bursar’s job!

Joking aside, this was another solid year for you and you have clearly come along way from that shy, uncertain child I recall in the junior school. You belong here and I am particularly grateful to you for the welcome you have shown our exchange students from Portugal.

11. Newcastle United — £146.4million average annual turnover

Attainment: C

Effort: D

Headmaster’s comment: It seems churlish to criticise a pupil as consistent as you, but we do seem to be stuck in a bit of a rut.

Once again, your business studies, economics and maths results are fine but I am worried that you have become too focused on those subjects to the detriment of everything else. You appear to give no effort whatsoever in the fine arts, care little for history or geography and are merely going through the motions in PE.

I sense that you are in a hurry to leave school and get on with making money. That is fine, of course, but I would hate to think of you regretting your choices in years to come, wondering why you didn’t try to engage with the wider school curriculum and make more friends here.

12. Aston Villa — £146.4million average annual turnover

Attainment: B

Effort: B

Headmaster’s comment: As you are one of our newer pupils, it is hard to draw too many conclusions from last year but it is clear to me that you have settled well. You came with a big reputation from your old school, which is never easy, so well done for finding your feet.

Our school is obviously stretching you much more than your old one but it is opening up new avenues for growth, too. Your grades are improving across the board and I know you have ambitious plans.

Good and consistent decision-making will be crucial to achieving those goals, so please think long and hard about the commitments you make and the company you keep. You have a bright future here.

13. Brighton and Hove Albion — £142.3million average annual turnover

Attainment: B

Effort: B+

Headmaster’s comment: As a head, I am often asked to make presentations to our sporting heroes, leading thespians, top debaters and so on, and I do enjoy a little bit of reflected glory! But what really motivates me is the progress shown by some of our less-celebrated students, and that is why your report has pleased me so much.

I remember when you joined us a few years ago — there were a few among the faculty who wondered how long you would last. You have certainly shown them!

I know you get plenty of parental support — and your form teacher Mr Potter is very good — but very few of us can achieve anything without some help, so there is no shame in that. The challenge for you now is to prove that you can stand on your own two feet. Good luck!

14. Southampton — £141.9million average annual turnover

Attainment: C

Effort: B-

Headmaster’s comment: I can see plenty of effort, Southampton — and this report is better than last year’s — but a lack of focus is holding you back.

I sense there may be some distractions at home, so I hope they can be resolved soon. In the meantime, concentrate on the basics — arithmetic, comprehension and exposition. I would also advise you to drop Mandarin. Frankly, it is a very difficult subject and none of our pupils has had much success at it.

15. Crystal Palace — £138.4million average annual turnover

Attainment: C

Effort: C+

Headmaster’s comment: I initially thought I was missing some of your grades but your form teacher tells me you decided to extend last year’s reporting period, which meant you got extra credits in 2019-20. Riddle solved!

But are we any closer to cracking the challenge of success at this school? That is the question and I am not sure we have an answer yet! You are definitely an established member of the student body now, but is that enough?

I am pleased you finally completed your DT project in Beckenham. It looks great. Can we expect similar progress in your plans to renovate Selhurst Park? That would go a long way to securing those bricklaying and carpentry qualifications you have been targeting. Can you build it? Yes, you can. And you must!

16. Sheffield United — £129.2million average annual turnover

Attainment: F

Effort: B

Headmaster’s comment: I know you are as disappointed with last year’s results as we are and we appreciate how hard you tried, particularly in your first year with us.

But sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward again. We hope that you enjoyed your two years at the school — I can see plenty of positives in your grades — but it is not for everyone.

Good luck at your new/old school. My advice, if you want it, is to remember what earned you a place here: old-fashioned hard work, combined with some fresh thinking.

17. Burnley — £124.5million average annual turnover

Attainment: D

Effort: C-

Headmaster’s comment: Frankly, I’m concerned. Your results have always been up and down here but your effort has been consistently high. Until this year.

On paper, the grades still look OK but you are not the type of pupil who can just coast along. Maximum concentration and hard work, at all times, is your secret to success and I feel you have forgotten that.

I do hope your head has not been turned by that advanced algebra course you took last year. That is a very complicated subject and I regret letting you take it.

Burnley stayed up in 2020-21 but suffered relegation at the end of last season (Photo: Getty Images)

18. Leeds United — £112.6million average annual turnover

Attainment: B+

Effort: B+

Headmaster’s comment: We were very excited when you passed the entrance exam, as we were sure you would enjoy it here… and I am delighted to say that we were right!

Your two-year turnover average does not tell the full story of your progress, as it is weighed down by the lower expectations of your old school, but the direction of travel is clear. Your grades look good and you made a positive impact on our playing fields, too.

That said, beware of the sophomore blues! I have seen many promising starts here come unstuck in year two. I know you have formed a close relationship with Professor Bielsa, our Latin American studies master, but we are not sure how long he is staying with us, so it might be an idea to consider some other mentors, too.

19. Fulham — £87.1million average annual turnover

Attainment: F

Effort: D+

Headmaster’s comment: I feel like we have been here before. Lots of good intentions at the start of the year but a failure to see things through when it really mattered.

OK, last year was a better effort than your previous stays with us, but the results were similar. Are you sure you want to keep doing this? All this toing and froing must be costing your parents a fortune. What was it last year? A pre-tax loss of £94million?

To your credit, however, you do have a record of bouncing back, so I suspect we will see you again. When we do, it will be interesting to see if the investments I am told you are making in a new study at home make any difference to your grades. Others have tried it and results have been mixed.

20. West Bromwich Albion — £80.3million average annual turnover

Attainment: F

Effort: D+

Headmaster’s comment: We have definitely been here before but, like Fulham, you keep coming back!

Your frequent moves between schools makes it hard to assess your progress but at least, unlike certain others, you do not overpromise when you arrive here. But is the careful management of expectations enough for you and your family? That is something for you to ponder, perhaps.

I would also suggest that the Chinese exchange programme has not worked out — they seem to have gained more benefits from it than you. Stick to the three Rs: Reading (home and away), writing (as in, write statements for fans as soon as you lend someone some money) and avoiding relegation.

(Graphics and top image design: Sam Richardson)

Bournemouth in talks with Tottenham over Japhet Tanganga move

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

Bournemouth are in talks with Tottenham Hotspur over a move for 23-year-old defender Japhet Tanganga, The Athletic understands.

Sources say both a loan move and permanent transfer are being discussed by the two Premier League clubs.

There is also interest in the England Under-21 defender from Italy, with AC Milan and Napoli monitoring the player.

Tanganga made 19 appearances in all competitions last season, with 11 of those coming in the Premier League.

An unfortunate knee injury for Tanganga in January curtailed his season, with the Englishman featuring fairly regularly up until then. He is back in full training ahead of the new season.

Tanganga, however, now faces stiff competition for a place in Antonio Conte’s preferred line-up.

Conte regularly played Cristian Romero, Eric Dier and Ben Davies in a back three last season, while the club are also in advanced negotiations to sign Clement Lenglet from Barcelona.

Spurs can also call upon ​​Davinson Sanchez, whom they signed from Ajax for £42 million in the summer of 2017, as well as Wales international Joe Rodon.

Tottenham have been very active in the summer transfer window, starting their business early by signing Ivan Perisic and Fraser Forster on free transfers.

Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici followed up those deals by signing Yves Bissouma from Brighton & Hove Albion for £25 million plus add-ons, and Richarlison from Everton for up to £60 million.

Spurs are also attempting to move a number of players out of the club ahead of the 2022-23 season. That process started this week with Steven Bergwijn being allowed to leave for Ajax for £28 million. Others are available at the right price.

Sergio Reguilon could be sold, while Harry Winks has attracted interest from rival Premier League clubs including Southampton.