Manchester City midfielder Mateo Kovacic has returned to training following injury but Matheus Nunes is likely to remain out.
John Stones will be involved in the matchday squad and could make his first appearance since 7 November.
Rodrigo Bentancur’s long-term injury means that Tottenham are missing 10 players for this fixture.
Yves Bissouma is available following a ban but Cristian Romero serves the final game of a three-match suspension.
Manchester City have lost just two of their past 13 Premier League home games against Tottenham.
However, Tottenham have won five of the seven most recent league meetings, having triumphed in just four of the previous 19.
Spurs have defeated Manchester City six times in the Premier League since Pep Guardiola joined the club in 2016 – the most of any team.
Manchester City could go three consecutive league matches without a win for the first time since a run of four from March to April 2017.
They have drawn their last two league fixtures despite going ahead in both. City haven’t gone ahead in three games in a row and failed to win since November 2009, in draws against Burnley, Liverpool and Hull City.
City are winless in four of their last seven Premier League games, having only failed to win four of the previous 26 matches.
They have failed to win back-to-back Premier League fixtures for a third time in 2023, as many instances as in the previous three years combined (2020-2022).
The Blues have lost only one of their last 48 home games in all competitions, while they are unbeaten in 27.
Erling Haaland netted his 50th Premier League goal in last week’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, doing so in 48 appearances – the fewest of any player.
Haaland has scored against 20 of the 21 sides he has faced in the Premier League, with the exception of one game against Brentford.
Manchester City are unbeaten in the last 42 competitive matches in which Rodri has played since a 1-0 Premier League defeat at Spurs in February 2023.
Tottenham have lost their last three Premier League matches, having been unbeaten in their previous 11 (W9, D2).
The last Spurs manager to lose four in a row was David Pleat between March and April 2004.
Tottenham are just the third team in English top-flight history to remain unbeaten in their opening 10 games of a season and then have three consecutive defeats, emulating Huddersfield Town in 1924-25 and Sheffield United in 1971-72. The Terriers won their 14th league fixture and went on to win the title.
Spurs’ record of eight wins, two draws and three defeats is the same as they had after 13 Premier League matches of last season. They lost 2-1 at home against Liverpool in their 14th league fixture.
They could lose four successive Premier League matches for the first time since a run of six from October to November 2004.
Tottenham scored the opening goal in all three defeats in their current losing streak – no Premier League team has ever scored first and lost four games in a row.
Spurs have won four of their 31 Premier League away matches versus the reigning champions, with all four victories occurring in the last 10 seasons.
They have scored in 25 consecutive league games for the first time since a run of 26 from November 1986 to April 1987.
Son Heung-min has scored seven Premier League goals against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Only Mohamed Salah (11) and Jamie Vardy (9) have scored more.
Son has scored Premier League away goals against Leicester City, Chelsea and Liverpool when they had won the title in the previous campaign. No player has ever scored on the road against four different reigning champions.
Spurs have conceded multiple goals in nine of the last 10 Premier League fixtures without Cristian Romero.
Destiny Udogie returns for Spurs after injury and suspension but Cristian Romero and Yves Bissouma are banned.
Pape Matar Sarr sustained an unspecified injury while playing for Senegal and will be assessed.
Aston Villa midfielder Jacob Ramsey has recovered from a broken metatarsal, while fit-again left-back Alex Moreno awaits his first outing of the season.
Emi Martinez, Matty Cash, John McGinn, Leon Bailey and Nicolo Zaniolo are all expected to overcome minor injuries.
Bertrand Traore is out, while Lucas Digne, Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara are one booking from triggering a suspension.
Aston Villa beat Tottenham home and away last season and can win three consecutive Premier League matches against them for only the second time, following a run of four from 1994 to 1996.
Tottenham have not lost consecutive home games against Villa since August 1995.
Spurs had a different manager for each of their four previous league fixtures against Villa at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: Mauricio Pochettino, Ryan Mason, Nuno and Antonio Conte. Ange Postecoglou will be the fifth in as many games.
Previously unbeaten Spurs have suffered back-to-back defeats against Chelsea and Wolves despite opening the scoring in both matches.
The Lilywhites last lost three league games in a row at the beginning of last year, a run that included defeats against Chelsea and Wolves.
They have conceded a league-high six goals in second-half stoppage time this season, including each of their last four.
Son Heung-min has scored five goals in six Premier League appearances against Aston Villa but all five came at Villa Park.
Villa have equalled the club record of 21 Premier League victories in a calendar year, set in 1998. They last won 22 top-flight games in a single year in 1980.
Their tally of 19 points from eight league matches since the September international break is the highest in the division.
However, Unai Emery’s side have only managed two wins in their past 10 away league games (D3, L5).
Aston Villa have the second best goalscoring record in the division prior to this weekend’s fixtures but only six of their 29 goals have come away.
They are unbeaten in their five Premier League visits to London since a 3-0 defeat at Fulham in Steven Gerrard’s final game in charge 13 months ago (W3, D2).
Emery is unbeaten in all five league matches versus Spurs, although his Arsenal side lost 2-0 at home in a 2018-19 League Cup quarter-final
At a time like this, maybe a useful starting point is to recall the words of Ivan Gazidis, who, after eight years working as deputy commissioner for Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States, was shocked by what he found when he arrived in the Premier League as chief executive of Arsenal.
“It’s a bit like the Wild West,” he said in early 2009. “I see practices here that would not be permissible in U.S. sports leagues.”
Historically, English football has shown little appetite for hard-and-fast rules on club ownership, club expenditure, homegrown players or much else. European football’s former president Michel Platini used to decry the “big liberalism” that was turning the Premier League into a billionaire’s playground where pretty much anything — off-the-scale spending fuelled by oil money at Chelsea and Manchester City, leveraged ownership under Americans at Manchester United and Liverpool — was deemed fair game until Portsmouth, having spent far beyond their means, went into administration and forced a reappraisal that was long overdue.
Until Friday lunchtime, that was the last time a Premier League club was docked points. In fact, it was one of just five instances in English top-flight history: Sunderland two points for fielding an unregistered player in 1890-91, Arsenal two points and Manchester United one point for an on-pitch brawl in 1990-91, Middlesbrough three points for failing to fulfil a fixture in 1996-97, Portsmouth nine points for going into administration in 2009-10… and now Everton 10 points in 2023-24 for breaching financial regulations.
Over the past decade or so we have seen:
Chelsea banned by world governing body FIFA from signing players in 2019 after breaching regulations over signing youth players.
Manchester City heavily sanctioned by European equivalent UEFA in 2014 for breaching its financial fair play (FFP) regulations before the emergence, four years later, of a series of damning allegations about their financial conduct, leading to a follow-up case at which they were fined £8.8million ($11m at today’s rates) for failing to provide substantial evidence.
Sunderland given a six-figure fine for fielding an ineligible player (South Korean forward Ji Dong-won, who played four matches without the required international clearance).
Bournemouth, Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers sanctioned by the English Football League (EFL) after breaching financial regulations when promoted to the Premier League.
Watford fined £4.3million by the EFL in 2017 after Raffaele Riva, their chairman at the time, submitted a forged “bank guarantee” stating the owners had sufficient resources to fund the club during the promotion campaign that followed. Riva was also later fined and banned.
Liverpool pay Manchester City £1million after their Premier League rivals made a complaint that their scouting system had been hacked.
Manchester United unable to fulfil a home fixture against Liverpool following a demonstration by their fans against their owners.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham fined a total of £22million for signing up to a short-lived “European Super League” project that posed an existential threat to club football as we know it.
In the past few days alone, fresh allegations about financial malpractice at Chelsea during Roman Abramovich’s time as owner.
Chelsea fans protest against the European Super League plans in April 2021 (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
What we had not seen since 2010, until now, was a points deduction in the Premier League.
Even when West Ham United were fined £5.5million for breaking regulations on third-party ownership with the signings of Carlos Tevez, whose goals enabled them to stay up at Sheffield United’s expense in 2006-07, and Javier Mascherano, a points deduction was considered a no-go area.
It calls to mind a conversation with a club executive a decade or so ago as we debated the rights and wrongs of the Ji/Sunderland case. “Do we really want to go down that route?” the executive asked. “Do we really want the league table to be covered in asterisks because five or six clubs have been docked points?”
The dreaded asterisk is there now, the weight of it dragging Everton five places into the relegation zone. Their crime? Breaking the Premier League’s profit and sustainability regulations over a three-year period ending in the 2021-22 season. Specifically, according to the findings of a regulatory commission, the club exceeded the permitted losses by a sum of £19.5million and “submitted misleading information about the stadium financing costs”.
Even among rival fans, there was sympathy for Everton on Friday. Are financial mismanagement and errant book-keeping on this scale — an overspend of £19.5million higher than permitted over a three-year period in which the club finished 12th, 10th and 16th — really the most grievous offence committed by any in the Premier League era?
It is a legitimate question, even if the relegated clubs from that period are entitled to feel aggrieved that Everton breached the rules in staying up at their expense.
Everton, who immediately announced their intention to appeal, called it a“wholly disproportionate and unjust” sanction, adding they would “monitor with great interest the decisions made in other cases concerning the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules”.
So will everyone else. It is remarkable that the allegations made against Manchester City by German newspaper Der Spiegel in November 2018 — initially resulting in a two-year ban from UEFA competition in February 2020 that was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) five months later — took until February of this year to be referred to a Premier League commission. City are determined to defend themselves against the allegations and there is still no resolution.
Everton’s case was felt to be too complex for the commission to convene and reach a verdict by the end of last season — as clubs such as Southampton, Leeds United and Leicester, who all ended up relegated, had requested — so it is hardly surprising that Manchester City’s case, involving 115 alleged breaches, is proving more complicated.
But some of Manchester City’s alleged infringements date as far back as the 2009-10 season. In the intervening period, they have gone from a chaotic club with a wealthy, ambitious owner to the dominant force in English and European football, winning the Premier League seven times (including five of the last six), the FA Cup three times, the League Cup six times and the Champions League once.
This week Manchester City reported an annual revenue of £712.8million, a record for an English club, but there are still 115 unanswered questions over whether this modern-day sporting empire was built in accordance with regulations. The club deny any wrongdoing, but the CAS hearing in July 2020 left no doubt over the authenticity of the hacked emails published by Der Spiegel that suggested they broke rules. Manchester City’s legal team have challenged the emails’ admissibility at every turn, first with UEFA and more recently with the Premier League.
City have enjoyed incredible success but remain under investigation (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)
As for Chelsea, they have not disputed the reports made in a variety of global newspapers this week relating to payments allegedly made to various parties by Abramovich-owned companies to various parties linked to deals that appeared to benefit the club.
Those reports were part of the “Cyprus Confidential” project, based on 3.6million offshore records leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Germany’s Paper Trail Media. Chelsea say the allegations are “based on documents which the club has not been shown and do not relate to any individual who is presently at the club”. But the new owners at Stamford Bridge had already contacted UEFA, the Premier League and the English Football Association (FA) to alert them to incomplete financial information relating to various transactions under Abramovich between 2012 and 2019.
Abramovich, Chelsea and a takeover that made every club want a ‘messiah’ owner
How did English football end up like this? By turning a blind eye, frankly. By allowing a “Wild West” culture to take hold, allowing clubs to be bought by individuals or entities it knew little or nothing about — and whose business dealings they struggle to monitor accurately, let alone regulate.
And that brings us back to Everton. For all the genuine sympathy felt by many over the points deduction, for all the us-against-the-world instinct that will grip their fanbase, the real grievance felt by their supporters should still be — as it has been all along — the shoddy, shady way in which a proud club has been mismanaged in recent years.
‘Sack the board’: The fan anger and why sorry Everton are in another mess
The commission’s report underlines a series of uncomfortable truths that the fanbase has echoed when the conversation has been about the need for regime change, rather than sanction: 1) “mismanagement” in running up such big losses; 2) “recklessness” in continuing to sign players in 2021-22 “despite repeated warnings” by the Premier League, 3) a business plan that relied so heavily on the largesse of USM Services Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands and owned by Alisher Usmanov, one of the oligarchs sanctioned by the UK government after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Again, how did English football end up like this? Again, by turning a blind eye. By convincing itself that any cash was good cash, rarely stopping to worry about what entanglements might come with it.
That applies to numerous clubs, via both owners and sponsorship. But it also applies to English football as a whole, with too much time spent admiring the talent on show in the Premier League and not enough time wondering whether the game was becoming ungovernable, taken over by individuals and authorities far beyond its occasional scrutiny.
Slowly but surely, there have been moves towards tighter regulation. But they have gone against the grain for English football.
For years, Premier League clubs saw UEFA’s FFP initiative as an attempt to clip the league’s wings. Likewise the quotas on homegrown players. Even some of the old-school English owners, with nothing like Abramovich’s deep pockets, didn’t like being told their club couldn’t run up big losses year after year. This drive towards sustainability felt like anathema to many.
In a way, it still does. There is still a feeling among many that accountancy should form no part of football. Why, after 125 years of league football in England, were clubs suddenly being told they could only spend within certain arbitrary limits? If a rich man wants to bankroll a club, allowing it to spend beyond its means, isn’t that up to him?
The initial intentions behind FFP seemed honourable enough. But the version that emerged, once the most powerful European clubs had their say, was deeply compromised and deeply flawed. The past decade has illustrated that.
But it’s that “Wild West” thing again. Particularly in the Premier League, the sums involved spiralled out of control as clubs were passed on from local businessmen to anyone from Russian oligarchs to American venture capitalists to Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds. It made for chaos and instability as the stakes got higher and higher.
Think of the extent to which Everton spent beyond their means between 2016 and 2022 — and now imagine how recklessly owner Farhad Moshiri might have spent had there not been financial regulations to comply with, however loosely.
Everton’s owner and board members were warned. They were already close to their break-even limits in the summer of 2020 when, to the astonishment of some of their rivals, and with their revenue streams severely compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic, they signed Ben Godfrey, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez, adding £16million to their wage bill and making a loss of £120.9million.
Rodriguez became a symbol of Everton’s excess (Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)
Part of Everton’s defence rested on the fact that every new signing they made in 2021-22 had to be approved by the Premier League under the terms of an agreement at the start of that season. The league says it kept spelling out that it was “not managing Everton’s finances and that it was for Everton to ensure that it complied” with the break-even targets.
It reads like it’s a parent trying to teach a child not to spend all his/her money in the sweet shop. Except in the case of Everton’s transfer business under Moshiri, the feeling of gratification rarely lasted as long as a sugar rush.
That is the most pitiful thing about Everton’s case: all that excess spending, which put the club at serious risk, brought so little reward by way of reward. Seventh in year one, under Ronald Koeman in the 2016-17 season, remains Everton’s highest finish since Moshiri bought shares in Everton. They have not got beyond the quarter-finals of any cup competition in seven years. A 10-point deduction in either of the last two seasons, which were spent battling grimly against relegation, would have sealed their fate.
This year? Going by their recent results under Sean Dyche and the struggles of the promoted teams, they could well be fine.
It raises the question of the “sporting benefit” of Everton’s spending. The commission report suggests a club breaching the regulations must inevitably have enjoyed advantages it would not otherwise have had — and that this advantage would usually be “to the detriment of competing clubs who have managed their finances more responsibly”. It adds that the sanction “must ensure that the defaulting club does not retain a benefit at the expense of other clubs” and “must act as a deterrent to clubs that might be tempted to breach” in future.
And just as inevitably, that raises the question of what kind of sanctions might be imposed Manchester City could face if they were found guilty of even one of their 115 alleged breaches — and likewise Chelsea if they too are referred to a regulatory commission. It barely even seems worth speculating. If this new hard-line approach is the way forward for the Premier League, it really is anyone’s guess, particularly if “sporting benefit” were brought into the calculation.
There are already plenty of rumblings about the Premier League having opened an almighty can of worms here, stirring up a hornets’ nest and inviting the kind of chaos that feels unavoidable once you have determined that a breach like Everton’s merits a 10-point sanction.
Some within the game wonder whether, in trying to flex its muscle as the UK government attempts to introduce a football regulatory body of its own, the Premier League has thrown itself into a series of bruising battles, some of which it will not win.
But the alternative is just sticking to the path of least resistance. And that doesn’t seem like an option anymore. If the rules exist, they have to be enforced rigorously and consistently for the integrity of the competition. Otherwise, it really will be the Wild West.
But had there been a category for a player who has most exceeded expectations or is the most improved, Pedro Porro would surely be right up there.
Or perhaps improved is not quite the right word — even in the maelstrom that was the end of last season, his quality was obvious. Maybe his category would be player who has most benefited from proper coaching. Admittedly not the catchiest name for an award. And a nightmare for the engraver.
However you want to describe it, Porro has been outstanding this season and is a symbol of how much has changed from last season.
Remember, he arrived at the end of January, just as Tottenham’s season was about to go into a tailspin. His debut was a chastening 4-1 defeat at Leicester City, during which former Spurs manager Tim Sherwood called Porro “so bad it’s unbelievable” while covering the game for UK broadcaster Sky Sports.
Tottenham’s manager that day, Antonio Conte, left six weeks later, and then his replacement, Conte’s assistant Cristian Stellini, followed him through the exit four games later, meaning Porro had three different managers in his first three months at the club. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he looked lost at times, painfully under-coached and unsure of his positioning. The nadir of this was against Newcastle United, when he was asked to play in a back four for the first time for Spurs and was woeful in a humiliating 6-1 defeat.
Porro simply couldn’t play as a right-back in a back four was the common consensus at that time.
Guess what, though; with a bit of coaching, it turns out he can. A little over four months after Porro joined from Sporting Lisbon (on an initial loan before the obligation of a £40million — $49.5m at the current exchange rate — permanent deal this summer), he had a fourth manager to work with in north London, in Ange Postecoglou.
Porro has performed to a higher standard under Postecoglou (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Many wondered whether Porro could make it work as an inverted full-back in Postecoglou’s system, especially as he has spent most of his career bombing up and down the flank as a right wing-back rather than spending much or any time in central areas. That Porro has been so good in the role is a testament to his adaptability — especially as the thinking that he wouldn’t suit the inverted role was part of the reason Manchester City, his first English club, were willing to let him go to Sporting in the first place.
Jose Chieira was the head of scouting at Sporting when Porro arrived from City — initially on a two-year loan deal — in the summer of 2020, a year after they had bought him from Spanish side Girona. He explains that part of the reason Sporting were able to sign Porro was because he wasn’t necessarily seen as a Pep Guardiola-style full-back.
“City didn’t know what they wanted to do with him,” Chieira says. “But we at Sporting identified a lot of good things in his game and decided to go for it.
“There’s also the fact Guardiola is manager there. He asks his full-backs to play in a way that didn’t fit Porro’s profile, at least at that moment.”
If City were sceptical about Porro’s ability to play as a Guardiola-style full-back, they weren’t the only ones. When Porro made his first start of this season against Manchester United, having been on the bench on the opening weekend against Brentford, Sky Sports commentator — and former full-back — Gary Neville was scathing about his suitability for the position.
“I’m not having it. Yeah, I’m definitely not having it,” Neville said, after Porro almost gave the ball away in a dangerous position for a second time in the first half. “Honestly, Porro thinks he’s Rodri.”
As The Athletic wrote at the time, Porro actually had a storming game that day and has started every Spurs Premier League match since, rarely producing anything other than a very accomplished performance. And having not been picked for the Spain squad for their November internationals, he now has a week or so to recharge.
How has he been able to go from being seen as a defensive liability to one of the league’s most consistent full-backs?
As a person, Porro is a big character. Described by those who know him well as someone who is “larger than life” and “always joking” when not playing or training, the 24-year-old is an important and vocal member of the Spurs dressing room.
And he feels a lot more settled now after the tumult of those early months at the club.
“I’m integrating as fast as I can,” he told UK newspaper The Guardian in March. “My English is not very good, the first weeks were a bit harder. Eric Dier speaks Portuguese and helped, Cuti (Cristian Romero), too. I knew (some) words, understood some things, but I had never been there. I’m trying to adapt as fast as I can.”
On the constant early criticism, he said: “I have taken lots of beatings.”
You don’t hear much criticism of Porro nowadays and the numbers underline why.
In an attacking sense, despite playing a less offensive role than both last season and in the majority of his pre-Spurs career, Porro remains a big threat in the attacking third.
His assist for Brennan Johnson’s goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday was a reminder of that. It was his second assist of the season, after 10 last season (seven for Sporting) alongside five goals (two for Sporting). All three of his Tottenham goals have been superb finishes and he is clearly a defender who relishes the offensive side of the game.
Twelve games into this season, Porro ranks extremely highly for several attacking metrics.
For expected assists (xA), which measures the expected goals value of the shot that is assisted, Porro’s 0.21 per 90 minutes puts him in the 91st percentile for full-backs, meaning less than 10 per cent of those in his position have been producing better goalscoring chances. Of Premier League full-backs, he is in the 93rd percentile for completed through balls (0.5 per 90), the 88th for shots (1.3 per 90), the 80th for progressive passes (5.2 per 90) and the 88th for combined non-penalty expected goals and xA.
Defensively, Porro has been very busy, too. No player in the division has won more tackles than his 27 and compared to other full-backs, Porro is in the 96th percentile for blocks per 90 (2.46) and the 83rd for clearances per 90 (3.19).
Porro has been converted from essentially a winger at Sporting, where the vast majority of their Portuguese top flight opponents sat back and he didn’t have to worry about defending, to now performing a much more complicated role.
His touch maps from that home game against United in August and the same fixture last season — in late April with Ryan Mason as interim manager after Stellini’s dismissal — show how much more he is picking the ball up in central areas.
And touches like the outrageous one he produced against Sheffield United in September that left Jack Robinson on his backside show how much more comfortable he is becoming at receiving the ball away from the touchline.
His mentality and willingness to learn are big reasons for the transformation.
“You could see he had the right character,” says Chieira. “We thought he was someone who would be able to interpret (Sporting head coach) Ruben’s (Amorim) instructions. He was mentally solid, the kind of player you need if you’re aiming to win every game. Everything made sense.
“A player who could attack space – both out wide and sometimes inside – and play with intensity and fluidity, as well as technical quality. Porro is powerful; he plays with a forcefulness that is hard to find.”
Porro’s attitude was quickly evident after he arrived at Spurs. Even when on the bench in some of his early matches, he could be seen on the sidelines cajoling and supporting his team-mates. At Sporting, it was clear that the club had so quickly gotten under his skin that he was seen by supporters as more committed than even a lot of the home-grown players.
You don’t imagine it’ll take long before he’s held in similar regard by the Tottenham fans — if indeed that hasn’t happened already. “The most important thing for me with Pedro is he has a great attitude,” Mason said in May. “He wants to learn, wants to improve and I am sure we will see him become a better player in the coming years.”
Porro certainly doesn’t lack belief, and said himself in March: “Let me loose in a prison and I’ll end up owning the place.”
Of the Sherwood criticism, he added: “He won’t be the first who then had to shut his mouth.”
As well as his mental toughness and strong attitude, Porro’s adaptability and varied skill set have helped him adjust to his new role this season.
“He was really well trained by Ruben Amorim in his Sporting years and he also played as a right-winger in his youth,” explains Chieira. “So he acquired lots of experience in attacking positions – positioning, movement et cetera – from an early age in Spain.”
The versatility Porro has displayed over the past four months was foreshadowed by an otherwise entirely forgettable game at the back-end of last season.
In a 1-0 home win against Crystal Palace in early May, Mason recognised Porro’s adaptability by asking him to play as a right-winger in a 4-4-2 when Spurs were out of possession and as a wing-back in a 3-4-3 when they had the ball. Mason also added a sixth player to their press for the game, which was Porro, to allow them to play more on the front foot.
Porro celebrates his assist against Palace in May (Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)
Porro impressed in the game, setting up the goal for Harry Kane and earning praise from Mason afterwards. “He’s affected the game today with and without the ball,” Mason said. “That was the job and the task that we set him. I’m very pleased with his performance for the team, because we saw a desire to help his team-mates from a defensive point of view but also not losing that attacking threat that we wanted him to give us.”
The right system duly arrived a few weeks later as Postecoglou took over and set about implementing a 4-3-3 with two inverted full-backs.
Externally, there were plenty of doubts as to whether Porro could perform one of the full-back roles, especially as he was caught out by crosses at the back post (his Achilles’ heel) in Postecoglou’s first two pre-season friendlies against West Ham United and Singapore’s Lion City Sailors.
In between those two games, though, Postecoglou was asked whether he’d be comfortable playing both Destiny Udogie and Porro as his full-backs. His response was so emphatic it is remembered by everyone who was in the room in Singapore when he said it. “If you’re asking me if those two can play at full-back, yeah absolutely,” Postecoglou said “I would love them to play full-back.”
Postecoglou and his coaches, especially Matt Wells, who looks after the defensive side of things, have since done an excellent job in helping Porro learn the role.
This supports Chieira’s view that the defensive rather than offensive side of playing as a full-back or wing-back is easier to teach. “This (Porro’s experience in playing attacking positions) was also a factor when we brought him to Sporting: the attacking quality of the full-back or wing-back is much more important than defensive ability, which can be improved more easily through coaching,” he says. “Certainly in the big five leagues, the market values this (attacking) type of profile more highly.”
And hearing Chieira speak, there are echoes now from his time at Sporting: “Pedro had a combination of characteristics that made us believe he could be a top player,” Chieira says. “He just needed a coach who understood the potential and knew how to bring it out.”
Porro brings with him other skills, such as excellent set-piece delivery that gives the team another dimension, and overall, he’s resolving a position that’s been a problem since Kieran Trippier moved to Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019.
Wolves winger Pedro Neto remains sidelined with a hamstring issue.
Defender Hugo Bueno has recovered from his own hamstring problem, while Joe Hodge is the only long-term absentee.
Tottenham will be without the suspended Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie, while fellow defender Micky van der Ven is out with a hamstring injury.
Midfielder James Maddison could be out until the New Year with a serious ankle injury and Richarlison is recovering from minor groin surgery.
Defender Ben Davies will return to the squad after recovering from an ankle issue.
Wolves are seeking successive home league wins against Spurs for the first time since a run of three between 1964 and 1968.
Tottenham have won five of their nine Premier League visits to Molineux (D2, L2), with nine of the 18 Premier League meetings being won by the away side.
Their only league win in the past six games at Molineux came against reigning champions Manchester City in September (D3, L2).
Wolves have scored in 12 successive top-flight home matches since a 1-0 loss to Gary O’Neil’s Bournemouth in February.
However, they’ve only kept one clean sheet in their past 14 Premier League fixtures.
Wolves have won their previous five Premier League home games against London opposition without conceding.
Hwang Hee-chan is vying to become the fourth player to score in each of his club’s opening six Premier League home matches, emulating Alan Shearer at Blackburn and Les Ferdinand with Newcastle in 1995-96 and Thierry Henry for Arsenal in 2004-05.
The South Korean has either scored or assisted in his past five top-flight appearances.
Tottenham are unbeaten in seven top-flight away games, winning five and drawing two.
Spurs are aiming to register three successive Premier League away victories for the first time since a run of four between September and November 2020 under Jose Mourinho.
The north Londoners have won all six of their league matches this season against sides currently in the bottom half of the table, with four of those coming away from home.
Ange Postecoglou’s side have received 34 cards in the top flight this season, with 31 yellows and three reds. Only Wolves, with 38, and Chelsea, with 36, have collected more.
Son Heung-min has failed to score in nine previous Premier League appearances against Wolves.
When Ange Postecoglou took over as Tottenham Hotspur head coach this summer, we were told again and again that he simply would not compromise. Whatever the situation, he would continue to play in the same way. His almost evangelical devotion to his principles of football means he simply sees no other option.
At times on Monday, it felt as though the game against Chelsea was designed to test Postecoglou’s idealism.
Spurs were down to nine men and the centre of their defence was made up of Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. That’s one centre-back who hadn’t played a minute all season and isn’t known for his pace, alongside a reserve defensive midfielder playing out of position.
By this point, Tottenham had had two players sent off and lost two of their stars — Micky van de Ven and James Maddison — to injury.
But Postecoglou didn’t do the typical thing in this scenario of instructing his team to dig in and drop deep to try to snatch a draw. Instead, he doubled down, asking Hojbjerg and Dier to push up to the halfway line to try to squeeze the space, standing roughly in a line with five of Spurs’ six other defenders.
It was an extraordinary spectacle.
In the 68th minute, Chelsea finally worked out how to spring the trap. Despite having four players in an offside position, Marc Cucurella timed his run well from a deeper position and had a shot saved.
The freeze-frame of Tottenham’s defensive line feels symbolic of Postecoglou’s Spurs and his principles more generally. Front-footed, bold, unconventional.
Just after that chance, Postecoglou called Dier over and reiterated the message that he and Hojbjerg should keep pushing up to the halfway line.
“It’s just who we are, mate,” Postecoglou explained after the game. “As long as I’m here, that’s what we’re going to do. Even with five men, we’ll have a go.”
Eventually, Chelsea worked out how to expose Spurs’ high line and ran in three late goals to seal a 4-1 win. Though the game-settling third in the 94th minute came just after Son Heung-min had very nearly equalised, Dier had a goal ruled out for a tight offside and Rodrigo Bentancur just failed to turn in a cross from close range. For a team with nine men, Spurs were remarkably in the game — even deep into stoppage time.
How, then, do we assess an extraordinary match? Encouraging proof of Postecoglou’s commitment to his principles, or evidence of his and his team’s limitations?
Well, first of all, Spurs were likely to lose this game however they had approached it once they were down to nine men, with the score at 1-1 and only 55 minutes played.
And given those circumstances, there are a lot of positives.
For a start, Postecoglou has shown to his players that he believes wholeheartedly in what he is preaching to them. At Brisbane Roar and Celtic, there were equivalent early games that went disastrously but were subsequently cited as being crucial in both teams’ development, uniting them and crystallising some of his messages. At Roar, it was a 3-0 defeat to Melbourne Victory in September 2010. Then, at Celtic, there was a home 4-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in September 2021, a few months after the Australian had taken over.
Both of those games were held up as evidence of Postecoglou’s naivety and stubbornness; both of those seasons finished with Postecoglou’s sides winning the title. He has spoken previously about how it’s in tough moments that you learn the most about yourself and your team.
Cristian Romero’s red card was pivotal for Spurs (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
Monday night may end up having a similarly galvanising effect. The mood in the Spurs dressing room after the game was one of defiance and pride in continuing to play their way. The reaction of the crowd was similar, cheering the team as if they had just scored a goal when they had conceded the game-settling third. Despite the scoreline, it was another night that strengthened the bond between the players and the fans, as well as the players and the manager and the fans and the manager.
And that matters in maintaining the momentum of Postecoglou’s excellent start.
Spurs can take a lot from what happened after 55 minutes, but they also need to reflect on how they put themselves in such a hopeless position.
Destiny Udogie and Cristian Romero could have been sent off for straight red cards in the first 22 minutes and even the normally calm Postecoglou was booked in the first half for stepping outside his technical area to express his frustration.
Referee Michael Oliver books Postecoglou (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Following that early reprieve, Romero was sent off soon after for a foul on Enzo Fernandez, while Udogie took a needless risk in picking up his second yellow card when he slid in to try to win a ball that was out of his reach.
On a night that required cool heads, Romero lost his early on and didn’t even nearly relocate it before getting himself sent off. Among all of this, Postecoglou will be frustrated that before Spurs lost their discipline, they looked like they might run away with the game after Dejan Kulusevski’s early opener.
The result is deflating and could have serious longer-term consequences depending on the severity of Maddison and Van de Ven’s injuries, but Spurs’ performance also served to strengthen the clarity of Postecoglou’s message. Nothing will divert him from playing the way he believes will achieve sustainable success for this team.
Tottenham left-backs Destiny Udogie and Ben Davies are both injury doubts and will face fitness tests.
Ivan Perisic, Ryan Sessegnon and Manor Solomon remain on the sidelines.
Chelsea forwards Armando Broja and Mykhailo Mudryk returned to training this week and are available for selection.
However, Trevoh Chalobah, Carney Chukwuemeka, Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana, Romeo Lavia and Christopher Nkunku all remain out.
Tottenham ended an eight-game winless run against Chelsea with a 2-0 home victory in February.
They have only won back-to-back Premier League matches versus the Blues once before, in April and November 2018.
No team has scored more Premier League goals away to Spurs than the 51 by Chelsea.
Chelsea’s four wins at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions is the most by any side.
Tottenham’s 26 points from their opening 10 league games is their best start to a top-flight season since 1960-61, when they won their first 10 and went on to take the title.
Spurs are the 13th team to have 26 points or more after 10 matches of a Premier League season. Six of the previous 12 went on to win the title, four were runners-up, Arsenal finished third in 2007-08 and Newcastle United were sixth in 1994-95.
Ange Postecoglou has made the best start by a Premier League manager after 10 games in charge. He is looking to become only the third manager to avoid defeat in his opening 11 fixtures, emulating Nottingham Forest’s Frank Clark in 1994 and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri in 2018.
Spurs could win five Premier League matches in a row for the first time since December 2018 under Mauricio Pochettino.
The 15 Premier League defeats Chelsea have suffered in 2023 is only one fewer than they lost in 2021 and 2022 combined. It’s their most league defeats in a year since they also lost 15 times in 1994.
Only Bournemouth (18) and Everton (16) have lost more top-flight matches in 2023 than the Blues.
They have won just four matches since Graham Potter left in April, the fewest of any ever-present Premier League side over the same period.
Chelsea have won only eight of their past 39 league fixtures, beating Bournemouth (twice), Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Leicester City, Luton Town, Fulham and Burnley.
They have lost five of their past seven London derbies in the league, as many defeats as in their previous 19 such fixtures.
Mauricio Pochettino took charge of a club record 202 Premier League games for Tottenham.
He won four of his 10 league matches as Spurs manager against Chelsea, as many victories as every other Spurs manager combined in the other 52 Premier League meetings.
How do you know when you’re over someone you once loved?
Maybe it’s when you stop thinking about them everyday. Or when they stop haunting your dreams. Or perhaps it’s when you find a straight-talking Australian with a penchant for inverted full-backs to take their place.
For Tottenham Hotspur, four years on from his departure, there is finally a sense that the club are not still collectively pining for Mauricio Pochettino. Instead, there is a new object of their affections: the head coach appointed this summer, Ange Postecoglou.
On Monday night, the two men will meet as opposing managers at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, bringing the dynamic into sharp focus. Pochettino, now managing Spurs’ loathed rivals Chelsea, up against the first of his four successors the Tottenham fans have taken to their hearts.
It will be the first time Pochettino has returned to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium since his final game as Spurs manager against Sheffield United almost exactly four years ago — a painful 1-1 draw on a grizzly, wet afternoon in north London when Spurs were lucky to escape with a point.
It’s hard to imagine the emotions Pochettino will be feeling. He was sacked 10 days after that Sheffield United game and didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to the players — leaving a message on a training ground whiteboard instead.
Now, he’ll be returning to a ground that was an almost constant preoccupation during his time at the club. Spurs didn’t end up moving into the new stadium until April 2019, but everything up until then was geared towards making sure the team qualified for the Champions League by the time it was completed.
It felt like a symbol of the team’s progress and transformation into a bona fide ‘Big Six’ member. But the delay to the move, which meant two years playing at Wembley Stadium just as his Spurs side were coming to their peak, was another example of Pochettino having to do the job with effectively one hand tied behind his back.
In any case, once Spurs had belatedly moved, Pochettino was seen as the man who would lead the club into the new stadium and the new era it represented. He and his assistant, Jesus Perez, even had input into how the home areas, like the dressing room, were designed. When Pochettino enters the stadium on Monday, he will be intimately familiar with the place and its setup.
And as for that aim of being a Champions League team by the time of the stadium’s opening, Pochettino had obliterated the target. When they finally moved, Spurs weren’t just competing in the Champions League, they were playing quarter-finals and semis at the new ground within a month of its opening.
Pochettino celebrates Spurs reaching the 2019 Champions League final (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
Pochettino was acutely aware of the stadium’s significance and at one of the test games for the new ground between the Spurs and Southampton under-18s sides, he addressed the fans from pitchside at half-time and spoke about his excitement at Tottenham’s new home. “We need to cry because our dream came true,” Pochettino said.
But ultimately the delayed finish to the stadium and Pochettino’s premature exit meant he only managed the team in the new stadium for seven months, totalling a meagre 15 games. He managed far more at Tottenham’s hugely unpopular temporary Wembley home.
But whatever happened in the past, Pochettino’s return is long overdue — even if it’s not in the circumstances he and many others might have imagined.
Especially as the team he is currently managing, Chelsea, have endured a tricky start to the season. Should Spurs win on Monday, they would move 17 points clear of their London rivals and finish the game top of the league, potentially 15 places higher than Chelsea.
That in itself goes a long way towards explaining why Postecoglou has helped Spurs finally get over Pochettino. But there’s more to it — as well as the results, there’s also the thrilling football and sense of togetherness the Australian has engendered at Tottenham, evoking memories of the early Pochettino period when the team clicked and everything felt possible.
So, how did we get to the point where Pochettino is returning to north London in charge of the opposition rather than the Spurs manager? And after Tottenham’s decision not to go after Pochettino this summer, can we say things have turned out for the best for all parties?
So much has been written about Pochettino’s departure that there’s no need to relitigate it in too much detail here.
That was one side of the story. The other was that Pochettino had not been backed properly when he desperately wanted and needed to refresh the squad and had surely earned the right to do so given the near-miracles he’d performed.
Most fans were devastated by his sacking and felt the club had failed him. How could they have not made a single summer signing in 2018? Why was the wage structure not more readily relaxed? Why did the stadium build have to drag on and leave Pochettino’s Spurs — so formidable at White Hart Lane — playing away from their home for almost two full seasons?
However you viewed it, Spurs had been in decline for some time at the moment of Pochettino’s sacking. They had not won away in the league for 10 months, were languishing in 14th after 12 games, and had picked up 25 points from their previous 24 games, which is relegation form.
The change in manager didn’t result in a long-term uptick in results, though, and the subsequent failure of his successor Jose Mourinho only served to deepen Spurs fans’ love for Pochettino. In the opposite way to how Postecoglou has helped Spurs get over Pochettino, Mourinho’s attitude and approach made them long for him even more.
So much of one’s legacy is defined by what comes after.
The spectre of Pochettino loomed large over Mourinho and his other Spurs successors (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
And in this case, even Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman who had sacked Pochettino and might not have wanted to swallow his pride so quickly, attempted to bring the Argentine back in the summer of 2021. Mourinho had just been sacked and it was barely 18 months on from Pochettino’s departure.
He was by now at Paris Saint-Germain, which never felt like a natural fit. Even though Pochettino had only been in the job for half a season, as a natural romantic, he was open to a Spurs reunion. In the end, it proved to be a non-starter as PSG weren’t willing to let him go.
The seed had been sown, however, and for everyone connected with Tottenham, the possibility of a Pochettino return remained tantalisingly within reach.
As Antonio Conte’s ultimately miserable time as Spurs head coach withered to a conclusion in the early part of 2023, the clamour for Pochettino’s return intensified. Conte — like Mourinho, then Nuno Espirito Santo — only served to emphasise what had been lost since Pochettino’s departure.
In March, as Spurs limped to a Champions League exit against Milan, the fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium began to sing Pochettino’s name. This became a regular occurrence at games for a month or so as Conte departed and the club began the hunt for his successor.
But Spurs had decided to go in a different direction. Pochettino, out of work since leaving PSG the previous summer, was not on the shortlist drawn up by the then managing director of football Fabio Paratici.
Paratici had worked hard to build up his power base at Tottenham and wasn’t going to willingly dismantle it to bring in a manager who would instantly be more powerful and popular than he could ever be. So it was no surprise when Pochettino was not on Paratici’s original list. The noises coming out of Spurs were that they wanted someone younger with fresh ideas.
But with Paratici banned from football at the end of March for alleged financial malpractice and Spurs lurching from one crisis to the next, perhaps the door would be open for Pochettino. It certainly would have been a politically expedient move for Levy, who had fans demanding his exit at every game alongside the chants to bring in Pochettino.
Is it time to re-evaluate Fabio Paratici’s time at Spurs?
But the call to Pochettino still never went in. The view of the Spurs hierarchy was that it wouldn’t have been sensible to go down this road given how toxic things had become by the time Pochettino had left in 2019. Many subscribed to the footballing truism that you should never go back.
Pochettino knew he couldn’t wait forever so joined Chelsea instead. When Spurs played Manchester United in late April soon after it became clear Pochettino was heading to west London, there was no chanting of his name. It felt like it had finally dawned on the club that the reunion many had pined for wasn’t going to happen.
But for full closure to be achieved, Spurs needed to find someone else to rally around, especially as seeing Pochettino succeed with Chelsea while they continued to stagger around in mid-table was too painful to even think about.
Given how much pressure Levy was under from the fans, he must have been tempted to make the politically popular decision and re-hire Pochettino.
Instead, the managerial search centred on finding someone with similar qualities to the former manager. “Culture” was the buzzword of the search for Conte’s replacement, with an acknowledgement that Spurs had become a pretty miserable place to work in the previous few years after three failed managerial appointments.
And while there’s a school of thought that says Levy got lucky with Postecoglou after missing out on other targets — the Australian himself joked that he was the “last man standing” for the job — he was on the club’s original longlist.
In essence, Spurs wanted someone like Pochettino in 2014 and, although he’s much older, there are a lot of similarities between the young Poch and Postecoglou. The positivity, the attacking football, the feeling of a manager on the up. However, one difference has been how quickly Spurs have started under Postecoglou compared to Pochettino’s transitional first season.
Spurs fans have very quickly taken ‘Big Ange’ to their hearts (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
At this point, the decision not to bring back Pochettino looks like the best move for all concerned. One of the big issues with bringing Pochettino back would be that despite so much success in his five years at the club, there was also a lot of scar tissue. He and Levy are on good terms now — the chairman sent Pochettino a message of congratulations when he got the Chelsea job — but it’s not hard to imagine things quickly fraying. Pochettino has worked longer for Levy than any other manager has and probably ever will and both experienced a lot of frustration by the time things fell apart four years ago.
With the fans, things might have become fractious fairly quickly, too. It’s worth pointing out that for all the adulation Pochettino enjoys from many supporters, some weren’t in favour of him coming back. By the time he left, a few had gripes over things like his team selection for cup games and the associated failure to capitalise on the team he’d built by winning a trophy. His comment in January 2019 that winning trophies only “builds egos” fed this discourse.
Inevitably, everything that happened in his second spell would have been viewed through the prism of his first. Let’s say in this parallel universe Spurs had just suffered an early Carabao Cup exit, it’s not hard to imagine the Poch-sceptics pointing to previous cup exits with weakened teams as evidence of his perceived failings. Pochettino’s advocates would respond in kind and we might be having the same arguments we’ve been having for the past few years.
Or maybe Pochettino would have been as successful as in the first spell and everyone would be happy.
We will never know. What we do know is that Postecoglou has so far done what seemed impossible — made the supporters largely forget about Pochettino. Some will boo the Argentine on Monday, some will want to offer their thanks, but what there won’t be is an aching for him and a wistfulness for the increasingly distant past.
For Pochettino, despite Chelsea’s poor results since his appointment, a different challenge also feels like it’s a healthier option than returning to the Spurs psychodrama.
Postecoglou meanwhile laughed at the constant ex-lover analogies at Thursday’s press conference and was nothing but complimentary about the man whose place he has taken in Tottenham hearts.
“Everyone I speak to around here, there are still people who worked with him, they can’t speak highly enough of him as a person and as a manager,” he said. “I doubt there will be anything but respect for Mauricio from anyone at this football club, supporters or people associated, but it doesn’t mean he will get a guard of honour on Monday night because we want to win. I don’t think he would expect that, but his tenure here and impact here are undeniable and will stand the test of time. Whenever people think of Mauricio and his time here as a Spurs manager, they will only look upon it with respect and fondness.”
The way things have played out so far means Levy can be well satisfied with the decision he made in the summer. “We’ve got our Tottenham back,” he said at a fans’ forum event in September.
People will debate how much it was luck or judgment that saw Spurs end up with Postecoglou, but however they got there, it’s working out very well so far.
They are top of the Premier League, brimming with confidence and can add to Chelsea’s misery on Monday. They can also show that, four years on, Spurs are finally over Pochettino.
(Top photos: Getty Images; graphic: Sam Richardson)
Alejo Veliz might have been wondering why all the fuss.
The 20-year-old from Argentina had just made his Tottenham Hotspur debut in the 2-1 win over Liverpool last month and all anyone could talk about was the referee and VAR decisions that had overshadowed the game.
But Veliz has been involved in even stranger controversies. While playing for Rosario Central in a reserves match against Lanus back home in December 2021, Veliz was at the centre of one that left the opposition manager ‘wanting to kill him’.
His coach back then, Adrian Dezotti, takes up the story:
“Alejo is really intelligent but also very cunning, mischievous. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, a lot of street smarts. He’s a strategist, a quick thinker.
“I remember one game, a very tricky away match against Lanus, the year when we finished third in the league. We were winning 2-1 when one of their strikers broke through alone. He ran from halfway, leaving our defenders behind, and looked certain to score. But then Alejo whistled, pretending it was the referee stopping the game. The striker stopped and one of our centre-backs stole the ball.
“Their coach lost it, protesting to the referee. They missed out on the goal and we ended up winning 3-2.
“That showed his funny, roguish side, and how much he was paying attention to the match. He was nowhere near the play but he did something that helped us win a tough game. It was audacious. The Lanus coach wanted to kill him.”
It’s a story that perhaps says a lot about Veliz’s quick thinking and will to win. That sort of determination helps explain a rapid rise that saw him go from still playing for his local amateur team, Club Union Deportivo y Cultural (Club UDC), at age 16 to joining one of Europe’s biggest clubs while still a teenager.
Now 20, Veliz, a 6ft 1in (186cm) physical style of centre-forward, caught the eye of European scouts by scoring 19 goals in 62 games for Rosario Central, his attacking instincts honed by the great Carlos Tevez, who was briefly his manager there. He burnished his growing reputation by scoring three goals in four games for Argentina at this summer’s Under-20 World Cup.
Nottingham Forest, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Roma and AC Milan were all said to be interested, but it was Spurs who got the deal done for £13million ($15.8m at current rates), four days before Harry Kane moved to Bayern Munich. Working as a consultant, Tottenham’s former managing director of football Fabio Paratici was involved in the Veliz deal, and the hope is that he will prove as good a signing as other youngsters brought in by the Italian, including Destiny Udogie and Pape Matar Sarr.
Veliz celebrates Spurs’ win over Liverpool with his new team-mates (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Veliz arrived in England carrying an injury, and could only begin full training last month. As soon as he was fit, he played for the under-21s and, after impressing in training, was on the bench for the first team in the north London derby away at Arsenal on September 24.
Head coach Ange Postecoglou had expected not to use him much in the first half of the season, but injuries and his displays in training at Hotspur Way fast-tracked Veliz into his plans. He then made his debut against Liverpool, and came on again in Spurs’ next game, away at Luton — almost creating a late chance for himself but not quite being able to sort out his feet.
Speaking to those who know Veliz’s game well, there’s excitement at what Postecoglou can do with a player who is smart with his movement and excellent in the air. “I watch a lot of English football and there is no other Premier League player who has the aerial game that Alejo has. It’s incredible,” says Dezotti.
Another observer says that, at this early stage of his career, Veliz can be an excellent option for Tottenham off the bench — someone in the Fernando Llorente mould, to give the team something different against a packed defence.
With a few injuries in attacking areas, we’ll likely be seeing a fair bit more of Veliz in the coming weeks.
This is his story and what Spurs fans should expect from the prodigious young dancer who became one of the most feared forwards in Argentina.
Veliz was born in Godeken, a small town two hours from Rosario, Argentina’s third most populous city. He moved to Bernardo de Irigoyen, the hometown of his mother Andrea, when he was six but father Sergio stayed behind. He is from a tight family, with his grandparents, aunts and uncles all close and an older brother, Sebastian, and younger sister Bruna.
As a kid, he liked ‘malambo’, a regional folk dance. There are pictures of him wearing traditional costume and he was part of a dance group called Tradicion Gaucha that even went on tour, performing at the Cosquin festival, the biggest folk music event in Argentina, where he won first place in the solo malambo competition.
Veliz started playing at the local team, Club UDC, at six and stayed with them for a decade. By the end of his time there, he would play for their under-16s on Saturdays and the reserves on Sundays. In his final season, he scored 26 goals for the former, and 10 more for the latter.
The fact that Veliz was playing for an amateur side and with and against adults set him apart from most of his peers, who were by that stage with the academies of top-flight teams.
Eventually, not long after turning 16, Veliz landed a trial with Rosario Central, organised by a persistent friend who vouched for him. He passed the trial but they then changed coaches and he had to do another one. Then, when he did finally sign in early 2020, football just about everywhere stopped due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. He didn’t play for around a year, meaning he missed out on under-17s football altogether.
Veliz felt increasingly frustrated at the fact he wasn’t getting the chance to prove himself to his new team-mates and coaches. In an interview with local TV station El Tres, he later said: “When the pandemic happened, I wanted to kill myself. I was thinking of quitting. I didn’t know what to do and they still didn’t know me at the club.”
He eventually got his chance though, and made a big impression on Dezotti.
“He was different to the others,” says Dezotti. “Playing for a club in a small town is not the same as being at a professional club, training three times a week from the age of five or six. At 15, he was playing with adults — 30-year-olds, 35-year-olds. I think that helped shape his personality.
“He matured early. Then he absorbed a lot in the time he spent at Rosario Central. It was like an intensive course: it would normally take 10 years but he did it in two. He had the capacity for it, cognitively. He was intelligent.
“Beyond that, he was just so decisive in games. He was not an amazing player in terms of technical ability, but he was incredibly strong in the air, which made all the difference. He could hold the ball up and he could finish. He’s a fast learner with a real desire to win. He’s hungry, which is what you want from any footballer.”
Veliz scored three headers at this year’s Under-20 World Cup (Buda Mendes – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Veliz had barely started playing for the youth side when, in March 2021, Dezotti called him up to Central’s reserves. It wasn’t a decision everyone agreed with, given the kid’s low profile and rough edges. “There was a bit of resistance: the people who were in charge of coordinating the different teams didn’t want me to move him up so quickly,” Dezotti says. “But I liked what I saw. And, well, my eye didn’t fail me.
“We had a good side, which included (Facundo) Buonanotte, who is now at Brighton. He moved up to the reserves with me and my staff when I took over, as did a few other players who are now in the first team at Rosario Central. I didn’t know Alejo because he had arrived from a regional team in the countryside. He hadn’t played youth football in the national federation. Nothing. Only in regional leagues. But he came to train with the Rosario Central youth team against the reserves. I saw him two or three times and I liked him.
“Above all, I was impressed by his ability in the air. I watch a lot of English football and there is no other Premier League player who has the aerial game that Alejo has. It’s incredible. You’re going to see. He jumps well and has a powerful header on him. That aerial game was what caught my eye. It was fearsome.
“He was also very, very intelligent. He wasn’t very technical, but he learned a lot in the games he played in the reserves and then almost immediately went up to the First Division because he kept scoring goals.
“He progressed a lot. Really, a lot. And he was always, always, always scoring goals. He learned very quickly, because he is so intelligent. He was also a cheeky kid, very bold.”
Dezotti called Veliz up for one game against Colon because he was missing a few players and the youngster played the last few minutes off the bench, before achieving a breakthrough moment in the next match. On a very rainy day, he came on against Central Cordoba de Santiago del Estero’s reserves just before the hour mark and, within 18 minutes, scored a perfect hat-trick of right-foot shot, left-foot shot, header to secure a 3-1 win.
The first-team coach Kily Gonzalez, a former Argentina midfielder, couldn’t fail to notice him after that. And with a glowing reference from Dezotti, Veliz was given a chance in the first team. Veliz started to become a regular in the 2022 season, scoring his first goal for the first team in a May match away at Huracan.
He initially struggled for starts under Tevez, the legendary former Manchester City and Argentina striker, who took over as manager that June.
But against Central’s main rivals Newell’s Old Boys (the first club of Lionel Messi and Mauricio Pochettino, and where Marcelo Bielsa began his career as a manager) in the July, everything changed. Veliz scored the winner with a superb header from almost the edge of the box, prompting Tevez to say: “Veliz left me speechless. He fought for everything.”
Veliz dedicated the goal to his family: “They didn’t have a penny to their name but they always took me to train, wherever it was.”
And he later said of working with Tevez: “Everyone knows what Carlos did as a player. He played at some of the biggest teams in the world. He helps us strikers a lot, with our movement, with our finishing. I have so much to thank him for. He has given me a run in the side. Confidence is the most important thing for any player.
“When he arrived at the club, everyone was talking about it. ‘Tevez is coming! Tevez is coming!’. Beyond the football side, he gives us life advice. He places a lot of importance on family, on having help around us. I will keep that in mind.”
Veliz scored other memorable goals for Central, including against Argentina’s two powerhouses Boca Juniors and River Plate earlier this year. The one against Boca was especially significant — Veliz’s father Sergio is a supporter of their arch-rivals River and so he promised before the game that he would score and then celebrate with his dad. He kept his word on both counts.
Then came the Under-20 World Cup this summer — a competition Argentina hadn’t originally qualified for and were only involved in because they stepped in to stage the event after Indonesia was banned from doing so for refusing to host qualifiers Israel.
It might be looked at one day as a Sliding Doors moment in Veliz’s career.
Watching his goals back, it’s clear how much Veliz comes alive in the penalty area. He scores the majority from close range, with either foot or with his head. Though for Central he also scored a few headers from a fair way out, including that winner against Newell’s — giving weight to Dezotti’s claim about his exceptional aerial ability.
Those who watch him regularly say he likes to play on his own up front, and is adept at holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
Veliz celebrates scoring for Central against River Plate (Gustavo Garello/Jam Media/Getty Images)
How do those who’ve seen him up close think he will do for Spurs?
“He is very mature for such a young player,” says Pablo Pavan, a journalist for ESPN based in Rosario. “He is calm and focused. Professional. His mentality is that of a proper competitor. To improve, I think he needs to be a bit quicker with his movement. He could also work on his technique when passing in tight areas.
“But once he gets used to the new surroundings and gets to know his team-mates, I think he will stand out. He has the potential to be a classic Premier League centre-forward.”
Francisco Canepa, an Argentine presenter and commentator for ESPN, agrees:
“He has that characteristic of a player that’s quite rare. There aren’t many No 9s like that now — a tall, very strong guy that knows how to play in the box. He can run and press. He’s not so good with the ball at his feet, but he’s good at taking defenders into areas they don’t want to go and attacking the empty space. He’s really smart at doing that.”
As for his new manager, Postecoglou said last month: “We’ve been really encouraged with the way he’s gone about things and adjusted to life here. He’s only a young man coming from the other side of the world. The dressing-room environment is great and watching him other night (for the under-21s), he is showing the attributes, he has got great movement and he is a real No 9 in terms of how he attacks the box and really looking forward to getting him up to speed.”
Veliz should be helped in his attempts to get up to speed by spending this international break at Hotspur Way working with the Tottenham coaches, where you imagine he’ll be knuckling down, taking it all in. His mother Andrea said last year that: “Alejo is very humble, has a heart of gold and is very reserved. He only speaks when necessary.”
So far at Spurs, Veliz is settling in well, helped by the club’s considerable group of Spanish speakers, including his compatriot Cristian Romero, their influential vice-captain.
And, as his dark arts against Lanus back in the day showed, Veliz will do anything to help his new team.
(Top photo: Hector Vivas – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
The deep-thinking Johan Lange would walk around Wolverhampton Wanderers’ training ground quietly observing the behaviour of those present.
Players often asked each other what the young Dane, just 33 years old back then, was actually doing at the club.
His official title during a wretched six-month spell at Wolves in the 2012-13 campaign was assistant manager to Stale Solbakken, yet because he didn’t do any coaching, there was always an element of mystery and intrigue around his role.
One senior player even forgot Lange’s name when The Athletic asked for a recap of his time working under him.
That was the season they were demoted to League One, first under Solbakken and then Dean Saunders.
One Molineux insider described Lange as “quiet and thoughtful”. The players recognised him as the “eyes and ears” for the manager. He often expanded on some of the finer details around tactical planning during team meetings and would always be giving Solbakken, who trusted him implicitly, words of advice.
But for a long-lasting impression? Well, there simply wasn’t one.
The scene at Aston Villa could not be further from the troubles he left behind in the Black Country.
Villa are everything that Wolves then were not; a club on the up, with deep pockets, ambitious owners and a fanbase buying into the long-term project.
In the seven years he was away, Lange built up a profile that helped him equip him for the Premier League.
He briefly experienced life as a head coach at Danish top-flight side Lyngby Boldklub, then became technical director back at FC Copenhagen after previously working there as an assistant.
“It was a very clever decision by Aston Villa to hire Johan because he knows the process of developing a football club,” an insider from his former club says.
Lange during his time at Wolves (Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
Officially, Emiliano Martinez and Ollie Watkins were also signed under his watch but both players had been heavily scouted, analysed and recommended before his arrival, so it would be a stretch to say he played a defining role.
The collection of others have significantly strengthened Villa in their quest for a return to European football, and long-term plans are already in place for when they re-enter the transfer market. Several young left-backs are under consideration and the midfield may be addressed in the windows ahead.
At Bodymoor Heath, Lange is also putting together a talented data team in a bid to out-think some of Villa’s Premier League rivals and to create a culture where data-based decision-making is crucial.
The club already has data analysts placed within the first team and recruitment team, but the new hire in this department — thought to be working their notice currently at another club — will look to leverage their work across the club as a whole. The focus of this new unit will also be to build for the future, rather than the here and now.
Lange hired Frederik Leth from Copenhagen as Villa’s head of research early this year. He is a bright 28-year-old who has aspirations to follow in the footsteps of the man who has shown faith in him.
Lange has put together a team of bright individuals but he has upset a few people this year by making changes to the scouting department.
He held individual meetings to personally deliver the news that some of Villa’s long-term talent-spotters would not be kept on.
The message to the experienced scouts was that the club were heading in a new direction. Sanson’s arrival in January had already prepared some staff for change. It was Lange who pushed hard for the move, so when scouts, who had provided negative feedback on the Frenchman in their previous reports, asked why he was arriving, it was explained the opportunity to secure a deal for “only” £14million ($17.1m) was too good to turn down when Sanson’s price was likely to rise in the summer.
The argument since, from those who have left, is that none of Villa’s best players have “come from a computer”. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Video scouting and the use of data is a huge part of modern recruitment. The best departments find a balance between watching players in person and crunching the numbers to identify areas of potential.
The department was also realigned during the summer with staff now appearing to be singing off the same hymn sheet.
When Villa signed Young, for example, the main appeal was the chance to supplement the youngster squad in the division with some experience. Yet a data package was also provided to show the former Holte End hero was by no means a 36-year-old veteran simply contributing off the pitch. His running statistics from an 18-month period at Inter Milan proved he would still be able to mix it with the elite.
Other players have also been presented with a list of strengths and areas where they will improve the team during negotiations.
There is still an element of risk attached to every signing, but so far under Lange’s watch, there have been more hits than misses.
Another reason, The Athletic understands, that Villa reshaped their scouting network was due to the arrival of Rob Mackenzie as head of recruitment. Villa feel the ex-Tottenham and Leicester City transfer guru was a big improvement on what was already at the club, and therefore encouraged a change.
There’s a new cycle at Villa now, where the deadwood has been moved on — admittedly at a cost — but what remains is worth considerably more in value. It’s not sustainable for the club to bring in players and then pay them to leave in the way they did with the likes of Henri Lansbury, Birkir Bjarnason, Jota, Orjan Nyland and, even further back, Ross McCormack.
Shipping out players who are not contributing is all part of the sporting director’s brief too. It’s important to be proactive in planning for such changes, rather than to be left stockpiling players and missing out on opportunities to progress further.
Lange with John McGinn at Aston Villa after he signed a contract extension (Photo: Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
It would be foolish to think that Villa will not need to move players on in the times ahead, either to make way for better quality alternatives or create a pathway for some of the talented teenagers coming through the academy system.
Inevitably a sharp focus will turn to Lange and how he can successfully bring about such changes.
He commanded high fees for players such as Kevin Stewart, Jordon Ibe, Dominic Solanke, Brad Smith, Danny Ward and Mamadou Sakho. He negotiated the £142m sale of Philippe Coutinho, which effectively paid for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, and since 2017, Liverpool’s net spend is lower than 10 other top-flight clubs.
There’s no doubt Villa are moving towards a sustainable model following a £350m spend over the past three years. The serious investment in the academy is a step in that direction, and a quick look through the first-team squad highlights players who have grown in value since arriving.
Lange’s experience in Copenhagen, where he helped sign several players who were sold on for a profit, primed him for this job at Villa.
He was the outstanding candidate on a three-man shortlist to replace Jesus Garcia Pitarch last summer and a presentation to owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens sealed the move.
When he got the job he addressed staff at Bodymoor Heath to explain the ambitions of the club and how each individual would play their part. His delivery was clear and concise. Staff who remain have found him friendly, informative and a pleasure to work alongside.
Perhaps the time at Wolves should just be cast aside. It was clear that he was always keen to explore the player-analysis side of club football during that first job in England which hinted at a future role behind the scenes rather than out on the training field.
He remains relatively quiet and reserved but the players respect him.
Lange hasn’t conducted a single interview, internally or externally with the media since arriving.
So far his only public words to date are as follows: “Aston Villa is one of the most famous clubs in European football with a rich history, but it is also a progressive club looking to the future. I am excited and honoured to be given this opportunity to contribute to the club’s ambitious strategy to become a force in Premier League football again.”
CEO Christian Purslow has a strong grip over public speaking and decides when to address internal matters.
That’s not to say Lange is not influential or important. Prince William sat next to him during Villa’s Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea (Purslow was on the other side) and he led the push for Bailey, Buendia and Ings as a collective replacement for Jack Grealish.
“I know Johan because us Danes are all linked. He’s smart and what Villa are doing is different. They’re investing in research. For me, there’s two strategies in football: you want to be the best which means the richest, so you have to invest the most. Or you have to be unique, otherwise you are just copycats of the rest and you will compete, win some and lose some.
“Villa are trying to be unique. They are interesting.”
Lange, who attends every Villa game and also takes an interest in the development teams, also takes the lead on some contract renewals and is by no means a pushover during early negotiations.
Purslow controls the day-to-day running of the club and, as a source said, “the big things that really matter”.
Lange was in the background as Purslow and Sawiris dealt with the record-breaking transfer of Grealish to Manchester City, for example. It’s Purslow who irons out the big incomings at the club, too, with Lange and his team preparing all the background in advance.
With Villa achieving year-on-year improvement since 2018 — and also steady progress since Lange arrived — there’s a lot to admire about the work going on behind the scenes.
It’s fair to say he’s come a long way from those days in the shadows at Wolves.
(Top photo: Aston Villa/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images)
Tottenham forward Brennan Johnson has been ruled out because of the hamstring issue he sustained last weekend.
Midfielder James Maddison is training and should be available despite picking up a knock in the draw with Arsenal.
Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit again after missing four games with a hamstring problem.
Jurgen Klopp says that Stefan Bajcetic has a minor calf issue and that he will join compatriot Thiago on the sidelines.
Tottenham’s 4-1 win at Wembley in October 2017 is their only triumph in the 23 most recent meetings in all competitions.
The Reds are undefeated at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, winning three and drawing one of their four visits.
Liverpool have scored in 17 successive games against Spurs in all competitions since Jurgen Klopp’s first match in charge ended in a goalless Premier League draw at White Hart Lane in October 2015.
Tottenham are vying to go seven games unbeaten from the start a Premier League campaign for just the third time, after 12 games without defeat in 2016-17 and seven last season.
Spurs could score at least twice in each of their opening seven league matches. On the two previous occasions they achieved this – an 11-game run in the 1960-61 top-flight and a seven-match spell in the 1919-20 second tier – they went on to win the title.
Tottenham have claimed eight points from losing positions this season, bettered only by Liverpool’s tally of nine.
Ange Postecoglou is unbeaten in all 40 league home matches in charge of Celtic and Spurs, winning 35 and drawing five of those fixtures.
Son Heung-min has scored in each of his previous three Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
Liverpool are on a 17-game unbeaten run in the Premier League dating back to April last year, winning 12 and drawing five.
The Reds have earned seven consecutive victories in all competitions, scoring 20 goals but only keeping one clean sheet.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have conceded first in each of their past three away games but came back to win them all.
Liverpool have dropped points in 10 of their past 14 league visits to London (W4, D7, L3).
Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 15 goals in his past 12 Premier League appearances, scoring six and assisting nine.
Salah is vying to become the first player to register an assist in six successive Premier League away games.
Several stark indicators reflect how the mood at Tottenham Hotspur has been transformed in recent months — delirious fans, great football, people smiling, et cetera.
Daniel Levy being applauded, and in some cases cheered, onstage at a fans’ forum is the strangest one yet.
The man castigated, pilloried and booed by Spurs fans just a short time ago received a warm ovation as he joined men’s team head coach Ange Postecoglou and captain Son Heung-min and their women’s team counterparts Robert Vilahamn and Beth England last night for a Q&A at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, hosted by BBC broadcaster and Tottenham fan Nihal Arthanayake.
Yes, people still sing the odd anti-Levy song in the stands, but his reception at the Q&A reflected what a seemingly excellent managerial appointment and a few early-season wins will do.
Levy was speaking at this kind of event for the first time in six years and, while it is much easier to show candour and contrition when times are good, this was a crowd-pleasing appearance on the whole, with concessions, the admittance of mistakes, and even jokes.
So what are the key takeaways from what he said?
Mistakes over managers
It’s not a surprise to hear Levy admit to mistakes from Tottenham managers, but it was interesting to hear of the personal responsibility he felt after hiring Jose Mourinho and then Antonio Conte and still not seeing Spurs win a trophy.
He said: “The frustration of not winning and the pressure from maybe some players and a large element of the fanbase that we need to win, spend money, have a big manager, big name, it affected me. I had gone through a period where we’d almost won. With Mauricio, we went through some very good times. We didn’t quite get there but we came very close and we had a change in strategy.
“The strategy was, ‘Let’s bring in a trophy manager’. We did it twice. Look, you have to learn by the mistakes, they’re great managers but maybe not for this club. We want to play a certain way, and if that means it has to take a little bit longer to win, maybe it’s the right thing for us. That’s why bringing Ange in, from my point of view, was exactly the right decision.”
Postecoglou’s early success has eased the pressure on Levy (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
There was a subtle dig at one or both of Mourinho and Conte (Nuno Espirito Santo’s brief spell in between their two reigns having seemingly been airbrushed from history) when asked how and why he appointed Postecoglou.
“l like someone who tells me how it is, no one that plays games — says one thing to me and says one thing to someone else,” Levy said. The inference was clear.
He then added: “This club needed to go back to its roots. There was a lot of pressure on me to bring in somebody who was a big name et cetera, and I just wanted somebody that understood our DNA, that would play attacking football, that would give young players a chance, that would believe in the academy, would build a relationship with the fans, understood the resources we have and don’t have as a club — and be part of a team.”
It isn’t clear who the pressure he talks about was coming from, given most supporters seemed opposed to the hiring of another big name. Although as Postecoglou joked, his name is pretty big.
Kane’s buy-back clause
Buy-back clauses are fairly common in deals involving, say, a young academy graduate being sold because they can’t force their way into a first team; like, for example, Aston Villa insisting their £18.5million sale of Cameron Archer to Sheffield United this summer should include one.
Tottenham inserting one into Harry Kane’s rather more expensive sale to Bayern Munich isn’t a huge surprise, given the England captain’s love for his boyhood club and what seems a likelihood that the 30-year-old striker will play in the Premier League again before his career ends, but to hear Levy admit of its existence with a decisive “of course” when directly asked the question was an eyebrow raiser. He could easily have said he would prefer not to discuss the terms of the deal.
Levy was keen to let fans know Kane could return to Spurs (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
The buy-back fee and any possible timeframe the clause would need to be enacted by aren’t known, but Levy’s public admittance suggests that he and Kane parted on amicable terms, even if it was undoubtedly a frustrating and testing transfer to complete.
Secret meeting and late tension – the inside story of how Harry Kane left Tottenham for Bayern
Good times return to Spurs
Given the current mood, the questions from either Arthanayake or supporters were mostly of a positive nature.
Levy joked that new signing James Maddison needs a new car, because his current one is red (like the shirts of a certain club down the road). “James needs to learn he can’t come to the training ground in a red car. I’ve told him,” he said, before adding in a rather menacing tone: “He’ll learn.”
There was certainly an element of jumping on those positive vibes, the Postecoglou love-in, et cetera, with Levy pointing to the manager and earning a big cheer.
“We’ve got our Tottenham back,” Levy gushed. “I just feel we’re seeing football that we used to see and that’s all we want — to see the players give everything and play attacking football.
“We want the fans to have a connection with the players, and the staff to have a connection with the players. You feel it throughout the club, at this stadium on non-matchdays, at the training centre, we’re together. It’s so noticeable.”
Signing Maddison, right, has helped lift the mood at Spurs (Luke Walker via Getty Images)
Stadium naming rights
This wasn’t a Q&A of big revelations, but Levy did give an update on the ongoing lack of stadium naming rights, saying the process had been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and then suggesting he wants to build the Tottenham brand further via staging other sporting events, summer concerts et cetera, so as to attract the biggest possible name/deal.
“We want the right sponsor, in the right sector and the right price,” he said. “Unless we get that, we won’t put a name on the stadium.”
While that seems logical, it does mask a failure on his and the club’s part to bring in what would be a lucrative revenue stream over the past four years.
Ticket pricing review
There was applause when someone asked whether the lack of a naming-rights sponsor and the associated missed income had perhaps contributed to the recent increase in matchday ticket prices.
On the tickets, Levy said the club were facing increased costs and had absorbed as much as they could and would be reviewing prices as part of a “long-term strategy paper”.
But he certainly made no hint at a decrease in prices and was unapologetic about them going up.
“If we had other sources of income maybe we wouldn’t have had to do it,” he said in relation to naming rights, before adding: “We’re in a highly competitive industry and everything we do is to maximise the income to invest in the team.”
There were two questions about ticket prices, clearly still a sensitive issue for supporters, with protests having been held before the home game against Manchester United last month.
Spurs fans protesting ticket prices last month (Clive Rose via Getty Images)
“We’re all very conscious of the cost of coming to a football game,” Levy said when dodging a direct question of how much is too much to pay to watch Tottenham Hotspur. “We’re in the real world, the costs of operating have gone up significantly, we’re all facing difficult times and we have tried to resist the increase for fans and we will continue to do that.”
European Super League ‘disaster’
No apology for prices then, and also no contrition about the European Super League debacle in the spring of 2021, despite Levy admitting it was a disaster.
“We’ll always act in the best interests of the club,” Levy said. “I stand by the decision we made that we were prepared to have a conversation regarding the European Super League. It was not leaving the Premier League, it was about forming a new European league that would have continued at the same time as the Premier League.
“We failed, it was a disaster for lots of reasons, but I stand by my decision that I was acting in the best interests of the club.”
Steadfast and staunch. A typical Levy performance then, but one which chimes with where the club is at right now.
A popular new manager and an impressive start to the season have done wonders for the fanbase, but also for Levy, who was duly cheered off the stage too.
How times change.
Tottenham’s transfer window: Not enough to wash away disappointment of losing Kane
It is 6.38pm on Tottenham High Road but you would think the match had finished two minutes ago instead of an hour and a half.
They are still queuing out the door at Chick King, still stood outside the Brown Eagle glugging a pint or six, still heading into the club shop to buy Spurs merchandise.
They are singing Ange Postecoglou’s name, they are shouting things like; ‘Coooome on youuuuu Spuuuuurs’ and, most shockingly of all, they are… smiling?
These people look genuinely happy… and they are Spurs fans. Mad, right?
You might recall in May that Spurs were a punchline. They were a joke. The club with the best stadium in England, one of the best training grounds, one of the best strikers in the world and they finished eighth.
Spurs players celebrate the winner (Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
They were onto their third manager in three months, their managing director of football had resigned after being banned from the sport, in the stands they booed the team off, they chanted for Daniel Levy to go or they sat in apathetic silence, ashamed and humiliated.
At 5.09pm on Saturday after wild, delirious celebrations, after the players had run in unison to the South Stand, after Postecoglou had been serenaded from the field, they finally started to head for the exits some five minutes after game had ended. They sang all the way out, they sang on the concourses, they sang in the streets.
It was like this for the Manchester United home game a few weeks ago too. Things are very different at Spurs nowadays — in a couple of months the whole place has completely transformed.
And, yes, they are winning football matches and playing great football, but it is about much more than that.
They have, as they keep singing, got their Tottenham back. And there isn’t anything much more important to a football fan than having something to believe in — and to feel like they are part of a journey, something tangible.
They just didn’t have that last year. They had a manager who didn’t appear to believe in the club, so how could the fans?
Now they have a manager who defines success at the end of a season by how happy the fans are.
“It’s a pretty mad feeling at the moment,” season ticket holder Adam Nathan says. “We’re not an upper-class banter club anymore. Spurs are serious now. They play the right way and that leads to results.
“There’s a lot to cling to which makes it really exciting — that consistency of expectation versus the ‘what the f**k are we going to get’ we’ve had under the last few managers.
“It’s quite important to say there were games last year that people left feeling really excited, so it’s not like all of a sudden everything has completely changed. Now though there’s a level of almost expectant consistency of performance that is naturally exciting.
“Football fans aren’t difficult to please — if you get forward, look like you’re trying and have got players wearing the shirt not begrudgingly and look like they want to be there, it’s very easy to get behind.
Guglielmo Vicario leads the celebrations (Photo: Stephanie Meek – CameraSport via Getty Images)
“Whilst I think there’s a little bit of a narrative being built that it used to be so bad for four years that we’ve literally been buried under a rock of doom, we have had some good moments — especially under Conte, some great games — but the main difference now is there’s a general Monday-to-Sunday feel about Spurs that we’re going in the right direction.”
Sheffield United at home felt like a true test of the Postecoglou revolution. A home banker. Confident high flyers against relegation battlers. The team with the most shots taken in the league against the team with the most shots faced.
“I said, if Spurs are still truly Spurs, this is the exact game that we’ll lose, at home to, for me, the 19th worst team in the Premier League,” Spurs fan Ben says on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday night.
“The way we’re playing, this should have been a foregone conclusion but I said, ‘You know what’s going to happen — we’ll lose 1-0. So when it was half-time I thought; ‘I know what’s coming — we’ll lose 1-0’. When it was 1-0 I thought, ‘I know what’s coming — we’ll lose 1-0’.
“When 12 minutes were added on, that’s when I believed (we could win). The whole stadium today when that winner went in… unbelievable.”
The natural football fan disposition to expect things to go wrong — it runs deep with some at Spurs.
For many, it will need more than a home win over Sheffield United to gloss over years of underachievement. But the feeling right now, of liking and believing in players, of trusting in a manager, it feels fresh and it feels good.
“Messages have a far rosier disposition this year than for the last three or four,” Adam adds. “Your mood for the week is dedicated by what happened on a Saturday, Sunday. Last year it was desolation.
“There has been a fervour for the past couple of weeks for this game to come around. You did wonder, with the manager-of-the-month curse, it might be after the Lord Mayor’s show.
“It’s almost annoying to have such a big game coming up next Sunday because you can’t enjoy any of this week. Derby week takes a whole different complexion.”
Ah yes, the derby. Arsenal away next Sunday. If Spurs win there for the first time in 13 years you know they’re really on to something…
Today marks 100 days since Ange Postecoglou was appointed as Tottenham Hotspur head coach. And so, borrowing from the tradition of US presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly reflected on his first 100 days in office in 1933, this feels like an opportune moment to take stock of Postecoglou’s start with Spurs.
He didn’t technically begin in the role until a few weeks later, on July 1, but from the moment Postecoglou was appointed, he has been working tirelessly to oversee a revolution at the north London club. So we’re going with June 6 as our inauguration day.
And continuing the presidential analogy, a big part of Postecoglou’s appeal to Spurs was his suitability as the change candidate.
“Change” has been a word and a theme Postecoglou has returned to again and again since taking charge. Ahead of the game against Bournemouth a few weeks ago, for instance, he said: “If you want to change, you have to change. You can’t keep doing everything the same and expect a different outcome. It’s pretty obvious.
“Unless I change things — personnel or staff or manner of playing — then what am I doing? I’m definitely not that arrogant to think that just me walking in is going to give us success. You have to actually make meaningful change. That’s what the club wanted. By appointing me, I presume they wanted to go in a different direction.”
He later said: “What I tried to do, from the first day they (the players) walked in here, is to show them that it’s a different place and give them the opportunity to see whether that helps them get to a good place in terms of their own confidence and own self-belief.
“Coming into this year, I didn’t want anybody carrying the baggage or the burden of what’s gone on in the past. There’s no point in that. I don’t (do that). I come in with the energy that it’s something new and an exciting opportunity and that’s what I want the players to feel like.”
So, what changes has Postecoglou put in place over these 100 days? And how have they contributed to Tottenham’s excellent start to the 2023-24 Premier League? From tweaks to pre-match preparations, to shorter team meetings and more varied training sessions, this is how the Australian is delivering the changes he was brought in to make.
A cultural shift
One aspect Spurs insiders have picked up on with Postecoglou is that, unlike predecessor Antonio Conte, he is committed to transforming the culture of the club, even if that means ripping things up and starting again.
That stance may lead to some tricky weeks and months, but Postecoglou’s commitment to the project means he is willing to take some short-term hits if doing so results in long-term benefits. The sense with Conte was he was more short-termist in his thinking, believing that to remain as one of Europe’s most sought-after managers he couldn’t afford a bad period or season results-wise at Tottenham.
“Culture” subsequently became one of the main buzzwords during the managerial search that ended with them hiring Postecoglou away from Scottish champions Celtic in June. Having someone who could improve and fundamentally change the culture at Spurs was one of the key things Tottenham were looking for in Conte’s successor. In Postecoglou, they appear to have found the perfect person for this.
It is a term that means different things to different people, so what in this instance do Postecoglou’s cultural changes look like?
One of them is about empowering the players and other staff.
The Spurs dressing room has often been characterised as being filled with people who lack motivation and leadership, and who will always find something to complain about. This was the thrust of Conte’s “excuse, excuse, excuse” rant when he threw the players, along with pretty much everyone else connected with the club, under the bus in his valedictory monologue back in March.
Postecoglou sees things differently, and believes the best way to get the most from this squad is to empower them and give the players more responsibility. For home games, for instance, Postecoglou has tweaked things so that the night before a home match, players and staff get to sleep in their own bed rather than assembling at the training ground to use the on-site accommodation. They then make their way individually to the stadium from their residences.
Spurs players now make their own way to home matches (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
The idea is to give the players, as well as staff, one less night away from their families, trusting them with preparing the right way and having them feeling more relaxed than they would do staying at the hotel which is part of the training complex’s Lodge.
This tweak is all part of Postecoglou’s desire to empower the players.
One of his key messages to them has been that the dressing room is their space, and that he wants the players to drive the cultural changes needed at the club.
“A lot of it has to be player-driven,” Postecoglou told UK radio station talkSPORT on Tuesday. “I can sit there and paint the prettiest of pictures but they need to believe in it, they have to buy into it. As I keep saying, it’s their dressing room. They go there every day. I don’t go into the dressing room. And the environment is going to be key to us being successful. It has to be driven by them — they are the people involved — the people, not the players.”
Postecoglou has a similar attitude when it comes to his coaching staff, all of whom are in their thirties and none of whom has worked with him before.
“He’s very good at delegating,” says a dressing-room source speaking anonymously to protect relationships. “He wants to empower people and give them proper responsibility.” For instance Mile Jedinak, who captained Australia’s national team to win the 2015 Asian Cup under Postecoglou, is entrusted with sitting up in the stands with the analysts and then reporting back to him and the rest of the coaches. Conte’s brother Gianluca performed a similar role but was principally an analyst rather than a coach.
Giving his colleagues a sense of ownership and responsibility is a key tenet of Postecoglou’s leadership philosophy, and this extends to other departments as well. Be it masseurs, analysts or any employee, Postecoglou will not interfere, trusting that they know their area of expertise a lot better than he does.
Equally, though, they know he will have their back and not throw them under the bus in public.
“He will have oversight and when it comes to the big decisions, he’ll make them and stick to them,” says another source. Postecoglou has said repeatedly that the ultimate responsibility for whether he is a success at Spurs lies with him.
Many have contrasted this with Conte’s farewell press conference. Though it should be pointed out in among all the criticisms that while Conte’s methods did not ultimately work at Spurs, they have been successful elsewhere, and at Tottenham during his first season in charge. But clearly by the time he left there were many issues for his successor to resolve — one of which was a feeling among some staff that there was not enough regard for their wellbeing.
Medical staff for instance were questioned in public by Conte more than once, while a complaint across the board was that schedules were always liable to change at the last minute so it became difficult for people to have a life away from the club. Part of that is the all-or-nothing nature of working for a big Premier League club, but Postecoglou’s natural empathy has seen him take steps to address this issue.
Staff are now given a schedule for a month at a time, specifying days off and when training will be. Timings may change slightly where necessary, but this is a lot more foresight than there used to be under Conte. And on the pre-season tour to Australia, Thailand and Singapore, staff appreciated the change from last summer’s corresponding trip in South Korea, when timings were always liable to change at the very last minute.
Some of those who work at the training ground have also told The Athletic that Postecoglou has made an effort to introduce himself and speak to them, in a way that none of Mauricio Pochettino’s other three permanent successors — Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Conte — did. “The mood has been transformed,” says one source, while others point to the simple fact that they now enjoy going to work again.
Uniting a fractured club was another of Postecoglou and Spurs’ priorities this summer, and while there is still plenty to do, with issues that go beyond him needing to be resolved, he has made an encouraging start in this regard.
When it comes to the players, Postecoglou holds far fewer team meetings than his predecessor. Now in a six-day week, there tend to be no more than four meetings compared to daily ones under Conte. They are also more concise. Under Conte, they could last for up to an hour; now they are typically 15 to 20 minutes in duration.
Training sessions are similarly shorter, and don’t drag on longer than the allotted time, as happened quite often with Conte in charge.
They are also not as rigid, and less focused on running and tactical drills. Postecoglou likes to vary the exercises the players are put through, and there tends to be a competitive element with intense small-sided games. With Conte, there would be solid blocks of running and defensive shape work, which would often be worked on until he was satisfied it was being done correctly.
Postecoglou with Son Heung-min after the 5-2 win at Burnley (Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Postecoglou’s communication with the players is very different too.
As The Athletic has explored, his skill as an orator is one of the new coach’s great strengths and it is something that has already made a big impression at Spurs. Some at Tottenham say his team talks are the best they’ve ever heard and commend his ability to deliver tactical messages with clarity and authority, and also to be able to connect with the players emotionally when talking about aspects of the game such as attitude or reacting to adversity. It combines to leave them extremely fired up.
Perhaps one of Postecoglou’s biggest differences from his up-and-down predecessor is how he remains on an even keel, and doesn’t get too high or too low. Postecoglou is often characterised as a paternal figure, and something you hear again and again in relation to good parenting is the importance of consistency. This just wasn’t the case under Conte, when players and staff were never quite sure how he would react to a given situation. That volatility ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Postecoglou is much more measured, and also consistent, in how he treats different people. The message ahead of the pre-season tour that began his reign was that everyone was starting with a clean slate, and that he wouldn’t be prejudging anyone. So it has proved, with stalwarts such as Dier marginalised and others, including Ivan Perisic, who appeared to be on their way out reintegrated into the group.
Knowing that every selection is being made only on merit is a good way of ensuring that even if players are disappointed to be dropped, they know there was nothing personal in the decision. Dier is a good example of someone who has not been selected, but is determined to fight for his place.
Postecoglou has also decided that even the players not making matchday squads, like Dier and Lloris, still train with the first team. There has not been a “bomb squad”, unlike under previous managers.
Changes on the pitch
We’re only four games in, so nobody at Spurs is getting too carried away by the encouraging start to the season, but club insiders have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the players have taken to Postecoglou’s methods.
One theory is that many became so disillusioned towards the end of Conte’s time in charge that they were especially receptive to something different.
And even without that context, those who have played under Postecoglou previously say that having training sessions and a way of playing that is so enjoyable is extremely motivating.
“When you’re part of a team that’s defensive and just wants to defend, that can sort of dim the mood,” says one of his former Australia players, Adam Taggart, now a striker at A-League side Perth Glory and formerly of Fulham and Dundee United. “Likewise, it’s the opposite when you’re with Ange and constantly trying to play attacking football. It just makes it so enjoyable and you’re more willing to put the work in.”
The Tottenham players certainly look like they’re enjoying themselves and putting the work in, and it has been remarkable to see how quickly they’ve adapted to playing in a completely different way from last season: a new formation, a new approach and many new players.
Internally at the club, there’s a lot of satisfaction at how well Spurs are performing in metrics such as total distance covered, high-speed running and sprint distance. The intensity of their football has seen comparisons made with Liverpool in the manic early days under Jurgen Klopp eight years ago.
In the 2-0 win at Bournemouth for instance, their running numbers were said to be exceptionally high, with multiple players covering more than 13 kilometres in the game (typically, an outfielder who plays 90-plus minutes will cover between 10 and 11 kilometres in a Premier League match, according to data from SkillCorner). Tottenham’s deceptive intensity is something to keep an eye on as this season unfolds.
And to have hit the ground running like this has been especially satisfying given the concerns at losing one pre-season friendly to bad weather and having to face Singapore side Lion City Sailors rather than leading Italian club Roma in another; a credit to those short but sharp training sessions.
Again, it is early days and given we’re only talking about four games, we should be wary of making too many direct comparisons between this season and the last one, but it is revealing looking at some of Spurs’ metrics from that dismal campaign.
For example, their average PPDA (passes per defensive action) was 13.8 last season, meaning that they allowed the opposition to make an average of 13.8 passes before attempting to win back the ball. That was only the 14th most active pressing figure of the 20 Premier League teams (the higher the number, the less active the press). This season, it is down to 10.3 (the fourth-most active press), suggesting that Tottenham have been more aggressive off the ball in these opening four games.
Another noticeable aspect is an increased dominance of the ball in advanced areas, which we can see with field tilt — a metric that measures the share of a game’s total passes in the final third that a team make. So, for example, if team A play 80 passes in the final third, and team B 20, team A has a field tilt of 80 per cent for that match.
The Athletic’s football analytics glossary: explaining xG, PPDA, field tilt and how to use them
Last season, Spurs’ field tilt was 42.9 per cent (16th in the league), so far this year, it is 60.6 per cent (fifth), showing that they’ve so far been able to consistently take control of their games in a way that was a rarity in 2022-23.
Their pass network from the opening weekend’s 2-2 draw with Brentford (below) helps to illustrate this, and also to show that inverted full-backs can get close to important attacking players and add value to the build-up. All of this has contributed to Tottenham having 17-plus shots in all four games (they averaged 13.6 last season).
In that first game against Brentford, meanwhile, they ended the game with 358 touches in the attacking third — more than in any of their 38 Premier League outings last season, when their highest number was 319.
Postecoglou’s use of two very attacking full-backs in Pedro Porro and Destiny Udogie has been symbolic of this more enterprising approach.
It was striking in Singapore to see his reaction when asked whether he could play the pair in the same team. Postecoglou seemed genuinely bemused by why anyone would have any doubts about playing the two together, coming across as excited and privileged by the prospect rather than apprehensive. “If you’re asking me if those two can play at full-back, yeah absolutely,” he replied. “I would love them to play full-back (together).”
Udogie’s selection has also reflected Postecoglou’s belief that age is not a barrier if a player is felt to be good enough.
He has been greatly excited by the clutch of young players in the squad at Spurs and the last three games have seen starts for Udogie (20 years old, with no prior Premier League experience), Pape Matar Sarr (20, two Premier League starts before this season) and Micky van de Ven (22, never played in English football before). And after the sale of Davinson Sanchez and the reduced role of Dier so far, the main backup to centre-backs Romero and Van de Ven is the 18-year-old Ashley Phillips. Spurs’ seven summer signings were all aged between 18 and 26.
Conte’s natural inclination was often to go for the tried and tested, hence the signing of the then 33-year-old Perisic, who he had coached at Inter.
But Postecoglou has always seen things a little differently from most coaches when it comes to how much to trust young players. “Over my time I’d found that the earlier promising players are thrown into the mix, the better for everyone,” Postecoglou wrote in his 2016 book Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes. “The better players will really thrive and the strugglers will be found out, and no further resources will be used up on them.”
Postecoglou’s interest in younger players has extended to the Spurs academy, where the junior sides are adopting a similar style to the one used by his first team.
Rediscovering the unity between the seniors and academy that has been lost since the days of Pochettino and former academy head John McDermott was another big part of the Tottenham job spec when they were recruiting a new manager this summer. Especially given how much of a chasm opened up under Conte, with one source telling The Athletic in April that academy players called up to train with the first team were “just there as cones”.
It is early (only 100) days, but so far Postecoglou is delivering on his promise of change. And here’s maybe the most significant alteration: ahead of matches like Saturday’s home fixture against Sheffield United, fans are counting down the minutes until kick-off rather than dreading what they’re about to see.