The most anxious moments for many Tottenham supporters during Sunday’s north London derby were not after either Arsenal goal, nor during the hosts’ spell of stoppage-time pressure, but when James Maddison went down clutching his knee in the second half.
Maddison jarred his right leg in a challenge with Jorginho, and replays made for uncomfortable viewing.
For a moment, it looked like something might have popped, but Maddison was able to continue after treatment and left the Emirates without crutches, albeit walking a little gingerly. Spurs are assessing him but hope it is nothing serious.
Eight of Postecoglou’s players have started all six League games, and since the opening-day draw with Brentford the head coach has made only two changes to his XI, bringing in Manor Solomon for Richarlison against Burnley and Sheffield United, then Brennan Johnson for the Israeli on Sunday.
Spurs already have an established XI and, without European football or further Carabao Cup games, it is unlikely to change significantly before January, provided everyone remains fit.
Aside from the front three, where Richarlison, Solomon and Johnson are competing for one spot alongside Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski, there appears relatively little in the way of genuine competition for places.
Emerson Royal, Ben Davies, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Fraser Forster are all valued squad players, but it is doubtful if they have the technical qualities to play Postecoglou’s fast, high-risk football as effectively as his starters, while Ivan Perisic, who was emerging as an excellent Plan B, has been sidelined for the season with anterior cruciate ligament damage.
The return of Rodrigo Bentancur from his own ACL injury — as well as perhaps Giovani Lo Celso — would improve Postecoglou’s midfield options, provided the Uruguayan can get back to speed relatively quickly, but the head coach has admitted Spurs would not have the depth for Europe this season.
“We want to be in the Champions League,” Postecoglou said at last Tuesday’s fans’ forum. “To do that, you need a strong squad. You get injuries, you have midweek games. We’d be playing Champions League tonight or tomorrow, and with the squad we have now, we probably wouldn’t be able to cope with it. That’s the reality.”
Postecoglou has also acknowledged that Spurs are at least one centre-half short, but they might struggle to keep playing his football if they lost a single player from the spine of the team —from goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, who sets the tone with his brave passing out from the back, to captain Son.
Postecoglou is relaxed about the situation — “We need to keep building the squad, it was never going to happen in one window,” he said last week — and there is acknowledgment at the club that they have taken a risk over depth, given the lightness of their schedule.
The possibilities for Spurs long-term appear limitless if they stick with Postecoglou and back him, but their short-term prospects probably hinge on being uncommonly lucky with injuries.