Oliver Skipp averts Tottenham midfield crisis with key role in top-four scrap
It was late July, the day before Tottenham’s penultimate pre-season friendly, when Oliver Skipp went up for a header with a team-mate in training and was caught painfully as they landed.
Skipp was left with a deep cut in his foot, requiring several stitches, and the wound was so gruesome that several of his team-mates had to look away as he received treatment on the Hotspur Way pitches.
The midfielder also suffered a hairline fracture to his heel, and would not return to action until October, as a substitute in Spurs’s north London derby defeat at Arsenal.
For Skipp, the freak injury was terribly timed. The 22-year-old was on the way to proving his fitness to Antonio Conte after spending the second half of last season sidelined with a niggling pelvis injury, which sent the Spurs head coach to war with the club’s medical staff.
Before then, Skipp had been an important player for Conte, starting nine of the Italian’s first 12 games in charge, but his pelvis problem, coupled with the January signing of Rodrigo Bentancur, meant Spurs quickly moved on without him.
Conte remained doubtful about Skipp’s sharpness in the first half of this season, restricting him to just two League starts before the World Cup, and bringing him off before the hour in both, and one in the League Cup.
Until late last month, the young midfielder appeared on course for a wasted campaign, but injuries to Bentancur and Yves Bissouma, who will both be out for the rest of the season, presented Skipp with an opportunity, which he has grasped with both hands.
Having been thrust into the side at the San Siro for last month’s Champions League tie against AC Milan, Skipp has completed 90 minutes in all but one of Spurs’s last seven matches, and is finally rediscovering his form and confidence.
The crisis prophesied by the loss of Bissouma and Bentancur has not materialised, and Skipp has helped Spurs to take hold of the race for fourth with wins over Chelsea, in which he scored his first goal for the club, West Ham and Nottingham Forest.
The crisis prophesied by the loss of Bissouma and Bentancur has not materialised, and Skipp has helped Spurs to take hold of the race for fourth
He also impressed in both legs against Milan and was one of the players rested — catastrophically — for the FA Cup defeat at Sheffield United.
In Saturday’s 3-1 win over Forest, Skipp was eye-catching again and unlucky not to register a superb assist, when his raking pass was finished emphatically by Richarlison, only for the Brazilian’s first Premier League goal for Spurs to be ruled out by the VAR for a fractional offside.
Skipp helped Spurs to dominate a meek Forest side, constantly showing for the ball in tight areas, spraying passes around the pitch and providing a platform, along with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, for Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Richarlison.
Kane scored twice and Son added a third after Richarlison’s early disallowed effort, before Joe Worrall hit back for Forest and Fraser Forster saved an Andre Ayew penalty. Skipp earned a standing ovation when replaced and if Spurs are to maintain their push to return to the Champions League, and salvage something from a disappointing season, Skipp feels key for the final 11 games.
Having outgrown the England Under-21s, he will also have his eye on a senior call-up and should be on Gareth Southgate’s radar ahead of the next European Championship, even if this month’s internationals are likely to come too soon.