Opportunity knocks for Bryan Gil as Tottenham toil without Dejan Kulusevski

Opportunity knocks for Bryan Gil as Tottenham toil without Dejan Kulusevski

The strain on Tottenham’s weary squad is unlikely to ease in the coming days, with Saturday’s visit to Bournemouth now quickly followed by a must-not-lose Champions League decider at Marseille on Tuesday.

The return of Dejan Kulusevski would improve the situation, and he is hopeful of being in contention to travel to France, but Antonio Conte will not take any risks with the Swede.

Tottenham’s lack of creativity without Kulusevski is glaring, and his absence too often leaves their attack clunky and lifeless, even when £60million signing Richarlison has deputised.

In the six League games Kulusevski has started, Spurs are unbeaten, averaging 2.6 goals and 2.3 points per match. In the six League games without him, they have lost three times — including the back-to-back defeats to Manchester United and Newcastle — and averaged 1.1 goals and 1.5 points.

Wednesday’s draw with Sporting was another disjointed display, but if there was a positive for Conte it came in a lively 30-minute cameo from Bryan Gil, who suggested he could be an answer for the Kulusevski-shaped hole on the right of Spurs’ front three.

The question now is whether Conte’s view has been sufficiently changed to consider Gil a viable option against the Cherries and in future, having suggested he is not physically capable of holding his own in English football. It feels like no coincidence Gil’s only minutes this season have come in Europe.

“Gil is a really good prospect,” said Conte, after the winger won a penalty in another impressive five-minute cameo in the win over Eintracht Frankfurt earlier this month. “He is becoming stronger, physically, because in this moment the only gap he has for the Premier League is physical.”

Against Frankfurt, and particularly Sporting, Gil added verve and unpredictability to Spurs’ forward play with his pace and ability to change direction and commit opponents. In his favour, like Kulusevski he is left-footed, and on Wednesday night he stepped inside from the right to deliver the kind of whipped, in-swinging cross which Spurs have missed since before the September international break.

Admittedly, none found their target and Gil is still raw, but he looked among the likeliest Spurs players to engineer a breakthrough and won the corner from which Rodrigo Bentancur rose to head home a precious equaliser.

His bright cameo was in contrast to Lucas Moura’s difficult outing on his first start since May, following a long-term tendon injury. The Brazilian’s touch was heavy and he was rarely in step with his team-mates, only proving useful when he moved to the right and allowed Matt Doherty and, latterly, Gil to step inside.

Bryan Gil is yet to feature in the Premier League this season. (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
Bryan Gil is yet to feature in the Premier League this season. (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

With Kulusevski and Richarlison expected to remain sidelined at Bournemouth, if Conte is determined to persist with his preferred 3-4-3 formation, Gil is a more exciting option than Lucas to play on the right, although he will surely find it harder to impress when not faced with weary opponents on the back foot.

Another appearance from the bench is the likeliest outcome, particularly as one lively showing in Europe will not have eradicated Conte’s fears.

Longer term, if Gil can beef up enough to genuinely be a viable understudy to Kulusevski — and that remains a big if when he has not played in the Premier League since January — it would save Spurs considerable money and effort.

Conte was considering sending the Spain international out on loan again in January, with Valencia possible suitors, having taken him for the second half of last season before trying again over the summer. Gil would have only been allowed to go if Spurs could bring in a like-for-like replacement, which would have proved difficult and likely expensive mid-season.

Now, though, the Spaniard may have a brief window in which to help ease Spurs’ creativity problems and the burden on their strained squad, as well as potentially write his own future.