The best teams are bursting with variety, and Tottenham’s thrashing of Newcastle on Sunday suggests that Ange Postecoglou’s side are developing some encouraging options across the pitch, despite the perceived shallowness of their squad.
It was a big afternoon for Richarlison, who scored either side of half-time — his first Spurs goals with his feet — to potentially kick-start his season and get one over Callum Wilson after sparring with the Newcastle forward last term.
The real key to Tottenham’s first win in six matches, though, was Postecoglou’s decision to move captain Heung-min Son back to the left flank after a run of 12 straight games as a centre-forward.
Son savaged his former Spurs team-mate Kieran Trippier, twice skinning the full-back to create goals for Destiny Udogie, his first for the club, and Richarlison. The Korean won and converted a late penalty having moved back through the middle before Joelinton’s stoppage-time consolation for Newcastle.
After scoring a hat-trick in the 5-2 win over Burnley in September, Son appeared to be entering a new phase of his career as an elite central striker, the heir apparent to Harry Kane, but his display yesterday was a reminder he remains a devastating winger, too.
“Looking at the last few weeks, most of our chances and opportunities have fallen to the wide players,” said Postecoglou. “Sonny’s still our best finisher and I thought getting him back on the left would give us some more avenues to score. Sonny set the tone early on and the rest of the lads fed off him.”
Richarlison, meanwhile, looked more comfortable back up front on his first start since groin surgery last month, and Postecoglou revealed the Brazilian, who said in September he would seek psychological help for difficulties on and off the pitch, was better physically and mentally since the operation.
Richarlison finished Son’s cut-back and converted from Pedro Porro’s outstanding pass to make it 3-0 in the second half. “Richy was important to us at the start of the year too, but he wasn’t fully fit,” Postecoglou said.
“At times we had to play him out wide just to get him through games. Since he’s come back, it’s fair to say he feels a lot better physically and that’s helped him mentally as well.”
With Brennan Johnson, who twice struck the woodwork, switching from the left flank to the right and completing Spurs’s front three, Dejan Kulusevski dropped back to the midfield and was outstanding, showing no ill-effects from the broken nose he suffered against West Ham which forced him into a protective mask.
Although Kulusevski appeared to be playing at No10 again, afterwards he insisted he was on the left.
Whatever the case, like Son and Richarlison, the Swede is showing useful versatility, and when James Maddison is fit, Postecoglou will have another player who is comfortable in two or three different positions.
Liverpool’s biggest strength this season is surely the sheer depth of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking options: Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota are all competing for two places next to Mohammed Salah, and it is similar at Manchester City.
Spurs, by contrast, have long felt far too predictable and, as recently as a week or two ago, Postecoglou’s XI effectively picked itself.
Suddenly, with the return from injury of Richarlison and Pape Matar Sarr — also outstanding on Sunday — and the emergence of Kulusevski and Giovani Lo Celso as midfield options, Postecoglou’s squad has increasing variety.
The club hopes Maddison and Micky van de Ven will be fit again in January, while Manor Solomon and Rodrigo Bentancur should also be available later in the New Year and Ivan Perisic will never give up hope of playing again this season.
"It is no coincidence that now we are getting some players back we are starting to look a lot stronger"
“I have probably been too hard on [the players] in retrospect, we got decimated after the Chelsea game,” Postecoglou said.
“And it is no coincidence that now we are getting some players back we are starting to look a lot stronger.
“I don’t know how many positions Deki Kulusevski has played. Ben Davies has turned into a centre-back now, we had Emerson [Royal] at centre-back.”
Spurs face another tricky period next month, when Sarr and Yves Bissouma will be absent at the Africa Cup of Nations and Son at the Asian Games.
If, though, Spurs can come out of this injury crisis with more options across the squad, it may prove beneficial in the long run.