In this blog @rachellaracohen reflects on Spurs Women’s crucial upcoming game.
If Spurs Women win against Reading this Saturday we are safe in the WSL for another year.
Lose or Draw and, depending on goal difference and how Reading perform against Chelsea in their last game, Spurs may require a point away at West Ham on the final day.
There are some other scenarios involving Leicester and Brighton (currently one place above and one place below us) but they are less likely to occur.
For those who like calculating such things there is even an outside chance that West Ham are relegated but that involves a complicated scenario of Reading and Leicester winning all their next games, Brighton beating Everton (but losing to Leicester) and Tottenham losing to Reading and then beating West Ham. It also requires that Reading wins their games by big margins and/or that West Ham lose heavily.
The complications of relegation scenarios aside, the big take-away is that Spurs’ upcoming game matters.
The fact that it will be the second game in a double header is a whole other issue.
That there are issues that span the club, for instance that neither Spurs men’s nor women’s teams have a permanent manager nor an obvious plan, is another.
But for now, let us focus on how the team ended up in this relegation battle and what might happen on the pitch on Saturday.
How we got here
Let’s start by remembering what a total shit-show this year has been.
First off, while everyone is now focused on Arsenal’s injury crisis (with the team suffering another serious injury just this week) there was a period earlier in the season when Spurs had four players out with ACLs, and another handful with long-term injuries. We were not always told what the injuries were because the club operates in relative secrecy (although this has improved with Jepson taking the helm) but also because there is less media interest in injuries to players at a middling WSL team, especially where none of the injured players are Lionesses, nor even golden boot contenders. In the midst of all this one of our summer signings (Ramona Petzelberger) disappeared for eight months before returning in our last game to play a few minutes against Manchester United.
And then there was the bad luck. This season has been a revelation in how many things can go wrong all at once.
Like when we beat Brighton 8-0 and were cock-a-hoot, due to play Everton the next weekend at home. But a waterlogged pitch meant the game was cancelled. So, instead our next game – four weeks and an international break later and all momentum gone – was Chelsea away. Spurs lost that game 3-0. And, a month later, when we finally played Everton, it was a dark snowy rail-strike hit Wednesday evening and everything that could go wrong did go wrong, losing that one 3-0 as well.
The bad luck was not just around postponements, but also related to losing important players to suspensions at bad times. Neville was suspended for a foul committed in response to herself being fouled in the dying minutes that same Everton game. As a result she missed the game against Villa that we lost by a single goal. A few weeks later Eveliina Summanen, increasingly our most important midfielder, got retrospectively suspended for ‘that’ red card incident against Manchester United, something that no-one in women’s football had ever been suspended for before, and missed two winnable games: Reading in the FA Cup (we lost on penalties) and Liverpool in the league (we lost by a goal).
And you could argue the team was unlucky in having to face a series of top four teams just as things were starting to improve on the pitch at the start of 2023. This meant that the run of defeats that had begun pre-Christmas was extended and as it did it became more and more of a weight – with players clearly under pressure and committing mistake after mistake.
Injury and bad luck notwithstanding there has undoubtedly been bad decision making, and things going wrong on the field. Most critically, as discussed in the pre-Christmas period, players who do not seem to understand where each other will be. There has also been a widespread lack of fitness which has impacted both layers’ ability to win contested balls, and has also meant that at any one time, throughout the season, about half the squad were on managed minutes. The consequence has been a season in which team selection and substitution decisions have more often depended on player availability than tactics.
There have been signs of improvement in the period since Christmas. Not just the introduction of Beth England – although the impact she has had cannot be understated. But beyond her we have seen moments, even longer periods, when players seem to be finding each other in space, predicting runs, lining up as if they know what they are doing. But these periods have not yet been sustained enough to extend across an entire game, let alone span games.
The upcoming game
For the first time this season, it looks like Spurs will have a full, or nearly full, squad on Saturday.
Meaning that there are actual options – tactical choices.
Given the relegation fight, and that what is necessary is to come away with a point, it is likely that the Interim Manager, Vicky Jepson, will set the team up relatively conservatively.
Unlike her predecessor, Rehanne Skinner who used a back-three in some games, especially against bigger teams, Jepson has stuck with a back four with Molly Bartrip and Shelina Zadorsky as the central pairing when available. Given that Reading is not the most attack-minded of teams it is likely she will do this again. But if the focus is on not losing (rather than winning) we may see Neville starting as a fullback rather than being given the freedom to roam forward. That would be a shame but for a crucial game makes sense. If that is the case, it may be that Kerys Harrop starts on the other wing. She is not the paciest of strikers but is a more natural full back than Amy Turner with excellent positional sense and the ability to contribute to the attack. She also had a very good game when she came on as a substitute against Reading in the reverse fixture. Turner has, however, heretofore been un-droppable (starting every single WSL game) so this would be a first start on the bench if it happens.
Asmita Ale, the other option at fullback, has had almost no minutes under Jepson. That is a shame, as she is an excellent young player who started the year strongly. She even played well in her last full 90 – against Aston Villa away, when she was one of Spurs’ best players. But the only start she has had under Jepson were 59 minutes in the draw against against Aston Villa at home. With a three-month gap since her last start, it was unsurprising that she started the game a little rusty but improved as it went on. The risk is that if she is not getting game-time and with her contract up this summer, Ale may leave Spurs. That said, given that she has been out of favour, and if Jepson sees her as a risk, it is unlikley she will use her much in this game given its importance.
It is unclear what determines who is in goal. If it’s about ensuring our two keepers have equal game-time (they played 11 games each last season) then we will see Becky Spencer between the sticks, as she has to date played in 9 games; Tinni Korpela has played in 11. If it is about form, then Korpela’s calmness and shot-stopping against Manchester United may see her preferred. Her save percentage is also currently about 20 percentage points higher than Spencer’s.
Across Spurs’ previous games against Reading (we have played them three times this season: winning, losing and drawing – in that order) we have struggled to win midfield battles, and it is likely that these will again prove crucial. In this game Spurs’ midfield lineup may hinge on where Jepson decides to play Eveliina Summanen. We understand that she was dropped for the Manchester United game to ensure she did not pick up a yellow card suspension in that game which would have meant that she was unable to start this game. But that game showed how much less control we have with her out of the team so we will need Summanen at her combative and hard-running best if Spurs are going to get hold of – and keep – the ball against Reading. If she starts in a holding midfield position it would be good see her partnered with either Ria Percival (who looks to have come back from injury with all her tenacity intact) or Drew Spence (who can swing between being easily our best player and invisible).
But Jepson may opt to play Summanen as a number 10. This is a position from which she has shown that she is effective at leading the press (Spurs have otherwise been poor at pressing high). She has also scored three times in the three games in which she played 10 to England’s 9. If Summanen does play higher Jepson may then opt for Percival and Spence as holding midfielders behind her. Or she may bring in Angharad James to play alongside either of them. James has had moments since joining Spurs last summer, with flashes of passing vision and her effort cannot be criticised, but has been inconsistent and at times seems flustered on the ball. Whether that is down to how she is being used or her as a player is unclear.
Alternatively, if Summanen plays further back, there is scope to give Kit Graham another start. Graham was one of only a few players to impress in the game against Manchester United. Her vision produced two excellent through balls that lead to Spurs’ only chances in an otherwise barren first half.
Looking to the wings Spurs have a plethora of options. But it essentially boils down to a choice between more technical players (Celin Bizet and Mana Iwabuchi most obviously) and more speedy players (Jess Naz and Rosella Ayane). In the last game Jepson chose to have one of each on the pitch, with Bizet and Naz starting. Since they did decently in the time they had, it may be that they have done enough to claim their berths against Reading. When she came on as a substitute for Naz, Ayane looked stronger than she has done in earlier games this season and impressed with her speed and ability to run with the ball. But she still seems to lack awareness of other players, too often playing with her head down – indeed it is the combination of this with her undoubted potential that makes Ayane so frustrating to fans. Iwabuchi also got minutes against United but seemed a little off the pace and lacking strength on the ball. This is a little surprising since these were attributes she posessed in her first games after she joined Spurs.
There is, of course, no discussion about selecting the striker: Bethany England. Spurs’ saviour. Or she will be, if Spurs are saved.
If, however, we get to the point where Spurs really need a goal, or where we are on top and can play more attacking football, I hope that Jepson gives Nikola Karczewska a chance. We know that she has goals in her, that defences find her difficult and that her hold up play is impressive. It would be good to have an opportunity to see what she can do, ideally playing as a second striker.
The good news is that, even while Spurs are far from the finished item, and while the season has been painful at best, and that even now the team is yet to find an identity, Spurs do finally have a range of players available who can be introduced and, especially going forward, can create new problems.
This is exciting. And I hope we see Jepson making the most of it – making early changes if needed and using all five substitutes to affect what is happening on the pitch. It does not sound like a lot, but if this were to happen it would mark a major step forward, even while the time left in the season to develop the team is all but gone.
Most importantly, a deeper squad with options for the formation, lineup and substitutions mean that it is that much more likely that we come away with three points. If we do we can all exhale. We can even go to Spurs’ final game of the season – a potentially tricky trip to Chigwell Construction Stadium – and enjoy a game that does not matter at all.
If you’ve got thoughts about Spurs’ upcoming game you can comment below.
Rachel Lara Cohen is on twitter at @spurswomenblog
6 Replies to “This one matters.”
Another great report Rachel but there is no point wishing this or that as it is clear to me the majority of our squad whether back from injury or not are just not good enough and it shows this season … RS and VJ keep picking the same misfits … Ayanne Naz James Turner Harrop Ubogagu Cho (even Spence blows hot and cold) and often they just never turn up whenever they get chosen. Picking 11 games for Spencer is short of being Kamikaze between the sticks and we shoul have got a better keeper in 2 seasons ago. Another, Ayanne for example ghosts around the pitch as if she is a prima donna player and does not even track back to defend when she loses a hard press turnover. Harrop is past her prime and cannot handle the young wingers in the WSL .. this means our whole left side is non existant. Turner is finding playing our build from the back as a massive learning curve and maybe even she has past her prime. Her partner James is no different. Naz is fast but has zero end product … yes the odd goal but maybe she should take up athletics as football is not her thing – sorry and we extend her contract!
Ubogagu and Cho were very poor signings and so is Simon (along with Tang). So no wonder why we are where we are and hoping the likes of Percival and Graham can get their thing back.
The excuse was we will learn from this and now it is managed minutes .. nothing about our recruitment policy when last summer 5/7 signings are just not good enough … with Spence not performing that well we could change that to 6/7 … only Celin has been a revelation but then we lost Clemmy (a massive loss that we never replaced).
My team for Saturday has to be
Korpella – Ale Bartrip Zadorsky
Celin Summanen Spence Neville
Graham England Iwabuchi …. any other players chosen will weaken the team but we all know come the 2nd half subs with no reason get used and the game swings away from any positivity.
This team will get a draw or even a win but a mass clearout is necessary with some contracts needing to be servered early to build a worthy team for next year … but will Levy?lewis do this a big fat NO.
Well the writing is on the wall for VJ .. she picks Spencer Turner Harrop Ayanne James … all underperforming and uninspiring players in todays lineup leaaving Korps Shelina Mana even Asmita/Kit on the bench.
i just hope she is given her P45 if she throws this game
Well the game was won thankfully and we survive the drop thanks to Beth (2) Celin and Kit but there was still too much panic play – unnecessary backpassing and sloppy passing especially in the 2nd half once our best players was subb’d yet again. (Celin/Beth)
GK Spencer rarely ever comes for corner crosses and the goal was lost because she didnt and was stuck on the line waiting? and Im sure Korps would have done better. Wrong decision to play her imho and that then resulted in a 15-20 min frantic period added to by fielding more uninspiring players as if just to give them the experience rather than defending a 4-0 lead. I really hope some serious changes are made for next season with a better management team and a total re-build around the 7 players worth keeping out of a squad of 25 plus the 2 return loanees.
I know I expect a lot but I have been supporting this team now for about 7 seasons and I did expect so much more after joining the WSL but it has proved that Levy is not so supportive and why we are where we are. I am hoping now the threat of relegation has gone we can turn up at the bubble blowers and finally beat them away and get 20 points – a total we have managed twice out of the last 3 seasons (the other a magical 30 and 5th place but me thinks now that was just sheer luck because this season the ambition to do better was just not there – not sure it ever was with the players we signed in the summer – another bus load of castoffs bar Celin)
Please prove me wrong but a total rebuilt with 7-8 statement signings is necessary but then the top clubs are already signing them up whilst we wait for Levy to get back from the Aldi sales.
I see Petzelberger comes back for a 1 game cameo and is injured again and not even on the bench for the Reading game last weekend .. what a waste of a signing she has been and really what does she offer ? I just do not see it and yet another very poor signing by Skinner last summer (along with 5 others if being honest) .. especially as we lost Clemmy. Only Celin has been a good signing out of the not so magnificent 7