As early as March, Jose Mourinho was claiming that Tottenham Hotspur have an unbalanced squad. On Thursday night, in his side’s 3-1 victory over Shkendija in the Europa League, it was clear to see what he means.
For the first hour of the match in North Macedonia, Tottenham played with four players who could be considered wingers or attacking midfielders: Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min. There was no natural striker in the team, and they suffered without a focal point in their attack. “Son is not a striker so playing against a low block was not easy for him,” said Mourinho.
When Tottenham needed to change, Mourinho looked to his bench. Giovani Lo Celso and Lucas Moura represented more of the same: an attacking midfield player and another winger. The only option who provided a different threat was Harry Kane, the last man Mourinho would have wanted to risk in a Europa League qualifier on a patchy pitch.
And yet, with the score at 1-1 after an hour of action, Mourinho had no choice but to call on the England captain. Kane duly altered the course of the match, allowing Son to move into his more natural left-sided position and score the second goal, before he then headed in the third from a Son cross.
It was a reminder of Kane’s unquestionable importance to this Tottenham side, and also the lack of varied options at Mourinho’s disposal. They are not short of attacking players — indeed, Mourinho has complained that he has too many players — but so many of his forward players offer the same attacking threat.
This imbalance goes some way to explaining why the future of Dele Alli has been so uncertain in recent weeks, with Paris Saint-Germain taking serious interest after the attacking midfielder was left out of two consecutive matchday squads.
“I want a balanced squad, that is what I want,” said Mourinho last weekend, when asked about Alli’s future. “He does not need to be sacrificed, but the squad is a puzzle.
“You could see our team. I cannot start with all of them and I cannot have a bench without midfielders or defenders. In the same way the squad is a puzzle, the bench is also a little puzzle. I cannot have on the bench four wingers or three wingers and a number 10, and then no defenders.”
The arrival of Gareth Bale should add something different, in terms of his attacking prowess, compared to the likes of Lucas and Bergwijn. Bale can also play in a more central striking position, although he is not quite as comfortable in those areas as he is on the right flank. As revealed by Telegraph Sport last week, Tottenham have made contact with Southampton over Danny Ings, a genuine centre-forward.
There are other problem areas in the squad. Tottenham currently have four left-backs in the first team (Sergio Reguilon, Ben Davies, Ryan Sessegnon and Danny Rose) competing for one place, while they have just four senior centre-backs (Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth and Eric Dier) fighting for two places. Foyth has been linked with a move away, while Tottenham are reportedly in talks with Inter Milan over centre-back Milan Skriniar.
Rose is also set to leave, while Tottenham will consider sending Sessegnon on loan following the arrival of Reguilon from Real Madrid. Even in goal they appear a little bloated, with Joe Hart’s arrival making it more likely that Paulo Gazzaniga could leave before the transfer window closes.
In normal circumstances, it would be near-impossible to correct all these imbalances in one window alone. This is especially the case in the coronavirus-affected market of 2020, when selling unwanted players is harder than ever. Tottenham are far from alone in having this problem — just down the road, Arsenal have a long list of high-earners they no longer want, but cannot shift out of the club.
It will need time, patience and money to find a solution. Mourinho does not want it to take much time, though, and he does not have a huge amount of patience. As a club, Tottenham are hardly rolling around in cash following the construction of their new stadium and the subsequent financial pain of it standing empty for months on end.
For now, it seems more likely that Tottenham can fix just one problem at a time. There is no doubting which is the most pressing issue: the striking position. They relied on Kane again against Shkendija but they cannot keep doing so throughout the whole season. It is clear that they require a new face and a different option to provide Mourinho with more of that much-needed balance.