Sunday, January 16, 2022

The sonless Spurs will present Conte with his biggest tactical challenge to date

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Son will miss crucial derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal and replacing him will not be easy as Steven Bergwijn is also out injured

The 29-year-old was replaced by Giovani Lo Celso in the 79th minute of the Carabao Cup game, despite Antonio Conte initially saying the decision was not due to an injury.

Tottenham’s hopes of reaching the Carabao Cup final were already on the thread when Son Heung-min sustained a muscle injury in the semi-final first leg loss to Chelsea.

“It was to give some rest,” said the Spurs boss. “Then the day after, he felt a little pain in his muscle, in his leg and he had a scan … He’s got an injury. I don’t know, but he could probably be without training until the end of this cycle, before the international break. “

The South Korean international has already missed a game, beating Morecambe 3-1 in the third round of the FA Cup. With Harry Kane and Lucas Moura also resting before coming off the bench 1-0 down with Spurs, they started with a front two from Bryan Gil and Dele Alli.

For the more challenging games of the second leg against Chelsea on Wednesday night and the North London derby against Arsenal on Sunday, Conte will again have to find a way to fill the gap left by Son.

It will be one of his greatest tactical puzzles since his appointment in November. Steven Berwijn would normally be the obvious replacement but the winger is struggling with a calf injury. There are also significant doubts about his long-term future at the club as he continues to be linked to a move to the Eredivisie – although Conte on Tuesday insisted Bergwijn was still part of his plans.

“I’m counting on him,” he said. “He’s a player with different traits than Sonny, Lucas and Harry. He’s very good 1v1, he’s a creative player that we don’t have in our squad. “

Gil, on the other hand, could not convince against Morecambe and only made 13 appearances in all competitions. While playing outside of position in Sunday’s Cup game, he has not scored a goal or made an assist since arriving from Seville in the summer.

Jose Mourinho once experimented with full-back Ryan Sessegnon on the left side of a front three, but it’s very likely that Conte will return to a 3-5-2, led by Kane and Lucas, with Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon as full-backs.

Lo Celso will vie for a midfield spot with Harry Winks, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but it remains unclear whether Tanguy Ndombele will be picked after being ridiculed for his leisurely departure from the field when he was substituted on for Morecambe. Spurs’ record signing is reportedly set to be postponed in January.

Son is the Spurs’ top scorer in the league at eight this season, despite battling for form with just one goal in his last five games before his injury.

Tottenham’s task is made even more difficult by the absence of the first two center-backs Eric Dier and Cristian Romero.

However, despite the clear holes in his squad, Conte was shy of whether Spurs would dive into the January transfer market to tackle them. “I spoke to the club and gave my opinion on the situation,” he added.

“I think that’s the most important thing. Then the club has to decide how best to do it. I have no expectations. I’m a coach and I know we have a lot of problems to solve. For me, right now is the best way to get the best out of my players and improve the squad. I think at this moment there is the only way I can try to improve the situation.

“And then the club knows our situation very well and has to make the best decision.”

Predicted XI: Lloris, Sanchez, Rodon, Davies; Emerson, Hojbjerg, Skipp, Winks, Reguilon; Lucas, Kane

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