by Rachel Lara Cohen (26/10/22)
Above: Injured Tottenham players Kerys Harrop, Esther Morgan, and Rosella Ayane look on as Spurs warm-up on Saturday against Manchester City at Brisbane Road. Photo: Rachel Lara Cohen.
On Saturday in the second minute of Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Manchester City on Saturday, Ellie Brazil left the pitch. She was on a stretcher. Her knee was bandaged. Her game was over.
With just five games of the season gone, Brazil is the third Spurs player to sustain a serious injury. Add these to the multiple injuries overhanging from last season and there’s a rapidly developing injury crisis in the Spurs team.
A similar issue occurred last season, albeit a little later: in January. At that time, we lost so many players that Spurs were starting games with just three outfield players on the bench, something that prefigured a dip in form. But even later in the season, and especially evident in the two games against Chelsea, Spurs lacked the squad depth to refresh or to tactically adjust and match the top teams during the second halves of games.
This summer, Tottenham signed seven new players, creating considerable optimism that things were improving, that the team would have more options and a deeper bench. Indeed, for the first game of the season, away at Leicester, things looked good. Spurs had a bench made up of eight players. Since then, however, the size of the bench has plummeted.
It decreased to six (vs Arsenal); five (vs Reading); five (vs Liverpool) and six (vs Manchester City). Compare that to the North London side’s opponents for those games who in the case of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City all had nine players on the bench. Only Reading (who are struggling this season) were close with six players on their bench, one more than Spurs fielded in that game.
Given that the bench always includes a goalkeeper (whichever of Tinni Korpela or Becky Spencer is not starting), that leaves four or five outfield players available as substitutes. In every game this season one of those outfield players has been Gracie Pearse, a promising young defender. But she is yet to play for the first team and is in a position (centre-back) in which stability is at a premium and mid-game substitutions are typically made only out of necessity. That leaves Spurs head coach Rehanne Skinner with just three or four outfield players that she can deploy to make tactical changes.
Skinner’s options have been further constrained because some of these players are on the bench precisely because they lack fitness. In the most recent game, against Liverpool, it appeared that this was the case for Nikola Karczewska and we know that Chioma Ubogagu, who returned from a long-term ban in this game, was still getting up to speed. In the event, both Karczewska and Ubogagu were used, in the final five minutes, most probably because their minutes were restricted.
Where are the biggest gaps?
What do these injuries and Spurs’ very limited bench mean for different areas of the team?
After signing four attack-minded players this summer it seems ridiculous that Spurs still lack options going forward but they do. This was most evident on Saturday in the deployment of Jessica Naz in the number nine role (she was substituted for Ellie Brazil, who was herself in a position that Nikola Karczewska perhaps more naturally fills).
Naz has a lot of strong points, and is great as a wide attacker – running onto balls or taking people on – but she’s not the sort of player who gets into the box, gets hold of loose balls, and shoots, and nor does she do the hold-up work or pressing that Rehanne Skinner demands of a player leading the attack.
Spurs fans have got to hope that Karczewska recovers from whatever limited her minutes on the weekend. Once she’s back a front three where she is flanked by any two of Ashleigh Neville, Celin Bizet, and Naz is a decent first option. If Bizet gets up to speed and Rosella Ayane returns from injury there are alternatives. But just one more injury or a slower-than-anticipated return from injury leaves the attacking line perilously thin.
Options in the centre of midfield are equally strained. The defensive midfield pairing of Eveliina Summanen and Angharad James is working. And when she operates in front of Summanen and James’ protective cover, Drew Spence can be, and has at times been a creative force. Unfortunately, she has also been a little inconsistent, with off days. And by the end of a game, the former Chelsea star can appear to have run out of steam. Conversely, Cho So-Hyun has the energy but lacks Spencer’s precision and vision. Until Ramona Petzelberger is again available there are, however, only limited ways to adjust.
Spurs’ defence is where the team currently has the best options or at least a relatively settled back four (Asmita Ale, Shelina Zadorsky, Molly Bartrip, and Amy Turner). Turner is not a natural right-back, but has become more comfortable in the role over the last few games and most recently did a decent job keeping Lauren Hemp (relatively) quiet. Ironically, however, this has happened because Spurs’ back-line does not include the player who is arguably our standout defender, Ashleigh Neville.
That’s because Neville has been needed (and has been doing an important job) further up the pitch as a winger. It is a reminder of how the lack of options at the front impacts the backline. On the upside, the (apparently) imminent return of Kerys Harrop will provide further options and maybe we will see Gracie Pearse getting some game time in Conti Cup games and breaking into the team.
Asking questions of the club
Several of the Spurs players with long-term injuries have had ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament injuries). This is an injury that is especially common in the women’s game, regularly taking out top players (Spain and France’s stars, Alexia Putellas and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, were both ruled out of the Euros this summer with ACL injuries). Because of that, it is a topic on which a lot has been written, but also, to which there has been a lot of attention paid, including analysis of ways to reduce the likelihood that ACLs occur.
Taken individually, each Spurs player’s injury might be considered a horrendous accident. But sometimes a run of bad luck indicates an underlying issue. And when there have been as many serious injuries as there have been (almost one per game this season) the club will inevitably be asking questions.
That might include identifying patterns and risks. It might mean placing an even greater priority on ensuring that everything is done during and beyond training to strengthen in ways that prevent injury, and within games to reduce the kinds of movements that make injury more likely. It might mean adjusting the playing style.
The worry is that at this point, as the bench gets thinner, Spurs’ injury woes may be exacerbated by players playing more minutes than they might have had the team had a deeper bench or being asked to play through a strain or come on when nursing a minor niggle.
Long-term injury list
Spurs provide a lot of support for injured players the club has excellent rehab facilities, with expert staff. The club does not, however, provide regular updates about player injuries, recovery, or other absences. For instance, the source of Esther Morgan’s injury was only revealed six months after it had occurred and only because she wrote a blog for mental health day that discussed how her injury had impacted her mental health and provided some detail.
The following is therefore a collation of the information currently available about player injuries, absences, and returns.
In order of possible return (a total guesstimate)
1. Kerys Harrop Unspecified injury. Rumoured to perhaps be a back problem. Kerys last played in the final game of the 2021-2 season (at home vs Leicester) and then missed the pre-season. On 13th October BBC journalist Emma Sanders reported she was ‘expected to return within the next few weeks’. And Rehanne Skinner has said she ‘is close’.
2. Rosella Ayane Fractured her foot in the first game of the season, away at Leicester on September 18th 2022. The initial prognosis was that she’d be out for about four weeks. Ayane is apparently back in training and has been spotted climbing stairs at Brisbane Road but no return date yet.
3. Ramona Petzelberger Last played as a substitute away at Arsenal on 24th September 2022. She has been out of the squad since then. No information about the reason for her absence. It is presumably injury, but it may be something else. She has not been spotted among the group of injured players at either of our most recent home games.
4. Esther Morgan Tore her rectus femoris muscle at a level grade of 3C when she was on international duty for Wales during a loan period at Leicester in early Spring 2022. Currently recovering at Spurs, but scheduled to go back out on loan at Coventry United when she is recovered. She is back ‘on grass’, but there are few other details.
5. Ellie Brazil Injured on 22nd October 2022 at home vs Manchester City. Went off on a stretcher. Seen afterwards with knee strapping and crutches. Nothing confirmed. But it did not look like a quick fix.
6. Kit Graham ACL injury in November 2021. Graham has been training on grass, but there are no confirmed return dates and rumours are that it’s likely to not be until January.
7. Ria Percival ACL injury in April 2022. Ria looks to be a long way from a return date. She’s not yet back in training. We’re hoping she’ll be back for the end of the season – and a home World Cup for her in New Zealand in the summer, but it’s not clear.
8. Kyah Simon. ACL injury on 2nd October 2022 at Reading. It will be surprising if she returns this season and a stretch for her to make the World Cup.
Minor knocks and other issues
1. Nikola Karczewska did not start against Manchester City and game on as an 86th-minute substitute. Since she would seem to be a better fit than Jess Naz for the number 9 spot that Ellie’s injury left vacant (a position she had occupied in the previous game) we can only assume she is one of the players Rehanne Skinner said had picked up ‘a few little minor injuries’.
2. Chioma Ubogagu has been out on a drug-related ban. She played her first minutes against Manchester City, coming on as a late 87th-minute substitute. Although not injured, having had more than six months out will mean that she is not fully match-ready.
3. Jessica Naz was initially on the bench on Saturday for the Manchester City game. She has not played a full 90 minutes this season and had some kind of injury over the summer. It’s unclear if she’s back to full-match fitness. She did get through almost a full match at the weekend, but notably tired in the second half.
Note: Due to a lack of information from Spurs, some of the above list is speculative. If people have better information with which I can update the list, I will be more than happy to do this.
This article was originally published at https://spurswomen.uk/