Mid-Season rating of Spurs’ summer signings

In the second part of her analysis of Tottenham Hotspur’s start to the WSL season, Rachel Lara Cohen considers the influence of the club’s summer signings (3/1/23).

Above: Drew Spence – one of Spurs’ key signings during the summer celebrates a goal with Molly Bartrip against Leicester City. Photo: Sky Sports.

They’ve been at the club for half a season now, enough time to evaluate what Tottenham’s summer signings have brought to the squad.

In an end of year review of the first half of the season I suggested that the seven signings Spurs made in summer 2022 have strengthened the squad, and bench, but have not wholly filled the gaps that were left by departing (or absent) starters (Maeva Clemaron, Ria Percival and Rachel Williams; as well as the hopefully soon-returning Kit Graham).

This article focuses on what each of the club’s summer signings (Drew Spence, Angharad James, Amy Turner, Celin Bizet, Nikola Karczewska, Ellie Brazil, and Ramona Petzelberger) has brought to the team and how each has done in the first part of the season.

It also includes first impressions of four young players that have had their senior Spurs debuts this season: Gracie Pearse; Lenna Gunning-Williams, Ella-Rose Houghton, and Kayleigh Stead.

Before starting, it’s worth pointing out that Spurs’ biggest problem this season has been a lack of connection across the team. This makes it hard to score players – whether to pinpoint individual culprits or identify individual potential. That’s contributed to a set of scores (out of 10) that are quite middling.

Above: Drew Spence. Photo: Girls on the Ball

Drew Spence   7/10

Spence has contributed more WSL goals (three) than the rest of Spurs’ newbies put together, and that’s not to be sniffed at. She provides glimmers of quality and her close ball control shines through. Moreover, she appears to have taken to heart head coach Rehanne Skinner’s command that the team shoots more – she has taken 26 shots in the league (about 3 per game).

There have been moments when she has linked up well, most obviously with Ash Neville (for her two goals against Brighton), but also with Jess Naz. However, despite her pedigree, the former Chelsea star has not yet been able to stamp her mark on games, even against weaker opposition. And when things are going less well she can disappear a little, and can appear deflated when she loses the ball.

Clearly, it’s an adjustment to go from combining with Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder to Roselle Ayane and Nikola Karczewska, but hopefully in 2023 (especially if rumours are to be believed and she is re-combined with her ex-teammate Beth England) Tottenham fans will see a new Spence, one consistently in sync with teammates and able to drive a coherent and creative attacking frontline. Until then she gets a decent, but slightly under-whelming seven.

Above: Angharad James. Photo: Uncredited by author.

Angharad James   6.5/10

There have been games (or at least halves) when James seems able to hunt down opposition players, take the ball and thread a pass with ease. A sign of her progressive play is that despite playing less than seven full games (of the nine so far in the WSL) she has produced 17 shot-creating actions (second only to Ash Neville). Her contribution is perhaps most obvious in so far that Spurs’ control of midfield declines when she is not on the pitch.

However, like most of the team, James has been inconsistent. On the one hand, arguably the best of the team’s holding midfielders, but on the other, she has several times left opposition players in space on the edge of the box, resulting in relatively free shots on goal. Additionally, (playing alongside Eveliina Summanen) she has struggled to provide reliable cover for the defence and securely transition the ball forwards.

More positively, she is emerging as a leader on the pitch – and has taken the captain’s armband in the couple of Conti Cup games in which Shelina Zadorsky has been absent. James also seems to have quickly created bonds with teammates – special mention here for the dances she and Nikola Karczewska have performed after Karczewska’s goals. Clearly a useful addition to the team and a definite starter (among currently available players), but not yet a complete Maeva Clemaron replacement.

Amy Turner   5.5/10

Things haven’t been easy for Amy Turner at Spurs. A lot of that is not her fault. She is a centre-back, who has played most games at right-back, thereby freeing up Ash Neville to play further forward.

At right-back Turner has put in important tackles and goal-area clearances but has frequently looked uneasy and been caught out of position. Topping off what’s surely been a frustrating start to the season was a horror own-goal away at Reading. That said, on the rare occasions that Turner has been given an opportunity to play at centre-back (against Coventry United, and in the dying minutes against West Ham), she has seemed more assured. And her attitude has been impressive – following the own-goal debacle Turner was a demon for the rest of the Reading game, charging down opponents; consistently first to balls.

Off the pitch, her straight-talking after the recent loss to Everton was much-needed. Which is to say I like having Turner at Spurs and as a centre-back (rotating with Molly Bartrip and Shelina Zadorsky) or even as part of a back-three she is a decent option, but the score of 5.5 is because she’s yet to convince in the position in which she’s being played: right-back.

Above: Amy Turner scores an own goal against Reading. Photo: Uncredited by author.

Celin Bizet  6/10

Celin Bizet is a young player who was not getting minutes at PSG. But she was also the first player (or perhaps second, after Asmita Ale) whose contract Spurs bought out. With that pedigree, expectations were a mixture of crazy-high (obvious potential) and moderated (barely had any game time).

It’s probably fair to say that she’s pretty much hit both of those: showing plenty of creative energy and skill down the wing, with a penchant for dribbling, hugging the sideline, before cleverly cutting inside and beating players one-on-one; but she has at times tried to do too much or misjudged opponents, giving the ball away and in the first few games seemed to be adjusting to the pace of the league – and her team-mates.

Overall, Bizet has shown more than enough to suggest she will grow into an interesting player and fan favourite. To fulfil that promise and get more end product is going to require her being part of a team that can benefit from and set loose her creativity. Spurs are not (yet) that team. I hope they become it.

Above: Celin Bizet. Photo: Girls on the Ball

Niki Karczewska   6.5/10

I’m going to preface this by saying that I love Niki Karczewska. She does so much well, especially for a player of her age (just turned 23). She is big and awkward for defenders to manage, backing into opposition players in a Harry Kane-esq manner. She can hold the ball up and bring in other players. And she has scored in the WSL (one) and Conti Cup (two).

None of her goals were beautiful, but they were the kind of messy goal we want to see from a penalty box striker, whose sole priority is getting the ball across the line: one involved her getting on the end of a rebound, one was poached from the goalkeeper and the final one (the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Southampton) involved her pushing the ball into the goal with her body.

What’s undermining all those positives is that Karczewska has been plagued by a series of minor injuries that have meant she’s rarely played more than a half of football (racking up just 252 minutes across the nine WSL games so far this season). The fact that Spurs have missed her when she’s not on the pitch is a sign that Karczewska is easily the best option currently available at centre-forward (at least until a Beth England transfer comes to pass).

But how she (and Spurs) do, may depend on whether she finds a way to maintain her fitness and health so that she gets a decent run in the team. Hopefully, if she does, and even if a more senior striker is brought in, Karczewska will continue to get minutes because she has masses of potential.

Ellie Brazil   6/10

Ellie Brazil played just 94 minutes across the first three games of the season before sustaining an ACL injury whilst closing down on the goalkeeper in a period of play against Manchester City at home when she was looking good.

Spurs fans had seen enough of Brazil (fast breaks down the wing; a willingness to win the ball back) in games against Leicester City and Liverpool that her absence is a loss. But they haven’t really seen how she’d settle into the team. This is her second serious injury and she’s spoken about how difficult she found it was to come back from her previous one. So it’s really sad to see her out again.

Ramona Petzleberger   N/A

Ramona Petzleberger played the last 28 minutes of the North London Derby and that is it. She was an unused substitute the preceding game (at Leicester) and had minutes in most of the pre-season friendlies (in the US and against Chelsea). The club has made no statement about her three-month absence. Whatever it is, hope she is okay and able to return to the team soon. Until then, it’s impossible to judge her – so we may as well fantasise that she’ll transform the team when she does return.

Above: Ramona Petzleberger has been missing from the team for almost the whole season so far. Photo: Uncredited by author.

Spurs’ other new players

As well as their seven summer signings, debuts for some of Spurs’ younger /academy players have been seen across the season to date. None of these players have yet played enough minutes (or faced tough enough opposition) to give ratings. But the following are first impressions:

Gracie Pearse: Came on when Spurs were 7-0 up against Brighton and looked assured on the right wing, demonstrating a nice touch, good passing skills, and a willingness to get forward. Since then she has started in two Conti Cup games: against the Championship pair of Coventry United and Southampton, playing at centre-back both times. Despite a few slightly wobbly moments early on, Pearse grew into these games. She seems to be a good prospect and a solid backup for our main centre-back pairing.

Lenna-Gunning Williams: The young striker made a dream debut against Coventry United in the Conti Cup. Came on at 73 minutes and scored a powerful header in injury time to take the score to 5-1. Her confidence and willingness to take shots was again in evidence when she came on to the field in the 70th minute in another Conti Cup game against Southampton, although she did not find the back of the net this time, she showed herself able to find good positions in attack (less perfect: Williams barged into a player just outside Spurs’ penalty box but luckily this was not called). For a club short on goalscorers, Williams is an especially exciting young player and I look forward to seeing more of her.

Ella-Rose Houghton: The defensive midfielder was on the bench for both the Coventry United and Southampton Conti Cup games, coming onto the field for her debut against Coventry at half-time. In a game that Spurs won comfortably, she was relatively untroubled, but was perhaps overly cautious with the ball, rarely passing forward. As such, she did not make mistakes but also did not progress play as effectively as she might. I expect that this is a confidence issue and something that will improve over time.

Kayleigh Stead: Came on in the 78th minute as a right-sided attacking midfielder against Southampton. Again, there wasn’t a lot of time to see what she could offer. But she made a couple of good passes and took on players in the final third as well as getting back in defense. Stead won a couple of free kicks and also conceded a few, two of which came shortly after having been dispossessed. In the limited minutes, she showed potential although clearly is not yet the finished article.

Above: Kayleigh Stead, Ella-Rose Houghton, and Lenna-Gunning Williams before the Conti Cup game against Coventry United. Photo: @SpursWomen

For the first part of Rachel‘s series of articles analysing Tottenham Hotspur’s start to the season, click on this link: https://impetusfootball.org/2023/01/02/end-of-the-year-spurs-review/

This article was originally published on The Spurs Women blog, run by Rachel Lara Cohen. Click on this link to visit the site: https://spurswomen.uk/

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