Rachel Cohen looks ahead to Tottenham Hotspur’s final game of the WSL season today against West Ham United by profiling the rising influence of Eveliina Summanen and reporting for us from head coach Vicky Jepson‘s media conference (27/5/23).
Above: Eveliina Summanen in action for Tottenham Hotspur. Photo: John Ward/PA.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Finnish international Eveliina Summanen has thrived as a number 10 and has become an increasingly important player for the club.
Summanen came to Spurs in January 2022 from Swedish side Kristianstads DFF. Most news stories about the transfer at the time were brief. She was not a star, nor even widely mooted as an ‘exciting prospect’. Spurs’ then-manager, Rehanne Skinner, touted the new player’s “fantastic work ethic.” But all that most Spurs supporters knew was that she had been recommended by Spurs goalkeeper, Tinni Korpela, a fellow Finn, and Summanen’s international team-mate.
When she joined Spurs, it was a squad beset by injury problems that over the next six months only worsened. This meant that the Finn quickly got a lot of game-time, playing in the 10 final matches of 2021/22, starting seven. Quickly popular among supporters for her willingness to cover the pitch and battle hard in central midfield, Summanen fitted seamlessly into the style of play that marked Skinner’s 2021/22 side.
But this season, after a difficult summer with Finland competing in the Euros ‘Group of Death’ (losing all three games to Germany, Spain, and Denmark), Summanen returned to North London and to a very different side – one that lacked the defensive solidity that had defined the previous season. Not least because a raft of new injuries meant that players were frequently moved into new positions and formations.
And we saw the rotation of Summanen, alongside Drew Spence, Angharad James, and (occasionally) Cho So-hyun in the defensive midfield pairing, with none obviously making it their own. Indeed, the Maeva Clemaron-shaped hole seemed to grow, not shrink, as the season went on and longer from the French player’s departure (to pastures new, aka Architecture and Servette).
Over the last quarter of the season, things have, however, changed in terms of what we are seeing from Summanen – or at least how she contributes to the team. Notably, this followed close on the heels of her return from ‘that’ suspension but more importantly coincided with Vicky Jepson taking over as Interim Manager.
This weekend may be Jepson’s last game as manager. If it is, fans can remain grateful that in her eight games in charge, she took Spurs out of relegation danger and also, that in doing so she unlocked the Finn as a number 10.
Since Jepson’s third game (Everton away) Summanen has played much higher than she had previously this season – excepting one game away at Leicester City, when injuries across the front line saw her suddenly moved up as sole striker.
Jepson describes her formation as a 4-3-3. But it often looks more like a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-4, with Summanen playing as a very high 10, almost alongside Bethany England, although still occasionally dropping deep to cover in defence.
Summanen has spoken about learning from England. And when the two of them are next to one another on the pitch some similarities are striking – their white-blonde hair rolled into buns – but also the willingness of both to do the hard work – and to twist their bodies to get into the right position.
The Finn appears fearless. She is the player who runs into a foot or elbow in her desire to meet the ball. That can result in a bloody nose (as it did last time out) and hard tackles in defence. But in attack it can mean that she throws herself into the box, straining to get onto a chance (as in her first goal against Aston Villa). It is at least in part her willingness to do this that has meant that Summanen is currently the second highest goal-scorer under Jepson – netting three and getting another assist during the new manager’s tenure.
Her scoring record is important in its own right but also means that Spurs are not (entirely) a one-trick pony – that despite Beth England racking up almost a goal a game defenders cannot focus solely on her and assume they have dealt with Spurs’ threat.
Another upside of playing Summanen at in the 10 role is that for the first time this season, Spurs are pressing, and pressing high. This is no doubt partly due to Jepson’s instructions, but in Summanen they have a player who can carry these out and we see her on the pitch organising others.
Summanen is still young: turning 25 later this month. She has, however, considerable experience, having played 45 games for the Finnish senior team, her first call-up coming soon after her 19th birthday. In those appearances, she has scored 10 times. The last two goals coming just at the time that her three-game ban following the incident against Manchester United was announced and a media storm hit. Both were glorious free kicks.
Yet for Spurs, before Jepson took the helm, Summanen had only limited success in front of goal – scoring twice and forcing a third own goal – all in Cup games against lower league opposition.
So there were signs that she had goals and set pieces in her wheelhouse but these had not been wholly unleashed. And we had less evidence of her ability to regularly contribute to attacking patterns of play or create goals. Yet in just the most recent game, against Reading, she played a couple of defence-splitting passes for Ayane (who was not able to finish) and for Bizet’s goal.
Moreover, she seems comfortable playing one-touch football and posesses an awareness of other players. Part of it is of course that she is now playing alongside a player with the potency and movement of Beth England but it is also that with her move forward she spends more time close to – and able to make incisive passes into – the penalty area.
Fans regularly note that Spurs struggle to attract top players in their prime playing years. As a middling WSL club, they have typically brought in experienced players on their way out of ‘better’ clubs (Spence, Iwabuchi, Williams), relied on players growing with the club (Nevillie, Naz) or taken chances on young players with potential, crossing our fingers the bet will come good. In the case of Celin Bizet who was brought in this summer as a young talent, the club are starting to see that pay off (as it may also do with striker, Nikola Karczewska).
Summanen’s transfer felt less ambitious and was less heralded than most of these others. But it may end up being as important. If she can keep up the rich vein of form in front of goal that she has recently found, and combine that with the running and combative energy we already knew she had, she may emerge as a real midfield star, and a player who is key to Spurs’ improving fortunes.
Of course, there remain unknowns. Specifically how whoever takes over from Jepson decides to use Summanen alongside the growing list of players competing for central midfield spots at Spurs. Not just Spence, James, and Cho but also the recently returned (and much missed) Kit Graham and Ria Percival, and the no-longer-disappeared Ramona Petzelberger. This might mean that Summanen gets fewer minutes or that she shares the 10 berth with Graham, as against Reading.
More practically Spurs have an option to extend Summanen’s contract after summer 2023 but are yet to confirm this will be taken up (there are 13 players whose contracts expire or need to be extended this summer). Given Summanen’s form, it would be good to see the club show its confidence in her by not simply taking up their option but offering her a new contract. One that keeps her at the club long enough for us all to enjoy Eveliina in her prime – and all the bloody noses and goals that come with that.
The above article was originally published at https://spurswomen.uk/
Jepson: Players’ belief critical in beating Reading last week
In her media conference ahead of this afternoon’s final game of the WSL season against West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur Interim Head Coach Vicky Jepson reflected on her team’s vital win over Reading last weekend that ensured their top-flight status.
It was a convincing win, and Jepson conceded that after the 4-1 victory that her team were out of “the pressure cooker.” But, she argued, the job was was not done. The main thing now was to maintain that level. “We haven’t took our foot off the gas and our main focus now is to make sure we display this consistency going into the game against West Ham as we want to finish the season on a high.”
The key to last week’s win was belief she said. “I’d say the belief that we had in the dressing room, I’ve never not seen belief like that this season. The way that they turned up, the way that they had their shoulders back, heads held high. We sent every single player an individual video of themselves of their highlights of what they look like at their best and I know that they watched those videos.
“And we said to them one of the key things was when you watch, that video is actually at your best. If you play like that, tomorrow we will have no trouble against Reading because we know the quality that we have in the room.”
Jepson also reiterated that her strategy has been to simplify things so that players have easier decisions to make: “Keeping the game plan really simple and specific so that they can think less and do more because that’s key when you’re playing under a lot of pressure.
“For these players, when they’ve been through so much this season, consistency was key and they all understood their roles inside and out.”
Jepson recognized Beth England’s contribution to the team’s survival in the league saying that “the stats don’t lie”. She pinpointed both “individual brilliance” but also the striker’s “elite standards” which mean that even in training she works at 110% and with precision going “above and beyond every day”.
Jepson said that England was also “a great leader” and someone who had “contributed in helping those players get through the high level of pressure that we’ve had to face over the last couple of games.”
When asked about her star strikers’ potential contribution to the Lionesses at this summer’s World Cup Jepson said that she thought England deserved the call-up: “How can you leave out a top England goal scorer out of your squad” and highlighted the striker’s ability to deal with pressure, to manage time on the bench and “in terms of coming on to big games and pulling out goals from nowhere”.
Speaking about today’s opponents, West Ham United, the Spurs boss noted that they had won their last game despite having little possession and said that West Ham’s “super strength” is “the way that they block shots in and around the area and that they’re quick on transitions” and “a threat on set pieces.”
This is something that might worry Spurs since defending set pieces has not always been the team’s strength this season. But Jepson remained confident that Spurs if they stuck to their game plan would be too much for their London rivals.
Finally, and perhaps more controversially, given the criticism it has received, Jepson described the double-header of Spurs game with Reading last week that followed the men’s team’s game with Brentford as “a massive success for the women’s game .”
“We made history. We want many firsts in the women’s game and the club has made a first. We’ve had a doubleheader – the WSL and the Premier League have come together for a significant day. And we got the win, which is fantastic for our club.”
Perhaps most importantly, Jepson believes that Spurs Women may have made some new fans. “I spoke with some of the fans that had stayed that had never watched the women play before, but they were at the Brentford game, and they said, ‘We’ll definitely come back; that’s really cheered us up.’
“So for me, inspiring a new group of fans to come and watch us at Leyton or Hotspur Stadium or even away, that’s what it’s about.”