Wolves defeat lays bare Tottenham’s reliance on influential full-back duo

FROM TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM – Every football club has injuries and every fan will tell you how debilitating they can be.

Manchester United were left left-back-less early in the season. Chelsea and Newcastle have both been horrendously plagued by fitness issues. Manchester City, the best team in the world, have only just got back to their usual perfect selves with the returns of Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne.

It’s the same situation at Tottenham. The atmosphere and feeling around north London has been flipped since Ange Postecoglou’s arrival, but teething issues continue to confront the Greek-Australian in the dugout.

The Lilywhites have been at their best this campaign with key creative force Pedro Porro and speed demon Destiny Udogie in full flight. The Italian has spent more time on the sidelines this term, but Saturday’s clash with Wolves saw both ruled out in the build-up.

Porro last missed a league game on the opening day of the season, while Udogie has been kept out of four matches in 2023/24 due in equal parts to injury and suspension.

While the rest of Postecoglou’s starting XI was as strong as possible – save for personal preference here and there in midfield – the glaring absence of their star full-back duo was undeniable.

Emerson Royal and Ben Davies, the weekend stand-ins, have earned respect from the Spurs faithful filling in at centre-back this season when Micky van de Ven and Cristian Romero were downed by injury.

But, just in case the obvious needed blatant spelling out, Emerson and Davies are not Porro and Udogie.

The pair couldn’t work space as easily as has been the case with Porro and Udogie, with Emerson looking clumsy in possession and Davies rarely offering more than a willing runner. The Welshman had a chance to recover a point at the death but got his effort all wrong, heading well clear of goal when placed centrally in the six-yard box.

Ben DaviesBen Davies

A late chance went begging for Davies / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Postecoglou has been at pains to explain Tottenham are at the beginning of their development and games against organised opposition like Wolves will continue to serve as a good barometer of what is going well in north London and what can be improved.

While there’s no need for any hysterics given Spurs are in a much better position than expected after Antonio Conte’s meltdown and Harry Kane’s departure last year, there is a clear need for more natural alternatives in defence if their first choice full-backs aren’t available.

With Emerson and Davies, Tottenham were predictable and couldn’t offer anything fresh to break down a Wolves defence that got the goals they came for and sat back en route to all three points.

Steps were taken in the January transfer window as Radu Dragusin was brought in and there’s every reason to believe the summer will see more positive squad building. Positions that need greater depth have been identified quickly in recent years and that theme should continue.

There’ll be no fretting or panic from Postecoglou, who stuck ruggedly to his principles as his team toiled on Saturday, but there’s no doubt his side have become easier to figure out in recent months, especially with two of his chief creative forces sidelined.

The blueprint to beat Tottenham worked perfectly for Wolves and with Spurs not in action again until early March, fans will hope their well-balanced full-back double act returns against Crystal Palace.