By almost any measure, Tottenham’s season so far has been a major success. Sitting at third place in the Premier League table behind two juggernauts in Man City and Liverpool, Spurs hold a reasonably solid four-point lead over Chelsea in fourth, and they’re seven points up on Arsenal and Manchester United through 23 games. They’ve done this while battling through a tidal wave of injuries, including knocks on Victor Wanyama, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura, Eric Dier, and Moussa Sissoko. But for as well as they’ve triumphed over the gaps in their line-ups, an injury to Harry Kane in a Jan. 13 loss to Man Utd that’s going keep the star striker out for at least a couple months—timed with the departure for two weeks of Son Heung-min to the Asian Cup—darkened Tottenham’s outlook. Now, it’s somehow gotten worse.
Despite a dramatic 2-1 win against Fulham on Sunday on an unlikely last-minute winner from Harry Winks, Spurs’ three points were marred by even more bad news. Attacking midfielder Dele Alli, the most important goal-scoring presence in the current lineup, is out until at least March with a hamstring strain.
The absences of Dele, Kane, and Son come unfortunately timed with what looks to be a tricky six weeks in Spurs’ Premier League schedule. Though Spurs should remain heavily favored in matches against Newcastle and Burnley, and Son’s likely return on Feb. 10 against Leicester gives them an edge, their next match against Watford will be challenging with such a shorthanded squad. And more critically, two can’t-lose games back-to-back against Chelsea and Arsenal are set for a little over a month from now, before one could expect the returns of Tottenham’s dual crucial attackers.
While upcoming League Cup and FA Cup games immediately take on a much lower priority than they already did—making the Champions League is a must for a club with massive new stadium debt—Spurs still have a League semifinal second leg against Chelsea to worry about this week, and also two games against Dortumund in the CL Round of 16. But even if it all but ignores those games to focus on the Premiership, in its current state, Tottenham may not be able to put out a strong enough XI to survive in the top four until the return of Kane and Dele. Fernando Llorente, Kane’s replacement, literally would not have played any differently against Fulham if he were trying to throw the match, and another option in Vincent Janssen appears to be on his way out. Filling Dele’s role will likely be the little-used winger Georges-Kévin N’Koudou, who supplied the assist in Sunday’s game-winner but still has a frightening lack of experience in the Premiership.
Spurs are still in third, and obviously other players have stepped up to cover up holes—young midfielder Harry Winks in particular—but it’s difficult to look at who’s currently available and see where any of the goals are going to come from, even after Son and Lucas Moura return. As with any time of crisis, the moment may be right for Tottenham to break out the credit card and do some dang panic buying so they can have a legitimate striker on the roster before January’s over. But unfortunately for Mauricio Pochettino, the aforementioned stadium debt means that it still doesn’t look like Spurs are in the market. For a club that didn’t bring in any new players over the summer, either, the time has come to add some depth up top. Instead, they look ready to ride out this dangerous stretch by leaning heavily on Christian Eriksen, hoping they can get better performances out of guys like Llorente and Erik Lamela, and having faith that greener players like Winks and N’Koudou will keep them from drowning. It’s a pretty risky bet they’re making.