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  • Writer's pictureBy Kaz Mochlinski

Ahead of the final Spurs fixture for 2023, we assess the talking points after Brighton setback

The beginning of November seems like a very long time ago for Spurs fans.

Having been top of the Premier League, Tottenham now find themselves eight weeks later down in fifth place after defeat at Brighton.

The inquest on the way back to London from the South Coast opened with the unignorable injury crisis. Some 10 or 11 Spurs players are currently unavailable. But then Brighton have around eight of their squad out at the moment.

And, while seven teenagers were among the substitutes across both benches on Thursday night, it was a Brighton 18-year-old in Jack Hinshelwood whose goal set the home side on their way to a 4-2 win.

Impressively, Brighton’s teenage players have scored 19 goals in 2023, surpassing the combined total of 16 goals by teenagers from all the other Premier League teams.

Questions are rightly increasing regarding Spurs’ squad depth and development - but also about discipline. At Brighton, Dejan Kulusevski and Giovani Lo Celso gave away two really poor penalties.

Plus Kulusevski in addition picked up another avoidable yellow card and will miss today's (New Years Eve) home game against Bournemouth, the latest in a series of Spurs suspensions recently.

It increases the doubts over not just the fitness but also the mentality of Ange Postecoglou’s squad. And regular Tottenham watchers are now asking if it is feasible to play Angeball without Ange players…

There is a growing sense that Postecoglou is trying to instil a new style of play on a squad of players among whom only around half are capable of making his ideas work.

When too many of the core starters are missing, inevitably the system crumbles. Against Brighton, Spurs’ first half display was widely acknowledged as their poorest of the season so far.

Tottenham ended the first 45 minutes without a single attempt on target, and it was not until Destiny Udogie scrambled his way into the penalty area in the 56th minute that they forced the Albion goalkeeper to have to make a save.

Udogie has been a fine addition to the Spurs line-up this season, but he is now being encouraged to do much more than just play left-back, and to become increasingly involved elsewhere on the pitch in the manner of John Stones.

Pep Guardiola has typically created something very clever for Manchester City in using Stones interchanging between defence and midfield, but it is a hard trick to try and copy.

Liverpool and Arsenal have followed in deploying Trent Alexander-Arnold and Oleksandr Zinchenko, respectively, in combined full-back and creative roles, so understandably Spurs are seeking to do something similar.

However, that is a lot for Postecoglou to ask of the 21-year-old Udogie in his first season in English football, and it is likely to have contributed to the Italian defender’s error in leaving Hinshelwood unmarked for Brighton’s opening goal.

Ultimately, this was only one of multiple mistakes that combined to produce what ended up for Tottenham as a bad defeat after a bad performance, which was probably their worst overall under Postecoglou.

Pervis Estupiñán superb long-range left-footed curler was as close to unstoppable as it is possible to get, but interestingly it was the first goal conceded by Spurs this season from outside the penalty area.

For long periods of the game at Brighton it was just Guglielmo Vicario’s excellence in goal which covered up for the problems in front of him - ironically at the same time as his predecessor was leaving the club.

The departure of Hugo Lloris marks another significant break from Spurs’ recent past, as it means only Son Heung-min now remains at the club from the starting XI in the Champions League Final in Madrid in 2019.

Reflections are common with the present Premier League season having reached its halfway point. So is searching for statistical patterns and trends. Some are of course more relevant than others.

Is it simply a coincidence that Tottenham lost both their matches in December which were played on a Thursday? It was perhaps unlucky that they happened to be against two sets of Thursday specialists.

West Ham United have turned the difficult task of playing in the Europa League and Europa Conference League into such an art that last season it brought the club its first trophy for 43 years.

And Brighton & Hove Albion are now following the Hammers’ lead by winning their group on the Seagulls’ debut in the Europa League this autumn. So beating Spurs on a Thursday was a relative doddle.

Only Roberto De Zerbi over-reaching and over-complicating his side’s tactics allowed Tottenham to produce a semblance of a recovery late on against Brighton, making the final scoreline more respectable than looked likely.

And the final discussions during the journey home through winter weather and festive alterations to public transport services was about whether it is all worth it and why are we all not remotely bored yet of the sport.

Spurs’ visit to Brighton was one of 11 Premier League matchdays in 13 days over the Christmas and New Year period. It is part of a run of 39 days out of 47 when English top flight teams are in action in one competition or another.

Players will be desperate for the brief recovery time which they will be getting in January. For most fans, there will only be withdrawal symptoms and the hope for more action as dramatic and breathless as it has been recently.

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