Spurs must add pragmatism to Angeball aesthetic and Udogie absence offers that opportunity

Dave Tickner
Destiny Udogie in action for Tottenham
Destiny Udogie in action for Tottenham

Destiny Udogie has had a fine first season at Tottenham, but his absence for the rest of it need not be a disaster for Angeball as Arsenal beckon.


Here’s a question for you: can a fixture list be Spursy?

Until now, we would have said no, absolutely not. Stop being silly, and enough with this lazy hack sh*t of calling everything Spursy. Partly that’s just because calling things Spursy is one of those things like farting, talking loudly or expressing undying love for Eric Dier: fine when we do it, but unacceptable and irritating when anyone else does it.

But mainly it would be because the idea is clearly absurd, surely. Even if we accept the premise and existence of Spursiness, how could these traits be expressed in a fixture list?

Well… like Spurs’ current fixture list. There’s probably confirmation bias at work here too, of course, because Spurs are Spurs and thus everything they do or that happens to them is studied for Spursiness. But it’s still a heck of a thing.

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Spurs, remember, have not been in Europe this season. They have also had no cup runs to speak of, having gone out in round two of the Carabao and round four of the FA Cup.

And yet they have still somehow ended up with more games left to squeeze into the last few weeks of the season than anybody. They’ve also somehow managed to have a two-week break to wallow and reflect on a shambles of a performance at Newcastle.

When the North London Derby kicks off on Sunday afternoon, Spurs will have been out of action for 15 days in which Arsenal will have played four games.

As well as being Spurs’ first game in 15 days, the NLD will also kick off a sequence of six games in the final 21 days of the season. Games which include all the top three, as well as Chelsea.

And that is how a fixture list can be Spursy. There’s an all-or-nothing nature to that two weeks off, and then cram all the games into the remaining three weeks that seems allegorical for SpurS’ entire ethos under Ange Postecoglou. “We’re either playing all of the games or none of the games, mate; all of the title contenders, or none of them. We won’t change our approach.”

What they will have to do, though, is play those six games without Destiny Udogie, the prodigiously gifted left-back/number 10 hybrid who has been integral to their efforts this season.

The consensus is that Udogie’s absence is a Very Bad Thing. Certainly, it’s gutting for him – especially as he will also miss the Euros – but is it so disastrous for Spurs?

Given the specifics of their late-season fixture-cramming, it might not be. Spurs will undoubtedly be impacted as an attacking force by Udogie’s absence, because he and Pedro Porro have emerged as such unexpectedly crucial elements of it with their ability to occupy the half-spaces and either create havoc themselves or open avenues for others to exploit.

And the loss of Udogie’s pace is a problem at the other end too, where he and Micky van de Ven are so frequently required to get Spurs’ highline out of dodge.

But it’s also undeniably true that Udogie’s season has stuttered in much the same way as Spurs’ more generally. Understandably for a young man who had never kicked a ball of Barclays before this season, he has been unable to quite maintain the absurdly high levels he showed in the first half of the season.

There have been more and more errors creeping in. Van de Ven’s Bambi-on-ice schtick took most of the attention at Newcastle, but the floodgate-opening first goal all began with Udogie losing possession carelessly and, unlike Van de Ven’s struggles, this was not a new phenomenon.

For the rest of the season, Spurs will (presumably, this is Angeball after all so the potential remains for something entirely rogue) instead have Ben Davies occupying the left-back position.

And that’s going to mean Spurs playing in a necessarily different way. He is not going to maraud forward with either the same frequency or to the same effect as Udogie. But he is also less likely to sh*t the bed.

And with a fixture list that contains all of the top three as well as a trip to Chelsea, that might be okay. Davies for Udogie gives Postecoglou an out; it forces him and Spurs to play slightly differently but without it looking like a betrayal of those all-important principles.

Adapting your tactics to the players you have available is a strength, not a weakness. That really should be obvious. And a slightly more cautious approach is fine for the games Spurs have left. They have four games against teams who will come out and play them anyway, and two others against Sheffield United and Burnley that they should really be able to win anyway even without their first-choice left-back.

Arsenal and Chelsea and Liverpool and City are not going to be games where Spurs dominate possession and spend most of their time trying to pick a path through two banks of four. They are not games where you necessarily need to play a relentlessly aggressive high defensive line.

This all changes again if Porro is also ruled out after limping off at St James’ Park. Then it really does go too far the other way, because Porro has been an even more important creative outlet than Udogie. Kieran Trippier is the only defender with more assists this season than Porro’s seven.

The one time Spurs were without both their unorthodox full-backs was the home game against Wolves, and it left them playing in a creativity vacuum.

But losing one of their marauders and replacing them with a more reliable if less exciting operator might be just the thing.

It’s unlikely to have much tangible impact on Spurs this season – they’re almost certainly going to finish fifth anyway – but how they end this campaign could be significant for the next one. As could  showing that some pragmatic flexibility over when and when not to Angeball need not be some great betrayal.