Tottenham could be one of the teams to benefit from the Covid-19 enforced stoppage as they have a number of players returning to full fitness. The central midfield balance remains an issue for Jose Mourinho and the rumours circulating over a potential injury to Giovani Lo Celso are a worry. The Argentine stood out as the most complete midfield option before the break. If he does miss the first few matches, it could provide a much needed opportunity to Tanguy Ndombele.
It has been a frustrating year for the Frenchman, following his big money move to North London. Many expected him to become a mainstay of the starting eleven, but he has accrued only 947 minutes in the Premier League. A debut goal showed early promise, but fitness and attitude problems have been cited as reasons for his failure to push on.
In the final Premier League match before the break, the 23-year-old was taken off at half-time and criticised by Mourinho following the draw with Burnley. It has become clear that Mourinho is frustrated by the lack of progression made by Ndombele since he took over as Spurs’ manager. Many believe the Portuguese coach doesn’t rate the player and is scapegoating him like he has done with other players in the past. The pictures of the pair breaking lockdown to train in a public park have done little to dispel that theory.
Those that watched Ndombele at Lyon will be surprised by his lack of favour at Tottenham. At times, he was inconsistent, but there was clearly a great and versatile player there. The 23-year-old is capable of beating an opposition player on the dribble and comparisons have been made to previous Spurs’ midfielder Mousa Dembele. The team have missed a presence in the middle of the park since the Belgian’s exit and the next few weeks could see Ndombele make a claim to fill it.
His numbers have been far from a disaster, with two goals and two assists in his small amount of game time. Ndombele managed to get two further assists in 339 Champions League minutes. The better performances have come in Europe, with the midfielder averaging 1.3 key passes and 2.8 dribbles per game. In the Premier League, this decreases 0.6 key passes and 2 dribbles per game.
There are also concerns about his defensive work rate, with his numbers decreasing from his time at Lyon. In Ligue 1 last season, he averaged 2.8 ball recoveries per game. This has dropped to 1.9 per game in the Premier League. Mourinho has become known for putting focus into the defensive side of coaching and it is Ndombele’s perceived lack of effort that has alienated him under the Spurs’ head coach.
The upcoming nine matches are a huge opportunity for Tottenham. The side now have an increased chance of securing Champions League football, due to the return of key players. There will also be a further chance given to squad players that have failed to impress Mourinho to date, with the club unable to add new players until the season finishes. Ndombele would fit this category.
Although doubts remain over his long term future under Mourinho, he has the quality to turn things around and the injury to Lo Celso may give that opportunity. If he performs, he could yet show his ability to secure a regular starting position.