This season’s gruelling schedule has already begun to take its toll at Tottenham Hotspur with players sidelined due to injuries and any more in October could have a say in the Premier League title race, manager Antonio Conte said yesterday.
Spurs visit north London rivals Arsenal tomorrow and could be without key regulars such as goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, winger Dejan Kulusevski and defender Ben Davies.
Davies suffered a hairline fracture below his knee before the international break, Lloris sustained a thigh injury that forced him to pull out of the France squad and Kulusevski has a hamstring problem after playing twice for Sweden. “I have seen that many clubs are having big problems with players that played these two games (during the international break), for sure Tottenham is one of these clubs,” Conte told reporters.
“You know very well there is only one-and-a-half months for the World Cup and you have to understand the national team players, these were the last games to show they deserve to play in the World Cup. To play so many games before the international break and then now to play 13 games in 43 days is crazy. We are faced with injuries... This is the moment you understand who are title contenders and teams competing for Champions League positions.”
When asked about which players are unavailable, Conte opted to keep his cards close to his chest, saying he did not want to give Arsenal an advantage. “We have to wait till tomorrow to check some players because they have returned from their national teams with some physical problems. Tomorrow will be very important, the last training session, to understand the players we can count on,” he added. “For sure we have to try to make the best solution and not take big risks. If we take big risks and lose players for the rest of the games, it will be a disaster.”
Arsenal lead the standings with 18 points after seven games but Spurs — a point behind in third — can take top spot with a victory at the Emirates Stadium where they have not won a league game since 2010.
“Arsenal have had a fantastic start, they’ve lost only one game... They’re showing they are a really good team. In the summer they made good signings,” Conte said. “I know the quality of this team, they’ve worked with (manager Mikel) Arteta for many years. They are really well organised. Arteta is a really good coach, he’s young but he can have a great career.”
Twenty four hours after North London derby, champions Manchester City host Manchester United. If Arsenal win they will preserve top spot after eight games. Any other result means Pep Guardiola’s City can climb to the summit with a win against United on Sunday.
Despite the form of the north London duo, City already look favourites to retain their crown, especially with new signing Erling Haaland ripping up the scoring record books. The Norwegian already has 11 goals in his first seven league appearances and if he maintains that rate he would smash the Premier League record of 34 in a season.
United are on a four-match winning streak in the league but have not played a league game since beating Arsenal on Sept. 4 and face a manic schedule of nine matches in October.
City playmaker Jack Grealish said he is “nowhere near” full fitness as he continues his recovery from a groin injury but is confident fans will see the best of him when he returns to the side.
Grealish picked up the problem in August and has been limited to six appearances in all competitions this season. “I am definitely nowhere near 100% at the moment,” Grealish told City’s website. “I played 90 minutes against West Ham United and 45 against Bournemouth when I picked up my injury. So, I still have a lot of fitness to improve upon but that will come over time. I just need to keep training to be the best of my ability and then I’ll get chances on the pitch. And then you’ll see the best Jack Grealish.”
Grealish, who joined City from Aston Villa in August last year for a league-record fee of 100mn pounds, has scored only one goal this season but the England international is not worried about his numbers.
Meanwhile, Liverpool also return to action with a home game against Brighton & Hove Albion tomorrow knowing they have almost used up their margin for error after six games. Graham Potter takes charge of his first Premier League game as Chelsea manager as they go to Crystal Palace.