Ange Postecoglou has been left short by the encounter that had it all, and while he will be delighted to see 11 players back on the pitch on Saturday, the Tottenham head coach has some selection difficulties for the trip to Wolves.
Both James Maddison and Micky van de Ven were hurt in the first half of Tottenham’s 4-1 defeat to Chelsea, a chaotic contest in which the tide shifted when Cristian Romero and then Destiny Udogie saw red for Spurs.
Suspensions and injuries will force Postecoglou to reconsider his strategy at Molineux, resulting in the most haphazard lineup he has fielded in the Premier League this season.
Consistent line-ups have been a pillar of Postecoglou’s strong start to life in England, with Van de Ven, Maddison and Romero among six players to have started all 11 of their league games so far.
But that will be cut to, at the most, four ever-presents by the weekend, with the influential Van de Ven and Romero certainly missing but the extent of Maddison’s injury not yet known.
“Madders got a knock on the ankle and we’ll just have to assess him and see how it is,” Postecoglou said on Monday night, with the Spurs boss also suggesting Van de Ven faces a lengthy absence after appearing to clutch his hamstring before hobbling off.
“It’s too early but looking at Micky, you’re thinking it’s a pretty significant one, so you’d assume he’ll be out for a little while,” Postecoglou added.
Spurs will be without Romero for three matches following his reckless challenge on Enzo Fernandez. The defender is therefore also absent for two matches after the international break; a home match against Aston Villa on 26 November, and more significantly the visit to league leaders Manchester City on 3 December.
Udogie meanwhile, who has started all but one league game this season, misses just the Wolves match after being sent off for two bookable offences.
It is all piling up for Postecoglou, with Ivan Perisic, Manor Solomon and Ryan Sessegnon already absent through injury, and while Ben Davies is expected to return to the fold soon, Richarlison has confirmed he will soon have surgery on a troublesome pubic bone that has left him “suffering for eight months”.
“The last few months haven’t been easy for me,” he told ESPN Brasil on Monday, having also bravely opened up about his need for “psychological help” in September.
He added: “I’ve already talked to the doctors. The time has come to rest, take a break. Soon I’ll do what’s best for me.”
Onto Saturday’s possible selection, Emerson Royal and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are among the obvious candidates having come on for Van de Ven and Maddison on Monday.
Spurs were already down to 10, without Romero, by the time they were introduced, and though the dismissals hardly impacted Postecoglou’s tactics at the time – “We go down to five men, mate, we’ll have a crack,” he said in a post-match interview for the ages – he will need a reshuffle on Saturday.
Hojbjerg could join Royal in Spurs’ back four along with Pedro Porro and Eric Dier, the latter making his first league appearance of the season off the bench against Chelsea.
Further up field, Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr will likely continue their partnership, while the returning Rodrigo Bentancur – two sub appearances down since his return from ACL injury – could join them in a midfield three.
should Postecoglou favour a more direct replacement for Maddison, providing the England international is missing, then Giovani Lo Celso could be in line for his first league start of the campaign.
Impending surgery for Richarlison, an unused sub against Chelsea, means the trio of Dejan Kulusevski, Brennan Johnson and Son Heung-min are set to start once more against Wolves.
Plunk the impressive Vicario in goal and you have a starting XI certainly capable of beating Wolves, although the threadbare nature of their bench – potentially just the quartet of Fraser Forster, Oliver Skipp, Lo Celso and Bryan Gil from their first-team squad, plus youngsters Ashley Phillips and Alejo Veliz – is a concern ahead of the busy festive period.
The international break could offer valuable time for the physio room to diminish in numbers, but a season that has started brightly could end up being dictated by the length of time Maddison and Van de Ven are out. The early indications are fuzzy.