How injury to Spurs' James Maddison could see Ange Postecoglou's system unravel

Spurs will be missing three of their preferred back four for the game against Wolves - is this a crisis, or a chance for Ange Postecoglou's system to shine?
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The news went from bad to worse for Tottenham Hotspur fans on Friday afternoon - Ange Postecoglou confirmed that James Maddison's ankle injury is far worse than first feared, and that the England international will be out until the new year. Spurs have lost the creative heartbeat of their side out of nowhere.

To rub salt into a rather gaping wound, Micky van de Ven's hamstring injury is a bad one, too, and the Dutch defender will be sidelined for around two months. With both Christian Romero and Destiny Udogie suspended after being sent off in the chaotic defeat to Chelsea last weekend, that leaves Spurs with just one of their first-choice back line ready to play against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Richarlison will also be out for several months as he undergoes pelvic surgery. The squad is suddenly stretched to breaking point.

On paper, it looks like something of a disaster for a club who need to bounce back quickly from their first defeat of the Premier League season. Maddison has played practically every minute of the campaign and been at the centre of everything they do going forward. In defence, Van de Ven has been outstanding, and the loss of his technical excellence and composed presence at the back will be a blow. But as is so often the case with the best teams these days, Spurs' success hasn't been built on individual performances, but on a system. This is simply an especially stern test of that system.

Postecoglou's comments after the 4-1 defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium concerning his determination to play his way at all costs, under all circumstances were revealing - specifically, his assertion that he wanted his team to continue to press for goals and press high up the pitch no matter how many men were sent from the field. They implied that the Australian won't change his stripes regardless of who he needs to put on the teamsheet, and it's unlikely that we see a change to some more conservative set-up which acknowledges the patchwork nature of the squad. If he does go down that path - and many managers would try to cover such a huge injury crisis but crowbarring the best available players into a different system - it would likely be a disaster.

Granted, Spurs' system might have become a little memeified thanks to that now-infamous overhead shot of Marc Cucurella breezing through Spurs' kamikaze high line, but if it didn't work, Spurs would not have made it to the top of the table in the first place. They press high and press hard, and that won't be any different when they play Wolves this Saturday. They simply have to press high and hard with different players.

In defence, things are bad but there are options. Emerson Royal will fill on the left and Eric Dier is hardly such a terrible back-up to have in the centre. Ben Davies has struggled with fitness of late but if he's available then Spurs still have a highly experienced, capable back four ready to go. If Davies isn't around, it still isn't too bad, because they have a couple of young defenders worth putting faith in.

Ashley Phillips, the 18-year-old who signed in the summer from Blackburn Rovers, is extraordinarily composed and confident for his tender age, and his performances in the Championship last year strongly suggested that he was not so very far away from being first-team ready. Then there's Alfie Dorrington, an England Under-19 international who has impressed in the reserve side this year and has a few tongues wagging in North London. Saturday might be a little sooner than anyone had planned for their introductions to first-team football, but they have the raw ability to play the roles - and Postecoglou has the system. We can chuckle at Spurs' defensive naïveté against Chelsea all we like, but prior to Monday night's match they had only conceded nine goals in 10 games. It's almost as if there was method in the madness.

Richarlison can be replaced, too, with Brennan Johnson itching for a chance to prove that he was worth the £47.5m Spurs splashed out to bring him in from Nottingham Forest. The real problem, and the player whose absence could see everything unravel, is Maddison.

Spurs don't really have a like-for-like replacement for the former Leicester City midfielder. They have other players who can dribble with the ball, players who know how to work the channels, and players who can pick a pass. They may not, however, have another player who can do all three. But someone needs to fill that role.

If Spurs were to simply try to play a patchwork tactic involving their best midfielders, they would presumably pull together Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr and hope it worked. Such a midfield would be competent, solid defensively and would make few mistakes that could be turned into comical clips for social media. But it would lack spark.

That means a gamble has to be taken - Giovani Lo Celso can be given a chance to finally prove his worth, or Bryan Gil can be thrown into the fray. Maybe Son Heung-Min drops back to become the creative fulcrum of the team and young striker Alejo Véliz gets a go. There is every chance that Spurs' teamsheet on Saturday looks like some kind of Hail Mary play, but Postecoglou will surely stick to his guns and try to have his team play their way out of this the same way they played their way to the league lead in the first place. To do anything else is, frankly, to invite mediocrity, and god knows that Spurs fans have seen enough of that over the years.

Of course, it could all go horribly wrong. Maybe the youngsters who come in to fill the gaps will be overawed by the occasion. Maybe the back-up players are back-ups because they aren't very good. There's no doubt that Spurs will be worse than they have been over the next two months. But this is a chance for Postecoglou to prove the merits of his plan, and to shut the snide comments about Cucurella up for good. Or perhaps it will all go horribly wrong. This is Spurs, after all...