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Know Your Opponent: a chat about Tottenham Hotspur with Carty Free

As if we needed any introduction to that other club in North London.

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images

I love the North London Derby. You really can’t beat the atmosphere, the excitement, the rivalry, the [insert awesome thing here]. It has it all. North London is red. Always has been. Always will be. Regardless of results.

But there is a white side of North London. As much as I’m loathe to admit it, Tottenham Hotspur, the football club, exists. Spurs are the yin to Arsenal’s yang. The Dark Side to the Light. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

Cartilage Free Captain is probably the best thing about Tottenham Hotspur. And we checked in with our SB Nation friends ahead of the NLD to learn a bit more about Harry Kane’s dalliance with a move to Manchester City, the early returns on Nuno Espirito Santo at the helm, and more. A big thanks to Sean Cahill (@seancahill24) for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Aaron’s answers to his questions here. I had a fair bit to say!


TSF: The story of Tottenham’s summer was Harry Kane’s “will he go, won’t he go” dance with Manchester City. Obviously, he’s still at Tottenham. How has that affected his relationship with the club? With the supporters? Will he move in an upcoming window?

CFC: The Harry Kane Saga wasn’t a fun one to go through, but it goes back further than the summer and his ill-timed interview on the golf course with Gary Neville. I think up until that point, his simple “I’d like a new challenge” comments could be forgiven but the Neville interview was a turning point for a lot of people, myself and most of Carty Free included.

Mid-July, I think we were convinced he was gone. Levy would play the long game, make sure negotiations went until right after the City match was done, and then things would move quickly to send Harry Kane north.

Then Chelsea bought Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez stopped being available. We thought he was the top target and, if Spurs were going to sell Kane, that was the guy to flip him for. Honestly, we would have been okay with it! Martinez is wonderful and we thought he’d slot in well. Of course, none of this happened and it turned out City just weren’t all that into Kane with the reported single bid of £100m. They never sniffed Levy’s valuation.

I’d bet a very large sum of money that he’s gone next summer, especially if he doesn’t let his idiotic brother handle the negotiations. I’ve seen used car salesmen negotiate better than Charlie Kane. If Harry’s smart, he’d fire his brother, but it’s clear he won’t. Maybe he likes that oil spell desk a lot....

Externally, the club is handling this as well as they can but internally, there are rumblings that most of the club found his behavior unprofessional and they wanted him out the door. The fanbase is split but if he keeps putting up goose eggs for goals in Premier League play, the fans are going to get angry fast.

TSF: Talk about Spurs’ best player, Heung-min Son. It seems like the attack is much more centered on him so far this season as opposed to the Harry Kane as creator and scorer setup that was last season. Also, can you guys do me a favor and sell him so that I can like him? I really want to like him but I can’t because he wears lilywhite.

CFC: Hate to break it to you, but Sonny may retire at Spurs. He signed a brand new deal in July that extended him through 2025, which will put him at 33 years old. He may return to Korea for a ride into the sunset but he made it clear he loves the club and doesn’t want to play anywhere else. The club rewarded him with a big pay bump and he handled this in the exact opposite way Kane handled his transfer business: He played and let his agents handle the negotiations quietly.

It does blow my mind that mega clubs weren’t banging down Levy’s door at the end of last season. Sure, he’s 29 and this is his last big payday but you’d think someone like Bayern, PSG, Madrd would have at least inquired. Instead, Sonny’s staying in London and I couldn’t be happier.

As for the attack, it does seem that’s the case. Kane is dropping deeper into the formation and the goal appears to be to unleash the speedsters behind defenses. It’s worked on counter attacks, save for the Palace game which I have no desire to remember, but I feel like Spurs need more than just that to get the attack going, and the injury bug biting early hasn’t helped. (TSF: Hey! Twinsies!)

TSF: Is there an Arsenal player you feel similarly about - you want to like them but can’t because they play for a rival? Related question, if you could have one Arsenal player at Spurs, who would you take and why? (I thought both of these might be good questions for some #engagement in the comments - so readers, do your thing!)

CFC: The FIFA player in me was upset when Kieran Tierney went to Arsenal. He was always one of the first signings for me from Celtic because he was young, fast, and it didn’t cost that much to bring him in and lock down the flank. Now I can’t like him because he’s at Arsenal.

If there’s one I could have right now, it’s probably Martin Ødegaard. Spurs could really use another creative midfielder and he can do everything needed in that role. I think he got a bit of a raw deal early in his career, which I’m pretty sure started at like age 9 for Real Madrid, but I fear he’s going to kick it up a notch and be a thorn in Tottenham’s ass for a long time.

TSF: Y’all wrote about the Fabio Paratici pulling the plug on hiring Paulo Fonseca over the summer story — did Daniel Levy really just want “nice Mourinho” to manage the club? Early impressions of Nuno Espirito Santo?

CFC: “Non-asshole Mourinho” is my early take.

I was ready for Paulo Fonseca to come in and turn us into the four horsemen of the apocalypse on the attack, defense be damned. Depending on who you ask, it’s either Fabio Paratici who killed that dead or it was Italian tax breaks he wanted to keep via compensation.

Nuno is fine, but I hate defensive football and this looks and feels like Mourinho-ball. Sure, Spurs took 9 of 9 in the first three matches. But outside of the City match, I did not come away from those games feeling like Spurs were truly contenders for the title. The difference between Nuno and Mourinho is two-fold: Nuno is nice and Nuno’s second half sides are typically strong finishers.

That being said, I do not think Nuno is going to be here for the long haul. Spurs just needed someone that was professional and competent. That’s Nuno through and through, but unless something insane happens, he won’t be here for more than his two-year contract.

TSF: What about the other new faces at the cheese club Tottenham Hotspur stadium? How have they done so far?

CFC: Spurs did a good bit of business and I’m most excited for Cuti Romero and Bryan Gil. Romero should bring stability into the back line and eventually mesh with this side, though he’s still adjusting to the tactics and the league and probably will need a bit more time to do both.

Gil is basically a faster Lamela, who I miss so damn much and I am taking donations for his statue I want to build. He’s exciting, direct, and also has that mean streak in him when pushed. I don’t think he sharpens his elbows like Coco did, though.

Emerson Royal joined at the end of the window from Barcelona and I think he’ll lock down the fullback job quickly. I like what he brings and while he isn’t a burner, he’s solid defensively and a decent passer. There’s plenty of time for him to get better, too.

TSF: How do you expect Nuno will line up on Sunday against Arsenal? Will he play his good players like he did against Chelsea or will it be more of what we saw from him in the other matches?

CFC: I might be more accurate trying to give you the Powerball numbers, to be honest. Nuno SHOULD play the lineup he did against Chelsea because Spurs were the better side in the first half. That second half was bad and got worse as it went on. While it is Chelsea and they’re stupidly good, Spurs fell off a cliff and never recovered.

Expect the 4-3-3 Nuno has been playing, as I don’t think he wants to go to a back three until Romero is settled and he finds defenders he can trust. Lucas Moura should be available while Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Sessengnon are not available due to injuries.

Lloris; Emerson, Romero, Dier, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Dele; Lo Celso, Kane, Son

TSF: What do you think is the best lineup / formation for Spurs and what is keeping Nuno from deploying it?

The lineup above is honestly the best Spurs can put together. Oliver Skipp may develop into a guy who is undroppable in midfield, but his passing still needs work, and I think he’s adjusting to the speed of the Premier League. I’m comfortable with him being rotational for now and playing against lower half of the league clubs, but I want that midfield trio as much as possible.

As for why Nuno hasn’t picked it often, I think it’s a combination of fitness, injuries, FIFA international hilarity (ugh), and still working through the squad to find who he can trust. I think by January we’ll know who his preferred squad is.

TSF: And as always, a prediction for the match?

CFC: I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Both of these clubs right now seem like Jekyll and Hyde and you have no idea which one you get each match day. I’ll cop out and say it’ll be a 1-1 draw, but I am in no way confident of that prediction.


Thanks again to Sean and Carty Free for being such good sports, as they always are. I hope they have an enjoyable but slightly-to-significantly less enjoyable North London Derby on Sunday.