Between the 4-1 thrashing and Rodrigo Bentancur limping off with a season-ending injury, Tottenham’s top-four hopes appeared to take a significant hit against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium last month.
Tottenham are not blessed with midfield depth, and the double pivot of Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had proven integral to their success in the first year of Antonio Conte’s management.
It had spring-boarded them into the Champions League places last season, and on a points-per-game basis would have had them a comfortable eight points inside the top four.
Spurs had won only one of five games without Bentancur since the start of this season, with defeats in the Argentine’s absence including those suffered against Arsenal and Aston Villa.
On the back of that drubbing at the hands of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester, coupled with news that Bentancur had ruptured his ACL and the additional long-term absence of Yves Bissouma, things were looking bleak.
Homegrown central midfielder Oliver Skipp has always looked a relatively capable understudy, but standing in with a Champions League last-16 tie with AC Milan on the line as well as top-four qualification was a big ask, even in the short-term.
The 22-year-old has risen to the occasion, to the point where he is already being touted as a future Spurs captain. After keeping a talented AC Milan midfield largely at bay alongside Pape Sarr at the San Siro, the midfielder scored his first goal for the club at the 67th attempt to help his side win Sunday’s London derby with Chelsea.
Those on the inside are less surprised by his performances, especially after the determination he showed to recover from a serious injury suffered last year, shortly after Conte’s appointment.
“Skippy surprised us when we first arrived last year,” stand-in boss Cristian Stellini said after beating Chelsea. “He is a great guy, who works 100 per cent every day. He needed time and the opportunity.
“When he had the opportunity, he showed to everyone the confidence he has in himself. This confidence came from the work he does every day.”
Tottenham have won both of their league games since he stepped in, keeping West Ham and the Blues to a combined xG of 0.9.
Against the Hammers, no one on the pitch made more tackles while against Chelsea, he made more interceptions than anyone else in a Spurs shirt, combined with Harry Kane as often as any of his team-mates, and scored that breakthrough goal moments after the interval.
The reactions of his team-mates to his goal say a lot about why his leadership qualities are being talked up.
“Everyone’s absolutely delighted for him, we all know how hard he works and what a good professional he is,” goalkeeper Fraser Forster said. “This run in the team he’s really showing what he can do and [he is] producing some fantastic performances.”
Hard work has been at the heart of Skipp taking his chance but it takes more than graft to make a player at a top-four team. The technique of his strike against Chelsea even had all-time top goalscorer Kane impressed.
“It was top quality wasn’t it,” he said. “It was as good as you can hit them really. We work a lot in training on edge of the box finishing from second balls. He’s been working hard so nice to see it pay off.”
It’s paying off for both Skipp and Spurs so far.
And with a midweek FA Cup trip to Sheffield United next up before facing Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Southampton in their next three league games, Tottenham’s short-term prospects have turned from a concern to an opportunity.