by Daniel Roodt
The 2019/20 season was a tumultuous one for Tottenham Hotspur. The high of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League final last season quickly dissipated when the club found themselves floundering in a midtable position at the start of the season.
Rather than allowing the manager who had transformed the club to steady the ship, chairman Daniel Levy decided to fire Mauricio Pochettino on 19 November 2019. He was replaced the following day by serial winner Jose Mourinho.
While Mourinho’s appointment certainly improved results on the pitch and earned them a spot in the Europa League qualifiers, his time at the club has not been without criticism. He has frozen out club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele and has set the team up in a practical but boring way.
[ABOVE: Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff celebrating qualifying for the UEFA Europa League after drawing to Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League season. Image via France24]
Jose Mourinho was brought in to do what his predecessor failed to do, which is to win trophies. However, to fulfil this goal, Mourinho will need to refresh his squad drastically. He will need to reinforce critical positions and plug noticeable gaps in his team if he is to have any chance of bringing a trophy back to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The positions that Spurs should look to strengthen are striker, defensive midfield and right back.
This is perhaps the most challenging position for Spurs to recruit in, due to the presence of England captain Harry Kane. Any striker who comes in knows that they will be playing backup to Kane and that may discourage any potential arrivals.
However, it is still vital that the club recruits in this position. Kane has a bad injury record, which is likely in part due to the number of games he plays every season. In the past five seasons of games he has been involved in, Kane has started all but five times.
he has only not started in five of the games he has been involved in.
As a result of this, he is scoring fewer goals, and even more alarmingly, taking less shots per 90 minutes. In the 2017/18 season, he was averaging 5.3 shots per 90 minutes, while this season he only averaged 2.71 shots per 90.
Spurs need to bring someone in who can replace Harry Kane when he is injured, but who can also alleviate his burden when he is fit. A perfect candidate for this would be Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik who has been linked with a move away from the San Paolo in the upcoming transfer window.
Milik is only 26 this year and would be a more than suitable deputy to Kane. The Polish striker scored 11 goals in 19 starts for Napoli last season (2019/20).
However, it was the season prior where he truly shone, scoring 17 goals in 27 starts for the side from Naples. His expected goals and shot numbers from the past two seasons indicate he is scoring at a very sustainable rate.
This season he averaged 3.45 shots per 90 minutes, and his expected goals (xG) stood at 10.2. Last season, he was taking 4.21 shots per 90, with his xG standing at 15.6.
Calciomercato in Italy reported in March that Napoli would not entertain offers less than€40 million. However, that number may have decreased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and because the Pole is seeking a new challenge.
If Spurs deem Milik too costly, they could look at signing Bournemouth and England striker, Callum Wilson. He should be available for a cut-price fee after the Cherries were relegated from the Premier League.
In the 2016/17 season, this was one of Spurs’ strongest positions. The midfield pairing of Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele complemented each other perfectly. Wanyama was a combative defensive midfielder who screened the backline. Dembele was a more box to box player, responsible for both breaking up play and progressing the ball up the pitch with his famed dribbling skills.
However, since the decline of Wanyama due to injury and Dembele due to age, both players have been moved on. That has left Spurs with the midfield pairing of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko otherwise known as Winkoko.
Neither Winks nor Sissoko are world-class players and more jacks of all trades than anything else. They also do not offer enough defensive solidity to allow the likes of Giovanni Lo Celso, Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele (when he plays) to express themselves further up the field where they can hurt the opposition.
Spurs needed to sign someone who is comfortable sitting in front of their backline with the sole focus of breaking up play and keeping it simple in possession. An ideal candidate for this role was Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
[ABOVE: Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in action against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup last season. Image from AFP via Getty Images]
The former Bayern Munich midfielder had been linked with a move to the Lilywhites for several months, and in early August he signed for a fee of around £15m plus bonuses.
Højbjerg, who captained the Saints this season is only 25 years old, so he would be more than just a short term fix.
The Dane has contributed a combined 4.41 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes this season. While these numbers pale in comparison to the likes of Wilfried Ndidi, they are respectable and should increase in a more conservative role like the one he will likely play at Spurs.
While the Dane is not going to set the world on fire, he should be a reliable presence at the base of Spurs’ midfield for years to come.
The decline of Spurs’ fullbacks has been startling. In Pochettino’s peak years, the pairing of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker wreaked havoc with their marauding runs down the flanks.
Those days are now long gone. Both Walker and Rose have left the club, albeit Rose on a loan deal. Going into the 2020/2021 season, Spurs were left with Ben Davies and Serge Aurier, neither of whom have produced the same output as their predecessors.
Davies is arguably more comfortable on the left of a back three and Aurier is rash and error-prone and, despite his license to bomb forward, is not producing enough in the final third.
In an attempt to solve their right-back issues, Spurs have signed Irish right-back Matt Doherty for a fee of £15 million from Wolverhampton Wanderers. He will sign a four-year contract and will wear the number 2 shirt.
However, while Doherty and Aurier share the ability to get forward, the manner in which they do this differs.
Doherty is a player who likes to provide a goal threat in the opposition box. This is shown by his xG of 5.1 and his 1.08 shots per 90 last season.
While his predecessor and potential rival Serge Aurier prefers to provide a crossing threat as shown by his five assists last season. He also averaged 4.47 crosses per 90 last season, while in comparison, Doherty averaged 1.4 crosses per 90 in 2019/20.
While both players offer different threats, it will likely not change the way Spurs play in possession as Doherty is extremely adept at going forward. Ben Davies should still tuck in to form a back three when Tottenham have the ball, which will allow Doherty the license to bomb forward.
As a result of Doherty's arrival, Serge Aurier is expected to depart the club he joined in 2017/18. However, talks with AC Milan have fallen through. This may open up the door for a potential move to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany who reportedly want the Ivory Coast international.
Although Spurs have already signed three players this window, they will need to sign more if they are to qualify for the Champions League next season. While making the top four this season may be a step too far, Spurs are on the right track and should only improve from here.
Expected goals (xG) - the probability that a shot will result in a goal based on the characteristics of that shot and the events leading up to it.
Expected assists (xA) - xG which follows a pass that assists a shot.
Shot-creating action - the two offensive actions leading to a shot or goal. This includes live-ball passes, dead-ball passes, successful dribbles, shots which lead to another shot, and being fouled.
All stats from Statsbomb via Fbref.com