When José Mourinho first arrived at Tottenham Hotspur in November of last year, they immediately picked up good form. Four wins from five, scoring 14 goals over those games, saw them jump ahead in the Premier League table from 14th to 5th. However, since then, Tottenham have spiralled back down into the form they displayed during the final matches of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign. What this signals is that Mourinho has run into the same problems that Pochettino faced. It wasn’t simply a lack of interest from Pochettino, although that seemed to contribute; there are underlying issues with the squad itself.
“Now it’s about creating another chapter and to have the clear idea of how we are going to build that new project. We need to rebuild. It’s going to be painful.”
These words were spoken by Pochettino in May 2019, just six months before he was sacked. Having failed to sign a single player in two consecutive transfer windows prior to last summer, Pochettino recognised the need to inject new, fresh energy into his ageing squad.
This was Pochettino’s favoured lineup in the 15/16 season. Just three of these 11 players have left the club in the four and a half years since that season, a staggeringly low amount. “I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, who achieved one of the most decorated managerial spells for a single team in football history.
Tottenham began the rebuild in the summer. Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon, and Giovani Lo Celso were signed in the hope of adding some quality to a side that hadn’t seen a new face in a year and a half. All under the age of 24, Daniel Levy, chairman of the club, had secured three highly sought-after talents that had been pursued by some of the biggest clubs in Europe. One issue that Tottenham encountered, however, was offloading those they wanted gone. Permanent deals only materialised for Kieran Trippier, Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, and Vincent Janssen, two of whom were more recent additions in comparison with the rest of the squad.
Since last summer Tottenham have managed to ship out two more unwanted players: Christian Eriksen and Victor Wanyama. Eriksen is a significant departure, not least because of his reputation as one of Tottenham’s best performers over the last decade. He embodied Tottenham’s squad issues: a once spectacular player who had more recently underperformed and was evidently no longer engaged with the club’s future. This deal will be seen as a significant step in creating Tottenham ‘2.0’.
Who should be the next to go?
This summer will undoubtedly see a number of Tottenham’s former key players leave for pastures new. In order to make space for some new additions to refresh the squad, which I will be discussing shortly, Tottenham will have to be willing to let go of some fan favourites who have given their all for the club. Those who I believe are most likely to potentially move on this summer are Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose, Moussa Sissoko, Eric Dier, Érik Lamela, and Harry Kane.
Jan Vertonghen, whose contract expires this summer, appears unlikely to renew. The 32-year-old centre-back is the second-longest serving member of Tottenham’s first team but has noticeably declined in quality of performance output over the last eight months.
Danny Rose, who has been at the club since 2007, will likely be leaving this summer. Currently on loan at Newcastle, the 29-year-old has struggled with injuries since 2017 and has failed to impress new head coach José Mourinho whenever given opportunities to prove his value as a member of the squad.
Moussa Sissoko has been an important player for Spurs over the last year, playing a vital role in their run to the Champions League Final. However, he is 30 years of age, so now might be the right time to sell him before his value decreases. There are also doubts as to whether he has enough technical ability to be of great use to Mourinho as a central midfielder.
Eric Dier was initially a starter for Mourinho and is still Spurs’ only holding midfielder. After a string of poor performances, he has been in and out of the side. Like many others in this squad, he hasn’t been able to reach the heights he achieved in the 16/17 season, so now could be his time to leave.
Érik Lamela, now 28-years-old, hasn’t been a regular starter for Spurs for several years. He may want to leave in search of some more game time, and I doubt there would be much resistance from the club were that to happen.
Harry Kane’s time at Tottenham looks to be hanging in the balance. He will be 27 come the summer and is yet to win a team trophy. Levy and Mourinho will undoubtedly do everything within their power to persuade him to stay, however, would likely be forced to sell should his patience have reached its limit.
The rest of this recruitment analysis will be based on who I believe Tottenham could sign in their five key areas of the field that need addressing. For each position, I will give three options: an expensive option, followed by a cheaper option, and finally, a homegrown option.
Youcef Atal – This season, Youcef Atal’s rather spectacular performances have made several top clubs pay attention. He’s a player who thrives in 1v1 situations against opposition full-backs: he will sprint past them with the help of his rapid acceleration before whipping a ball into the box for a striker to attack. He attempts an incredible 10.5 dribbles per 90, with a 60% completion rate, displaying his confidence to beat the defender. Not only does he possess great pace, but his dribbling ability in tight areas means he can get closer to goal before crossing. This has enabled him to complete 33% of his crosses last season. Atal would be a great option for Spurs’ current attacking system: the left-back stays deep which allows the right-back to push high and provide the width on the right-hand side. Atal would likely force the opposition defenders to double-up on him to contain his threat, creating space for Tottenham’s attackers in other areas of the pitch. The right-back for Tottenham also has a less demanding defensive role. This would be beneficial for Atal, considering he loses out 65% of the time when defending 1v1. What he is good at, however, is making recovery runs after being higher up the pitch, as he can utilise his speed to get back and help recover the ball, shown by his 5.3 interceptions per 90.
Joakim Mæhle – Mæhle is a 22-year-old right-back who is ready to take the next step in his career. Like Atal, he is better going forwards than he is defensively. While Mæhle isn’t as good as Atal at taking defenders on, he possesses better playmaking abilities. Mæhle plays a higher percentage of his passes forward, helping his team progress the ball up the pitch from deep. He completes 0.63 key passes per 90, over twice that of Atal, whilst maintaining a very similar cross completion rate. Atal just about edges him on defensive duels and interceptions per 90, but Mæhle has a higher win percentage when defending in 1v1 situations. Overall, both Mæhle and Atal would be great additions to Tottenham’s right flank, but each provide slightly different attacking threats.
Max Aarons – At just 20-years of age, Max Aarons is the youngest of the three options. One benefit of signing Aarons would be that he wouldn’t need to adapt to the intensity of the Premier League, but instead would be able to slot straight into the side. Like the other two, Aarons is very quick, allowing him to cover great distances up and down the right side of the pitch, supporting the attack while being able to recover when possession is lost. In terms of statistics, Aarons completes a similar number of dribbles per 90 (4.2) as Mæhle (4.3) which is impressive considering the difficult nature of the Premier League. Aarons has also managed to complete more key passes per 90 (0.4) than Atal (0.3), demonstrating his ability to contribute in the final third.
Rúben Dias – Mourinho is reportedly a big fan of fellow Portuguese national Rúben Dias. The 22-year-old centre-back is one of the top talents in the Primeira Liga and is ready for a move to a club in one of the top five European leagues. Davinson Sánchez has been Tottenham’s best defender this season but needs a long-term partner, with both Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld significantly older than the Columbian. Sánchez is a physically dominant centre-half whose weakness is playing out the back, especially when under pressure. Dias would compliment him perfectly, as he can both dribble out from the back and utilise his expansive passing range. Dias completes a staggering 4.8 long passes per 90 at a 75% completion rate. For some context, that is the highest in terms of volume and completion rate of the three centre-back options included in this recruitment analysis. This would allow Tottenham to replace the useful tool of diagonal balls from the back out to the wide players that Alderweireld usually supplies in possession, which is key to Mourinho’s style of play.
Merih Demiral – Should the 22-year-old successfully recover from his ACL injury, Merih Demiral would be a fantastic option for Tottenham. Due to Juventus’s vast numbers of centre-backs, Demiral could be a cheaper purchase for Tottenham than Dias due to his lack of game time. Demiral is an imposing, aggressive centre-back who loves to win the ball back rather than standing off the attacker. This is evidenced by his attempted 5.9 interceptions and 6.7 defensive duels per 90. His long-distance passing, while not of Dias’s quality, is still impressive, completing 67% of his attempted long passes. Demiral is also good at wrapping passes along the ground into players positioned higher up the pitch between the lines, which players like Dele and Steven Bergwijn, who like to drop into pockets of space to receive the ball, would thrive off. Demiral’s front-foot nature could potentially cause issues when playing with Sánchez however, who also likes to try and step up into midfield to win the ball. This could leave gaps open behind them for opposition attackers to exploit.
Ben White – Currently playing on loan at Leeds under manager Marcelo Bielsa, Ben White has been one of the standout breakthrough talents in the Championship this season. White is an ideal centre-back for a team that prefers to play high up the pitch, which Mourinho showed glimpses of in his first few games in charge. While not particularly tall, White is fast enough to cover large spaces on transitions, combining this with his excellent positional awareness in order to push opposition attackers out to wider areas of the pitch where they are less of a threat. This would fit perfectly with Sánchez’s style of play, as White would be able to cover the space he vacates when moving into higher areas of the pitch. White possesses a superb passing range, with a very similar volume and completion rate to that of Dias. White completes the most dribbles per 90 of the three centre-back options on this list, at 0.62 per 90. This displays his press resistant nature, a useful tool for any team looking to build from the back.
José Gayà – The 24-year-old full back José Gayà has spent his entire career at Valencia, so might now be looking for a new challenge. Gayà would be a useful option for Mourinho to have in his squad, considering his only left-back he currently has available to him, Ben Davies, isn’t great offensively. Instead, he prefers to utilise Davies as part of a back three in possession. Gayà, however, prefers to fly forward and contribute in the final third. He is a fantastic dribbler of the ball, completing 69% of his dribbles due to his ability to manoeuvre the ball quickly onto each side thanks to his low centre of gravity. What makes him such a threat in the final third is his ability to accelerate to make a yard of space for him to cross, attempting 3.86 crosses per 90 at an impressive 37% success rate.
Alex Telles – One of the more experienced players on this list, 27-year-old Alex Telles of Porto has just one year left on his current deal, making him a cheaper option for the summer should Porto look to cash in on him now rather than losing him on a free a year later. Alex Telles would provide Tottenham with one thing that they lack, a full-back who is consistently great at crossing. Harry Kane would thrive off his whipped balls into the box which are so difficult for the opposition to defend. He attempts 4.9 crosses per 90 at a remarkable success rate of 40%, demonstrating his ability as one of the best crossers of a ball in Europe. However, Chelsea look to be the frontrunners in the race to sign the Brazilian left-back, so Levy must act quick if he is looking to secure a deal for him.
Jamal Lewis – The 22-year-old Norwich left-back Jamal Lewis is probably the most defensively capable left-back of the three in this piece. Lewis boasts the lowest percentage of losses while defending in 1v1 situations (60%) and wins the most defensive duels (7.66 per 90). Another excellent dribbler of the ball, Lewis completes 4.0 dribblers per 90 at the second-highest success rate of the three (69%), slightly higher than Gayà’s. His number of dribbles per 90 is substantially higher than the other two on this list, showing his ability to drive his team up the pitch in possession. However, he is the least consistent crosser of the three. Not only does he attempt significantly fewer, but his cross-completion rate (30%) is also 7% lower than Gayà’s and 10% lower than Telles’. Despite this, 30% is by no means a poor percentage, but simply isn’t at the elite level of Gayà and Telles.
Denis Zakaria – Possibly the most important signing Tottenham could make this summer, Denis Zakaria would fill a massive hole in Tottenham’s squad. Harry Winks has had to fill in as a makeshift holding midfielder, after Wanyama and Dier haven’t been able to consistently play for several seasons due to injuries and poor form. While Winks is good in possession, he doesn’t provide suitable defensive cover, especially in transitions. Zakaria would do exactly that. Zakaria has played as both a lone pivot and one of the two in a double pivot, demonstrating that he could play a key part in both a 4-2-3-1 system and a 4-3-3 system. Zakaria’s height of 6’2” enables him to cover vast amounts of ground with long strides, which is very beneficial in defensive transition. His attempted 7.3 defensive duels and 4.37 interceptions per 90 are ideal for a player looking to play the ‘number 6’ role. In possession, Zakaria is intelligent enough to play as a lone pivot. He is great at carrying the ball forwards with 2.9 dribbles per 90, as well as playing forward passes into teammates in more advanced areas of the pitch. Over 50% of his passes are forward, of which 90% find a teammate.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – A favourite of manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has been key to Southampton’s recent success. The 24-year-old is defensively sound, attempting 8.1 defensive duels and 5.9 interceptions per 90, albeit with a slightly lower duel win percentage than Zakaria. These numbers are slightly above those of Zakaria, but are, however, slightly inflated due to Southampton being in a defensive structure for a greater proportion of each match than Borussia Mönchengladbach are. Højbjerg is also adept at defending opposition counters due to his long strides, however, doesn’t possess the pace of Zakaria, and so must resort to fouling the opposition more frequently in order to stop their attack. Like several others in this piece, Højbjerg is already playing in the Premier League, and so would likely be an easier short-term fix than the other options.
Kalvin Phillips – Bielsa has opted to go for Kalvin Phillips at the base of his midfield throughout this season, and it has paid off tremendously. The Englishman has proven his quality this season in the championship, and now 24, could look to move to a club aiming to challenge for major trophies. Phillips is very active out of possession, looking to press the opposition and win the ball back high up the pitch, proven by his 4.8 interceptions per 90. His defensive duel volume is the highest on this list, while still losing a lower percentage of those duels than Højbjerg. On the other hand, the disadvantage of pressing high up the pitch is that Phillips will leave space behind him which the opposition can exploit should they manage to bypass the press successfully. Despite this, I’m sure Mourinho would be able to improve his positional discipline should he want him to sit deeper and screen the defence. On the ball, Phillips prefers to use quick passing combinations to progress the ball up the pitch, rather than carrying the ball up the pitch by taking players on. This is exhibited by his 1.05 attempted dribbles per 90, the lowest of the three. Phillips instead regularly plays incisive forward passes into attackers, with 61% of his passes being forward. As well as this, Phillips has the greatest passing range of the three. He attempts 5.3 long passes per 90 at a similar success rate to the other two; this is in comparison to Zakaria’s 1.2 per 90 and Højbjerg’s 3.4 per 90.
Victor Osimhen – Spurs’ assistant manager João Sacramento could look to bring striker Victor Osimhen to Tottenham, having previously coached him for a short period at Lille. With 17 goal contributions in 25 starts at just 21 years of age, the Nigerian striker will without a doubt be being considered as a backup for Harry Kane by Tottenham’s recruitment team. Not only could he fill in for Kane when he is injured or needs a rest, but he has the ceiling to eventually replace Kane should he choose to leave. Osimhen possesses many of the qualities that Mourinho likes in a striker. He is good in the air due to a combination of his 6’0” stature and high jumping reach which allows him to win 40% of his aerial duels, which is a respectable success rate given that he attempts 11.1 per 90. This ability to win the ball in the air, in addition to his high levels of strength and balance, allows him to hold up the ball for other attackers around him. Another physical attribute that he has in abundance is pace: this makes him very effective in offensive transition, another important factor to consider for a player in a Mourinho side. Since Mourinho’s tactics involve setting up in a 4-4-2 defensive structure, the job of the two at the top of the formation is to immediately make runs into the wide areas in offensive transition where there is space due to the opposition full-backs being caught high up the pitch. Osimhen’s explosive pace would suit this action perfectly, as his runs would be fed by the likes of Ndombele and Lo Celso, who are both excellent at turning quickly and threading passes for the attackers to run on to.
Mariano Díaz – After moving to Real Madrid in 2018, Mariano Díaz has only managed three combined starts in La Liga and the Champions League, partially due to the arrival of Luka Jović from Eintracht Frankfurt, so could be signed for a relatively low price. Mariano is a similar profile of striker to Osimhen. Both 6’0”, good in the air, and prefer to play on the shoulder of the last defender to utilise their pace to get in behind the opposition’s backline. Mariano’s movement and clinical nature in the box are exactly what Tottenham have recently missed due to the absence of Harry Kane. Both Mariano and Osimhen are also able to drop deeper, before collecting the ball and driving at the opposition defence: this is demonstrated by Mariano’s 3.2 attempted dribbles per 90, compared to Osimhen’s 3.9 per 90, a difference of just 0.7 per 90 at an identical success rate of 60%.
Ollie Watkins – One of the stars of Brentford’s team this season, Ollie Watkins has scored 22 goals in 37 league games. Despite also being 6’0”, Watkins isn’t as much of a threat in the air as either Osimhen or Mariano, winning just 30% of his aerial duels. Instead, he prefers to have the ball at his feet, often dropping deeper to do so, before using his strength to turn the defender and accelerate with the ball towards goal. Watkins’ excellent short pass accuracy of 87% is higher than the other two strikers on this list, and therefore would probably be the best option if Mourinho wants to play a possession-based game in the long-term, given his ability to link-up with teammates around him.
While Tottenham’s squad is in need of a rebuild, they have to be smarter in their spending than some of the other top six clubs. This is down to the fact that they will not have a large budget available to them, partially due to investment in the construction of the new stadium. Furthermore, this will be weakened if they fail to secure Champions League football for next season. This piece of recruitment analysis took this into account by including a variety of cheaper and homegrown players. Homegrown players will also be essential for Tottenham to sign in order to play in European competition due to tough registration rules. The data provided hopefully aided in giving an insight into each potential target’s style of play, strengths, and weaknesses.
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