Opinion: A brief analysis of Spurs in 20/21 and how Nuno should use this data in how they plan for 21/22

Nuno Espirito Santo
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By all accounts, the 20/21 season was largely very underwhelming for Tottenham Hotspur. Poor results, toxicity and visible unrest within the fanbase amidst the fiasco of the ill-fated Super League, all in the shadow of PR mishap after mishap by the club, made the season gone by one the Spurs faithful are likely to want to forget in a hurry. However, taking purely the on-pitch results of the team, how bad did Spurs really do, and how can we use this to tell us how to improve in 21/22?

Individual mistakes. A common refrain of José Mourinho, the latest Spurs manager to have the axe wielded on him by Daniel Levy. But as we take a deeper delve into Spurs’ issues over the past 12 months, what, more specifically were issues that Mourinho repeatedly bemoaned?

Tottenham Hotspur conceded 45 goals last season; a meagre improvement on the 47 conceded the former term. However, an alarming consistency appears in the type of goals conceded. 59% of these 45 goals were conceded from a set-piece (including penalties) The aerial capabilities of the Spurs centre backs were most ruthlessly exposed

Davinson Sanchez was the most aerially capable winning 61% of his aerial duels per 90, Joe Rodon winning 57% of his (albeit with a small sample size) with Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier (Spurs’ 1st choice CB pairing for the first half of the season) both winning around 55% of their aerial duels per 90.

These stats are, for a club eyeing European football, abhorrent, and that’s an understatement. As bad as they are, Spurs’ centre back woes are well documented by various media sources. However, one area of Spurs’ team that has been really underwritten about in my opinion is Spurs’ ineffectiveness in midfield

Gone are the days of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama strutting their stuff in the heart of the Tottenham midfield, imposing themselves on the opponent with the sheer physicality they possess. Pierre Emile Højbjerg has been an astute purchase, playing every minute of the season, and Tanguy Ndombele’s talent is undeniable. However, neither have the capability to work in tandem as a midfield unit that would enable spurs not to get overrun in the middle. The obvious solution to the through the season was Mourinho switching to a 3 man midfield, with Lo Celso or even Winks filling in. However, coupled with injuries as well as internal politics, Mourinho stuck to his sacred 4-2-3-1 and Spurs continued to get overrun in the middle. Tanguy Ndombele obviously requires 2 destroyers with him in the middle, to get the best out of him, as well as having the perfect medium between defence and attack, which is why Mourinho used him as a de facto #10 in the beginning of the season with Sissoko and PEH behind him, however, the Sissoko and Hojbjerg midfield too, was not progressive enough, creating an additional headache, as Spurs’ goal-scoring chances rested solely on Harry Kane’s ingenuity, inevitably running out

For Nuno, addressing the midfield and central defensive issues are key in determining whether his tenure is a success or not. Other positions (such as right-wing, right-back or perhaps even goalkeeper) do certainly need strengthening however I believe these are solely due to upgrading on those currently who are not good enough, rather than fundamentally changing the structure of the team. 

Duje Caleta Car (Marseille) is who I would like in the LCB role. 6’4”, calm and collected when on the ball, he has received an excellent footballing education with the Red Bull system, combing a rare blend of sheer physique and ball progressing capabilities. He has also won a mammoth 71.4% of his aerial duels, making him a threat in both boxes

Denis Zakaria (Gladbach) is my favourite for the midfield berth. 6’4”, fast and strong in the tackle, Zakaria won’t leave a blade of grass untouched in the middle of the park, as well as being a relatively strong midfield progressor. His potential signing would certainly alleviate pressure on PEH as well as making Spurs a genuine force in the middle

Failing this, Joao Palhinha could be the rock in the middle Spurs need. 6’3” and an immovable object in the centre of the park, Palhinha recently won the 20/21 Liga NOS title for Sporting Club, achieving an 83% passing success rate, and 3.1 tackles per game as well as receiving a Whoscored season rating of 7.15. He could be the anchor Spurs could need, seamlessly alternating between DM and CB, enabling Højbjerg to play a more offensive role, like he has done for Denmark, with great aplomb

Aerial stats from:

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