Opinion: The five signings needed to be made for Nuno’s Tottenham

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Nuno Espirito Santo
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Image

Tottenham are set to undergo a summer of change. The current Spurs squad has gone seriously stale over the past three years, and since reaching the dizzying heights of the Champions League final, they’ve now failed to qualify for the tournament two years on the trot. 

New boss Nuno Espirito Santo is likely to be working around the clock with Director of Football, Fabio Paratici, to make some major changes and design a team to meet Nuno’s style and demands. One thing we know for sure is that Nuno prefers a small and tight-knit squad, with a philosophy built around solid defensive foundations and a fast-flowing attacking unit. His style of management requires very distinctive player profiles and leaves little room for bit-part players or those who don’t fit the narrow defensive lines and wide offensive transitions.

By analysing the current Tottenham squad, Nuno’s preferred playing styles, and the influence of Paratici, as well as Nuno’s close relationship with Super Agent Jorge Mendes, we can quickly start to piece together the first 5 Tottenham signings Nuno may want to get over the line. 

Two Centre-Backs

Both Nuno and Paratici are advocates of a 3 centre-back system, and the middleman of those 3 CBs is arguably key to Nuno’s philosophy, taking on a quarterback role. At Wolves, Nuno installed Conor Coady as his captain, building a lot of the forward play around Coady’s ability to ping long and accurate passes to the speedy wing-backs and start devastating counter-attacks.

Centre-back has been Tottenham’s persistent problem position of late and last season they were struggling to find 2 capable defenders to build a foundation around. Nuno’s admiration for ball-playing central defenders could give Eric Dier a chance to recover his Spurs career, but to build a backline around him would be an unpopular gamble. Joe Rodon has been impressive in the Euros, and Ben Davies could well be moulded into a left-sided centre-half, but the squad is still in desperate need of two top-quality centre-backs.

Joachim Andersen fits the mould of the quarterback defender, with an impressive passing range, natural leadership skills, and the ability to cover the left and right-hand side of the defence. Having spent the last year on loan with Fulham, gaining valuable Premier League experience, and at an age (25), and valuation (est. £25m) which would fit Daniel Levy’s recruitment policy, a lot of effort will be made to get this singing done in the early part of pre-season.

Jules Koundé was a surprise name to be sounded out as a serious Tottenham target. Despite being only 22, Koundé is already very composed and tactically astute, in the mould of a young Van Dijk. While Sevilla operates with a back four, DM Fernando will regularly drop to create a centre-back trio, with Koundé commanding on the right of the three. Despite a price tag of £60 million, this could be the superstar signing Levy permits in order to buy some favour with an increasingly restless Spurs fanbase.

At 28 years of age and with 4 years left on his Wolves contract, Conor Coady is unlikely to be the first name on Tottenham’s wishlist. But if top targets prove hard to secure, and/or Spurs receive a tempting offer for out-of-favour Eric Dier, Coady could be the ideal alternative. He would instantly slot into Nuno’s system and help ease Spurs’ homegrown player shortage.

A Right Wing-Back

The wing-back is another key position to the Nuno style of play. No one has made more counter-attacking breaks in the premier league since Wolves were promoted, and having two pacey, attack-minded fullbacks on both sides will be crucial to the squad. 

With both Sergio Reguilón and the returning Ryan Sessegnon ideal to cover the left, it’s on the right where Spurs are short-staffed. Matt Doherty has had a disappointing debut season but returning to Nuno’s mentorship could see him get a reprieve. However, Serge Aurier clearly wants away this summer, and all sounds coming out of Spurs are backing his departure. Finding a high calibre wing-back who can compete with Doherty will be high on Paratici’s priority list.  

Max Aarons has been a name linked with Tottenham for the last two summers and they may have missed a trick by not signing him 12 months ago. Aarons is admired for his sharp burst of speed and marauding runs into the opponents half. At 21 years of age, and a year of experience in the Premier League under his belt, Aarons fits the profile but Spurs may find themselves in an unwanted bidding war for his signature.

Takehiro Tomiyasu is quickly becoming the new favourite to replace Aurier at Tottenham.  A lesser-known name to most Spurs fans, there’s a lot to be excited about with Tomiyasu. Playing in a very aggressive Bologna side, Tomiyasu is young, fast, and very physical. While he may not be as attack-minded as Aarons, he does have the ability to play centre-back when needed, making him a valuable addition to a smaller squad.

Emerson Royal is one of the most exciting young right-backs on the world stage. Having spent 2 successful seasons at Real Betis, Barcelona has recently exercised the option to buy back his contract. Despite this, Barcelona may well be open to a sale with a buy-back clause (much in the mould of the Reguilón deal), especially seeing as they already have the experience Sergi Roberto, and another wonderkid in Sergiño Dest, giving them ample cover in this position. 

A Central Midfielder

Nuno’s tight defensive shape requires a disciplined midfield general, someone who can quickly organise back-tracking attackers and close the gaps when facing the counter-attack. On the front foot, Nuno’s teams are characterised by attacking midfielders with the ability to run at defences and exploit 1-on-1 situations. No one in the Premier League completed more dribbles than Adama Traore last season, and Pedro Neto was not far behind. 

In Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Tottenham have the archetypal midfield general, and after a very successful loan spell at Norwich, Oliver Skipp should return to be the perfect understudy, able to cover or play alongside the Dane. In Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs also have two top-class ball carriers, who love running at the opposition and can disrupt even the most organized defences. However, Spurs have never managed to replace Christian Eriksen, and regularly lack that creative midfield influencer who has the ability to control the pace of a game, and consistently thread line-breaking balls. 

Entering into the final year of his RB Leipzig contract, Marcel Sabitzer, is a player Tottenham are very interested in. He is an extremely versatile midfielder with bags of composure and an eye for a quick defence-splitting pass (his passing range has seen him likened to David Beckham). Sabitzer would not only offer some much sort after creative guile and a Huddlestone-esque long-range shot, but his versatility has even seen him cover that right wing-back spot.

Ruben Neves is very much a passing midfielder, with kinder comparisons likening him to Xavi. There are some question marks over his lack of speed and physicality, but under Nuno at Wolves, he showed the ability to dictate the pace of play and hit pinpoint passes which opened up defences. While Wolves would be reluctant to sell their star man, with only 2 years left on his current contract and the influence of his agent Jorge Mendes, a sizable bid would make this one happen.

Similar in style to Sabitzer, Renato Sanches is a young and very talented versatile midfielder who would bring an impressive passing range, composure on the ball, and great physical presence. Sanches will feel he has a point to prove in the Premier League, after a disappointing loan spell at Swansea back in 2017/18, albeit at the age of 19. Being under the agency management of Jorge Mendes, Tottenham is in a good position to challenge for his signature.

A back-up Striker

While Nuno’s teams are characterized by attackers who are quick off the mark and able to make aggressive runs, they are complemented by a striker able to hold the ball up and create space. In Raul Jiminez, Nuno had the perfect modern-day big man, very strong in the air and excellent at shielding the ball against a big physical defender while bringing others into play.

In the past, it’s proven a problem position to recruit for, with most players of quality not willing to play back-up to the undroppable Harry Kane, but that could be about to change this summer. Even if Kane is to stay for another season, Nuno will often switch to a two-man strike force, and even as a second choice forward, the newly recruited Tottenham striker still can expect a decent amount of playing time. 

Despite a somewhat underwhelming season on loan at Tottenham, and the club declining to take up the option to buy it remains to be seen whether Carlos Vinicius could find himself back at Spurs on a permanent deal. With only 9 Premier League cameos, it’s fair to say Vinicius didn’t get much time to build confidence, but he did manage 10 goals in his 22 appearances in all competitions and showed that sought after ability to hold the ball well, with a great first touch and poacher’s instinct in front of goal. He could be a good fit for Nuno’s Tottenham, and as another player from the Jorge Mendes stable a deal much lower than the previously £36million fee could be secured.

Wout Weghorst is very much a target man who is exceptional at hold-up play and leading the line. Similar in size, stature, and style, to the ex-fan favourite, Peter Crouch. Offering a strong focal point for the quicker attackers to play off, and a real physical dominance, the Dutch international would certainly rattle a lot of Premier League defences. At 28 he’s not in that ideal age range for a Levy signing, but it’s rumoured that Wolfsberg is looking to cash in and would listen to offers in the region of £25 million.

Andrea Belotti is another physical frontman who loves to dominate the frontline. Having started his career as a central midfielder, Belotti is much more than a target man who holds the ball up and he’s equally adept at dropping deep and adding an extra body in midfield, as well as being deceptively fast and dangerous on the counter. Entering into the final year of his contract, this is a transfer where Tottenham could exploit Paratici’s strong Serie A connections.

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