It’s been a contrasting year for all involved with Tottenham Hotspur, a year on from their first ever Champions League final there has been a dramatic overhaul at the club, with a new manager and previously key cog’s in Pochettino’s Tottenham being shown the door, as the wheels are slowly in motion for a new cycle at the club.
José Mourinho’s appointment has been a polarising one thus far, with the Portuguese head coach dividing opinions on N17, in Daniel Levy’s latest attempt at a culture reset to transform Spurs from the side that could but haven’t, to the team that should and will.
As the Premier League returned in June following an unprecedented suspension, Mourinho was able to gradually put his stamp on a Spurs side who have been void of the confidence and self-belief that found themselves one step from glory under Mauricio Pochettino during the 2018-2019 season.
A steady yet unremarkable climax to the season brought Spurs Europa League football for next season after securing sixth place on the final day.
Mourinho is already beginning to put changes in place to stamp his authority on this Spurs side, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg arriving through the doors of Hotspur Way last week to kick off Tottenham’s spending spree.
Whilst last summer Spurs spent big with the arrivals of Giovani Lo Celso, Ryan Sessegnon and Tanguy Ndombele, the addition of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for a more modest price than the aforementioned trio could prove to be one of the more significant signings for Spurs in recent years should all go to plan.
For all of the squad deficiencies that come with this Spurs side, one of the more pressing matters in recent years that has evaded Tottenham is the defensive midfield role (or lack of).
Spurs’ defensive midfield woes can be dated back to over 10 years now, from Wilson Palacios to Scott Parker, to Sandro to Victor Wanyama. All able-bodied candidates for the role and had demonstrated their credentials brilliantly on a number of occasions, however injuries have seen the defensive midfield role become somewhat of a poisoned challis for Spurs.
Victor Wanyama’s fantastic debut campaign at Spurs saw the Kenyan become a mainstay in Pochettino’s side during the 2016-2017 season, with the former Southampton man scoring six times in his first season at the club. However, that was as good as it got for Wanyama at Spurs with two injury-hit seasons to follow effectively ending the Kenyan’s career at the top level.
The signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg gives Spurs much needed defensive cover in midfield and could finally unlock the attacking instincts of Giovani Lo Celso as well as accommodating to Tanguy Ndombele’s needs after an underwhelming debut campaign, in the same way Wilson Palacios’ arrival at Spurs back in January 2009 unlocked the mercurial Luka Modric who became one of the greatest midfielders at Spurs in the Premier League era under Harry Redknapp.
Pochettino’s last 12 months in the Spurs hot seat saw the Argentine dine out on a frankly broken and worn out double-pivot of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko who themselves were unable to add much needed defensive cover.
José Mourinho’s reign at Spurs has been a pragmatic one thus far, despite averaging over three goals per game in his opening five matches, Mourinho’s Spurs have been unable to sure up their defensive woes this season, with the Portuguese head coach gradually becoming more and more defensive as the season grew old.
Whilst some would argue that a leopard never changes its spots, Mourinho’s skewed full backs, 4-4-2 formation and genuine pragmatic manner towards the end of the season could have in fact been a ploy to mask Spurs defensive deficiencies.
For all of the defensive and negative connotations that come with José Mourinho sides, it is worth noting that a ‘boring and uninspiring’ Spurs side scored just five less goals than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s free flowing Man United side this Premier League season.
Hojbjerg registered the most ball recoveries in the Premier League this season with 238, as well as boasting an impressive 2.4 tackles per game, 0.9 key passes per game and adding a much needed defensive screen to Spurs’ backline.
What is also just as important as the on-the-field impact Hojbjerg has had this season, is the mental strength and character he will add to a Spurs side who have looked adrift of confidence this season.
The Danish midfielder who was once likened to former manager Pep Guardiola by the Spanish coach, has already won two league titles and has become a solid player for the Danish national side ever since making his debut at the ripe old age of 19.
Hojbjerg who left his native land of Denmark to join Bayern Munich’s youth academy at just 16 has been described by former youth team coaches as a picture of mental strength and toughness, and underlined his character and high standards in his opening interview as a Spurs player:
““I like to bring energy, I like to bring wins – hopefully! I just think you get me, 100 per cent. I love to be the best team player I can be and I like to make people better, I like to make the team better and I think it’s important to be aware of what your role is, who you’re playing against and what is demanded from you. Many of the small details all go into one big important thing.”
Mourinho’s history of defensive midfield success can be dated back to his Porto days with Costinha, all the way through his career with the likes of Michael Essien, Esteban Cambiasso, Xabi Alonso and Nemanja Matic all enjoying glistening spells under the Portuguese head coach.
Hojbjerg whilst not a household name to the rest of the Premier League can bolster excellent passing range as well as much needed defensive nature to a fragile Spurs defence.
In signing Hojbjerg for a fairly cut-price deal of £15 million, the arrival of the Dane could be the start of the wheels beginning to turn in the right direction for Jose Mourinho at Tottenham, who whilst still need more reconstruction in the form of new signings, are beginning to edge into the right direction.
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