Tottenham’s ‘sensible summer’ has stalled. What do they need to do?

The 2020 summer transfer window began with in an exciting way for Tottenham Hotspur. Early days of the window brought about the reported £15 million signing of Southampton captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Southampton’s midfield enforcer seemed to be exactly what Tottenham needed. Defensive midfield has been a particular problem position for Spurs for a number of years.

There was a time in which Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama marshalled the Tottenham midfield with aplomb, they were almost impenetrable, with Dembele in particular seeming to never give up possession. In the latter months and years of Dembele and Wanyama’s tenure at the club, they suffered from numerous injuries, and both players have since left the club.

Ever since, Tottenham have severely lacked a midfield anchor, someone to break up play and prevent opposition counter attacks. Mauricio Pochettino’s insistence on not needing to play a defensive midfielder didn’t help.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg seemingly fits the mould perfectly in terms of the type of midfielder that Tottenham have been crying out for. The stats certainly seem to suggest he’s the man to plug that gap.

Hojbjerg tops all of Tottenham’s current midfielders, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso, and Tanguy Ndombele in terms of tackles per 90 minutes during the 2019/20 season, with 2.4. He also betters Tottenham’s current crop for interceptions per 90, with 1.4, and betters all but Lo Celso in key passes per 90, with 0.9, showing that he can be a force on the front-foot too.

His pass completion stats are nothing to shout about at 78.1%, but then again he is a defensive midfielder, someone more adept at breaking up play than creating it.

The positive addition of Hojbjerg was followed up by the arrival of Matt Doherty from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a reported £13.4 million.

Doherty proved another positive purchase, considering he has consistently been the second best attacking right-back in the league over the past two seasons. Only the incredible Trent Alexander-Arnold, perhaps the finest right back in world football at the moment, betters him.

Doherty has managed 8 goals and 8 assists in that time. The goal contributions that he provides is indicative of why Jose Mourinho wanted Doherty in the squad.

Mourinho’s system operates a lop-sided full-back partnership, with the right-sided full back acting as an auxiliary winger in possession, and the left-sided full back dropping in next to the centre backs to create an effective back three in possession.

Doherty clearly fits this system perfectly, having played as a wing back under Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves and being one of the side’s main goal threats in that time. The way in which Doherty plays perfectly balances with the playing style of Ben Davies, a conservative and more traditionally defensive full-back, on the opposite flank.

Right back has been another problem position for Tottenham since the departure of Kyle Walker to Manchester City. His replacement, Serge Aurier, has been a disastrous signing at times, with calamitous errors marring his time as Tottenham’s leading right-sided full back. Doherty also provides improved stability in this sense, as he has made zero errors leading to goals in his entire Premier League career.

Even the signing of free agent Joe Hart represented good business. The financial side of the signing proved to be shrewd, obviously with no transfer fee the club saved money, but Joe Hart reportedly took a reduced wage package compared to that of his spell at Burnley; a club who are notorious for keeping the purse strings tight.

The footballing side of the signing makes sense too. Michel Vorm, Tottenham’s third choice goalkeeper for a number of years, left in the summer upon the expiry of his contract. Joe Hart comes in as a more than capable number three, who will compete with Paulo Gazzaniga as Tottenham’s backup stopper.

Joe Hart also brings a level of experience and a winning mentality hitherto unheard of at Tottenham, having won numerous league titles and domestic trophies at Manchester City. It’s also easy to forget just how imperious Hart once was as England’s number one, there was a time where he was perhaps the first name on the team sheet, and he has 70 caps for his nation.

So Tottenham’s three signings have been clever ones. In an increasingly difficult market with inflated transfer fees and the financial knock-on effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, the signings of Hojbjerg, Doherty, and Hart for less than £30 million have proved to be astute acquisitions.

The club have addressed problem positions with these signings, and optimism was high among supporters at the beginning of the summer.

Since Hart’s arrival, things have been worryingly quiet for Tottenham on the transfer front, with more emphasis placed on their recently released ‘All or Nothing’ Amazon documentary than which players are coming into the club.

Some problems still remain for Spurs in this window. A backup striker is sorely needed. The goal-scoring burden weighs heavily on the shoulders of Harry Kane, with his injury last season derailing Tottenham’s campaign.

The lack of ambition shown by the club’s board is evident in the fact that Troy Deeney, the captain of relegated Watford who missed a lot of last season through injury has been Tottenham’s main link in the striker department.

Tottenham need a young, prolific, and hungry striker who will genuinely challenge Harry Kane for the striker berth in the side, getting the best out of both players. Tottenham need a similar dynamic to that of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus at Man City. Jesus knows that he must score, or at least massively impress every time he is chosen over Sergio Aguero, and Aguero knows that he must maintain a healthy stream of goals to keep Jesus out of the side. Troy Deeney, for all of his qualities, is unfortunately not the man to create this dynamic at Tottenham.

The centre back position has seemingly gone under the radar as a problem position at Spurs, perhaps due to the severity of the situation in terms of the need for players in other positions.

For a while, Tottenham had perhaps the best centre back partnership in the Premier League in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian duo had played together since they were kids, and in their prime were a formidable pairing at centre back.

Their time has passed though. Jan Vertonghen has left the club, and Toby Alderweireld seems to have lost the ability to keep up with the pace of the Premier League. Players of even above average pace can leave Alderweireld in their wake, and he now seems too slow to release the ball when in possession, which is bitterly disappointing considering he was formerly one of the best ball-playing centre backs in the league.

Eric Dier is not a conventional centre back, despite Jose Mourinho’s insistence that he is. Davinson Sanchez has potential, but is simply not reliable enough yet.

Juan Foyth is also an option, but like Sanchez he is not ready to be a permanent fixture at a top six Premier League side.

Milan Skriniar’s name was thrown around as a potential Tottenham target. Any plans the club had to sign the Slovakian centre back have been hampered by Inter Milan’s insistence on including Tanguy Ndombele in any deal for the player. Tottenham have not been linked heavily with another centre back at the time of writing.

Other than centre back and striker, Tottenham fans will also be looking enviously at clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea in terms of marquee signings.

Rumours and transfer talk don’t seem to suggest that Tottenham are in for a marquee, big-money signing which would get the fans excited. Gareth Bale has been mentioned, with talk hotting up over a fairy tale return to North London for the Welshman. However, any talk of Bale’s return should be taken with a pinch of salt considering he seems to have been linked with a move back to N17 almost every summer since his departure from the club.

Fans will point to Chelsea’s signings of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Hakim Ziyech as big money incomings, as well as Manchester United’s acquisition of Donny Van de Beek, as markers of the ambition of the boards of these clubs in wanting to challenge the monopoly that Liverpool and Man City have held at the top of the table over the last three seasons.

Even Arsenal seem to have shown slightly more ambition than Tottenham this summer. Winning the signature of centre back Gabriel Magalhaes ahead of clubs all over Europe, and convincing Willian to sign with them over a new deal at Chelsea, the club he had been at for 7 years prior to his exit.

Tottenham began this summer with sensible signings; sensible fees for sensible players. This was meant to be Tottenham’s sensible summer, but it threatens to be grinding to a halt, with the failures of the board clear to see yet again.

 

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I'm a Tottenham fan based in Stoke, using this platform to write about the sport I love.

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