The second half of the 2020/21 Premier League season is underway. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Tottenham Hotspur and what beckons them for the rest of the season.
The 2020/21 campaign in the Premier League has offered us one of the most exciting battles for the European places in years and Tottenham Hotspur have been at the forefront of that exquisite table that has changed its complexion time and time again this season.
When Tottenham were initially heading into this new campaign, very few expected them to surge to prominence despite the marquee signings of Gareth Bale, Sergio Reguilon and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the latter was more a cut-price option rather than a desired top-quality target for Jose Mourinho.
Nevertheless, it was always going to be a difficult ride for a team that showed very little promise under the Portuguese tactician during the second half of last season. His defence-oriented approach was destined to minimize the capability of attacking superstars like Bale, Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane.
The potential tactical bottlenecks posed due to the footballing philosophy of the former Chelsea boss was combined with the off-field problems with Mourinho notably criticizing Tanguy Ndombele for his poor performances, at the start of 2020.
It all added to the lack of excitement and optimism from the team heading into this campaign, though the objective was to secure European football. However, as the season began, Spurs began to show a lot of class and attacking endeavour that wasn’t exactly prevalent in any of the sides Mourinho had managed in the past, at least not in recent years.
The manager himself showcased more humility in his media appearances, notably crediting the previous manager Mauricio Pochettino for the seemingly telepathic combination of Kane and Son that took the Premier League by storm during the early stages of the campaign.
Indeed, the two formed one of the deadliest attacking partnerships in not only England but also in Europe – helping their team secure an impressive seven wins in their first 11 matches. This incredible run of form fired Tottenham into the top four of the league table and they were the league leaders for four consecutive matchdays before a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool in early December.
Unfortunately, they have been on a downward trajectory since, having won just three matches in the last 11 games. This period of form has derailed their Premier League campaign, with the Lilywhites now hovering around mid-table and are dangerously close to arch-rivals Arsenal and newly-promoted Leeds United.
Mourinho’s men have been equally mediocre in the cup competitions, notably failing to secure a victory against LASK and Royal Antwerp in the UEFA Europa League while being knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton. Yet, Mourinho does have an opportunity to seal his first trophy at the club as his team has reached the final of the Carabao Cup.
Six months into the campaign, it can hardly be said Tottenham are on par with their seasonal expectations. Their recent run of form in the Premier League, in particular, is a cause for concern for Mourinho, whose side are in desperate need of an upturn of fortunes if they are to surge their way up the league table, and at least seal a place inside top six come May.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg simply has to be one of the surprise packages not only for Tottenham Hotspur but also in the Premier League this season.
Brought in from Southampton for a cut-price fee, the Dane has been one of the most consistent performers in the league – making himself an undisputed first-team starter under Mourinho.
Hojbjerg’s ability to read the game and sense danger has significantly strengthened Spurs’ second line of press. They are further complemented by his excellent passing ability that has added another dimension in the middle of the park. As such, the former Bayern Munich starlet has performed well even when the whole team struggled in certain matches this season.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s game by numbers vs. West Brom:
90% pass accuracy
78% duels won
121 touches (most)
26 final third passes (most)
12 ball recoveries (most)
2 take-ons (=most)
2 inteceptions (=most)
1 chance created
Superb again. pic.twitter.com/g12LR4TSmO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 7, 2021
Hojbjerg can easily be established as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League at the moment. But he is not the only one who has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence at Spurs this season. Tanguy Ndombele, a much-maligned figure during Mourinho’s first season in charge of the club, has been another revelation in north London.
Indeed, the Frenchman has become an asset for Tottenham in the number ten role. His ability to run directly at the opposition and pick those defence-splitting through balls have worked wonders for the team, especially with Kane and Son spearheading the attack.
Aside from offering the creative essence in the final third, Ndombele has acted as an effective ball-carrier. His ability to squeeze through tight spaces makes him a vital cog in the Spurs midfield, with the former Lyon starlet notably averaging over two successful dribbles per game this season.
In addition to Ndombele and Hojbjerg, Harry Kane also deserves praise for his adaptability under Mourinho. While the Englishman is usually a prolific goalscorer, he has settled in effortlessly in a new role that sees him act more a creator for Son.
Harry Kane is averaging more goals + assists per 90 minutes than ever before.
The Premier League's best striker? 🤔pic.twitter.com/yWaKuSLzu8
— Goal (@goal) February 9, 2021
It can be ideally highlighted from a statistical point of view, with Kane registering 11 assists this season – highest in the Premier League so far and considerably more than some of the prominent playmakers in the league like James Maddison, Marcus Rashford and Mohamed Salah.
Just to put things into perspective, Kane’s tally of 32 chances created is already higher than his seasonal tally of 30 during the 2018/19 campaign – the last full season he played under Mauricio Pochettino.
His tally of 11 assists in just 32 chances created means he has a chances-created-per-assist ratio of under 3, which is also highest in the league and a brilliant indicator of not only the quality of the chances he creates but also the effectiveness of Son, who has netted 13 goals this season.
Kane’s reinvention, coupled with the emergence of Hojbjerg and Ndombele have been major themes in Mourinho’s first full season in charge of Tottenham. Similarly, however, there are glaring weaknesses that make the Lilywhites quite vulnerable, including their questionable game-plan.
Oftentimes this season, Spurs have appeared to close shop within the first quarter of the game in the event of an early lead. It has translated into lost points numerous times, even against relatively weaker oppositions.
Tottenham Hotspur’s weakness in possession is another big factor Mourinho must address. The Lilywhites hugely rely on counter-attacks and can barely probe the opposition through slow build-up play, which forces them to opt for a one-dimensional approach against each and every opposition – making them far more predictable.
Speaking of their attacking approach, the team is quite over-reliant on the services of Kane and Son. Perhaps more importantly, barely any of their plethora of options in the offensive unit, excluding Kane and Son, are useful, with Gareth Bale, in particular, struggling with match fitness and game-time since returning to north London.
Any team that can leave Gareth bale in the bench and claim they are struggling has a problem. A big problem.
— Andrew Shaw (@Chuffsie) February 13, 2021
Steven Bergwijn, on the other hand, has offered nothing but pace while Carlos Vinicius has only performed against weaker sides. Mourinho must find a way to get the best out of these individuals if he is to guide his team back to winning ways, knowing an injury to any of his star performers could spell real problems during the second half of the campaign.
Predicted Finish in 2020/21 Season: 7th
Tottenham Hotspur do have more quality in their ranks when compared to their immediate challengers in the league table, including clubs like Arsenal, Aston Villa and Leeds United. And while they do also have a certain tactical identity, the rather one-dimensional nature of it means the club is unlikely to make a strong push for the top four places.
The likes of Leicester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, especially thanks to Thomas Tuchel, are destined to finish ahead of them in the league table. So Tottenham’s fortunes this season could greatly rely on how clubs like Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham go about their business during the second half of the campaign.
We are expecting a seventh-placed finish for the Lilywhites as Mourinho is likely to shift his attention towards the cup competitions, especially the Europa League that still offers him an ideal opportunity to qualify for the Champions League next season.