With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Tottenham Hotspur and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Over the last half a decade, Tottenham Hotspur have overseen a lot of progress. From being the also-rans in the race for the Champions League spots, they established themselves as regulars in Europe’s premier footballing competition under Mauricio Pochettino, while also emerging as contenders for the Premier League title on a few occasions.
The biggest highlight during this period came in the 2018/19 campaign, when they eliminated Ajax in the Champions League semi-finals, in what was one of the most memorable comebacks ever. However, they tripped at the final hurdle as Liverpool beat them to the trophy.
Nevertheless, there was a lot of optimism following that run heading into the 2019/20 campaign. However, the Lilywhites failed to build on it and after a torrid run of results Pochettino, who was revered by the fans, was shown the doors and in came Jose Mourinho – a managerial appointment that stood completely against the club’s ideologies.
The Portuguese had a tough task at hand having taken over in the middle of the campaign for the first-time ever, but he managed to steady the ship to a large extent. But, ahead of his first full season in charge, Tottenham, a club that last won a trophy in 2008, will demand silverware. And The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at what awaits Jose and his troops in 2020/21.
Prelude – The Backdrop
Tottenham started the campaign with a comeback 3-1 win against Aston Villa at home, with new signing Tanguy Ndombele getting on the scoresheet. But, it was pretty much downhill from that point onwards as they grabbed just two wins in eleven league games (D5 L4), including defeats against Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion.
Spurs were 14th in the league table at this point and that is when the club decide to axe Pochettino; in came Mourinho. There was an instant spring in the results as well, with five wins in Jose’s first eight league games in charge (D1 L2) – the defeats coming against his former employers Manchester United and Chelsea.
The turn of the year, however, brought a spate of issues for the Lilywhites as Moussa Sissoko and Harry Kane picked up serious injuries and soon enough, Son Heung-min also fractured his arm. Consequently, results dipped during this period with Tottenham picking up just three wins in nine games before lockdown was enforced and season suspended.
This did come as a blessing for Spurs as it allowed them to bring their injured players back into the fold for the run-in. A draw against Manchester United and a defeat to Sheffield United threatened to derail their push for a top six finish. But Spurs recovered remarkably from that point on, going on a six-game unbeaten run to clinch the sixth spot on the final day of the season.
There was a sense of defensive solidity towards the end of the season that was lacking for large parts of the campaign, showing Mourinho’s methods were starting to work. In fact, if the league had started once Mourinho had taken over, Tottenham would have finished fourth in the table.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Tottenham Hotspur in the transfer window so far with limited funds available owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, Daniel Levy & co. have pulled off a couple of impressive signings.
First off, the Lilywhites beat Everton to the signing of ex-Southampton skipper Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in a bargain £15 million deal. Hojbjerg’s arrival ought to provide a major boost for Tottenham, who lacked a solid, steely presence in the centre of the park last season.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) September 2, 2020
Hojbjerg’s arrival was followed by the free transfer signing of veteran goalkeeper Joe Hart, who had been released by Burnley in July. While the Englishman’s career has gone downhill since leaving Manchester City, the experience and the proven pedigree that he will bring to the table makes him a very shrewd purchase for the North London giants.
Tottenham have also signed right-back Matt Doherty from Wolves in another bargain transfer, addressing a position that lacked depth heading into the new season. Apart from the three first-team signings, Spurs have also recruited highly-rated teenage midfielder Alfie Devine from QPR to join their academy.
As far as exits are concerned, the biggest name that has departed is Jan Vertonghen, who decided not to renew his expired contract. Along with him, Michel Vorm was also released, while Kyle Walker-Peters has joined Southampton on permanently after impressing on loan in the second half of 2019/20. Troy Parrott, Oliver Skipp and Timothy Eyoma have all left the club on loan.
Business, though, is far from done as Tottenham are still in the market for a new striker to provide cover for captain Kane. The club are also on the lookout for a new centre-back, with Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar being linked, while there will be more exits, with the likes of Danny Rose and Juan Foyth considered expendable this summer.
Another major point of discussion will be the future of Tanguy Ndombele. The 23-year-old arrived in a club-record deal last summer, but has failed to make the desired impact. The Frenchman wasn’t used by Mourinho since March and there have been speculations that the manager doesn’t see him as part of his plans. It remains to be seen whether he remains a Tottenham player when the window closes.
Tottenham kick off their 2019/20 campaign with a home game against a strengthened Everton unit. This will be followed by winnable games against Southampton and Newcastle United before they face their first major test against Manchester United (A).
An easy run awaits Spurs next with games against West Ham United (H), Burnley (A), Brighton & Hove Albion (H) and the newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion (A).
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) August 20, 2020
Following that, Jose Mourinho & co. are in line for a torrid run of games as they face Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal on the trot before games against Liverpool, Leicester City and Wolves heading into the festive period. How they fare during this run could end up having a huge say on their top four hopes.
Another difficult period awaits in late January and early February, with Spurs pencilled to face Sheffield United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City in a four-week period. They will travel to the Emirates for the second North London derby in March, before welcoming Manchester United in April.
The final month of the season will be a tricky one, with games coming up against Sheffield United, Leeds United, Wolves, Aston Villa, who could be battling for survival, and Leicester City.
It is no secret that without Harry Kane, Tottenham struggle. One needs to only look at the team’s record between January and March this year, when the England captain was out with a serious hamstring injury, to realise how the performances were on the wane and results declined.
Kane’s return post lockdown made a huge difference, helping Tottenham achieve a top six finish. Indeed, the 27-year-old scored seven goals in the nine games from June, five of which came in the last three, dragging Spurs over the line and securing European football for the upcoming campaign.
Given that they are still yet to secure a new striker, the onus will once again be on Kane to carry the bulk of the goalscoring responsibilities, which will not be easy, given the cramped schedule ahead. With the England skipper hinting that he might consider leaving in search of trophies in the future, this could be a make or break season for him and Tottenham.
The 2019/20 Premier League Goal of the Season winner, Son Heung-min has taken his game up a notch with each passing season, establishing himself as a firm fan favourite at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The South Korean international finished the previous season as Spurs’ second-best goalscorer, with 18 goals from 41 matches.
A player who offers a lot of dynamism in the final third, the 28-year-old has shown time and again that he has the quality to come up with the goods at vital moments, in vital games. Son had taken up the responsibility of being Spurs’ main man during Kane’s injury-enforced absence last season, before he succumbed to an injury of his own.
For Tottenham to be able to challenge for a top four finish, they will need Son, along with Kane, to be firing on all cylinders once the 2020/21 campaign kicks off.
He may not be the blockbuster signing that one would usually associate Jose Mourinho with, but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s arrival from Southampton will help Spurs address a major issue within the squad.
For the majority of last season, the North Londoners went without a proper no. 6 in the roster. Eric Dier’s form had been on the wane, while the player himself was keen on moving to the centre-back role. Harry Winks, for all his positive attributes, isn’t a natural defensive midfielder either.
Pierre Emile Hojbjerg: Has won possession all over the pitch a total of 287 times this season, more than any other Premier League player pic.twitter.com/dc7XhQhxw8
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 19, 2020
A position that is so pivotal, especially in the way Mourinho likes his teams to play, bringing in Hojbjerg resolves that problem. The former Bayern Munich ace played a key role in Southampton’s revival last season, has plenty of Premier League experience and is a leader on the pitch. His presence will add more bite and steel to the midfield unit, which should, in turn, help the wobbly defence fare better.
Tottenham showed signs of improvements under Jose Mourinho towards the end of the previous season. And the new signings should add a lot of value to the squad as well.
However, there remain concerns with their defence and not signing an established centre-back could be a huge risk. At the same time, going into the season without quality cover for Harry Kane in the centre-forward role could prove to be detrimental to their hopes of a top four finish.
In spite of this, Mourinho is likely to have gotten through to the squad much better now that he has had time to work with his players. And this should reflect on the pitch, meaning they will push hard for the top four. However, considering how teams above them have strengthened this summer, The Hard Tackle is predicting Spurs to come up short once again.
THT Prediction: 5th
Author Prediction: 5th