Nuno Espírito Santo has his feet now firmly under the table at Tottenham Hotspur, beginning pre-season with some members of the senior squad and the U21’s on the 7th of July.
Tottenham Hotspur will now tackle a set of friendly games against Chelsea, Arsenal and more in order to prepare for the coming Premier League season. Ensuing frantic debate amongst fans on how the Portuguese will tactically set out his first Spurs XI.
It’s fair to say fans are most curious about how Espírito Santo will work with the variety of midfield talent available at Tottenham.
At Wolves, Espírito Santo utilised the 3-4-2-1 formation in the Championship, but switched to a 3-5-2 once Wolves were promoted. The change in formation offered more solidity in the midfield and allowed Wolves to dominate possession centrally, with their added numbers.
The 3-5-2 featured a midfield three of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker, flanked by wingbacks Matt Doherty and Jonny.
Neves was the deeper-lying midfielder who was tasked with screening the defence and progressing build-up play with short passes or long balls, with an impressive passing range.
Dendoncker featured on the right of the three, and his role was more of a box-to-box midfielder.
His versatility allowed him to drop and form a double pivot with Neves while Moutinho stayed high, resembling more of a 3-4-1-2 shape. Or play alongside Moutinho and make surging runs into the box to get onto the end of crosses from the wingbacks.
Lastly, Joao Moutinho was Wolves’ creator-in-chief. He was given the license to roam freely and occupy positions all over the midfield in order to dictate play.
At Tottenham, Espírito Santo has the opportunity to forge a midfield three that is similar to his Wolves setup, but will also have distinct features that the Portuguese can use to his advantage.
Pierre Emile-Højbjerg would fit perfectly in the deeper-lying midfield role that Neves played at Wolves.
We saw at the recent European Championships that Højbjerg possesses exceptional ability on the ball. According to whoscored.com, Højbjerg made 1.8 key passes and 1.7 dribbles per match playing central-midfield in Denmark’s 3-4-2-1 formation.
In comparison, Neves completed just 0.9 key passes and 0.3 dribbles per match for Wolves last season.
Højbjerg has shown exceptional endurance, leadership and consistency, so we can expect him to be one of the first names on the team sheet for Tottenham.
To take up the box-to-box role that Leander Dendoncker played, Espírito Santo should look no further than Tottenham’s very own; Oliver Skipp.
Skipp has returned to Tottenham after a phenomenal loan spell at newly-promoted Norwich City, where he gained much needed first-team action.
Daniel Farke even said, “We take it for granted Oliver Skipp plays nearly every game with so little mistakes.”
For Norwich, Skipp operated in a 4-2-3-1 double pivot role for most of the season. As the more offensive midfielder, the young Englishman would making driving runs from deep almost every week. He completed 0.6 dribbles and 0.6 key passes per match, while making 2.2 tackles and 1.1 interceptions.
These metrics blow Leander Dendoncker off the park, even in his best season for Wolves. Where in 19/20, he completed only 1.8 tackles, 1 interception, 0.4 dribbles and 0.2 key passes a match.
Finally, onto Joao Moutinho’s role. We may see Tanguy Ndombele deployed here, however his impact on matches may be slightly different from the smaller Portuguese.
Moutinho is definitely more of a creator, completing two key passes a match in the 19/20 season, compared to Ndombele’s 0.4 in the 20/21 season.
Ndombele is more of a mazy, forward-first dribbler. He completed 74 take-ons in the 20/21 season, the seventh best in the league, averaging over two dribbles a game.
In essence, Ndombele will offer a more direct approach to ball progression with incisive dribbling, but he is not afraid to play line breaking passes either.
This will certainly help against teams that sit in a low block, as Ndombele has the ability to leave a defender for dead and open space up for his teammates.
Spurs obviously have a plethora of midfield talent, but it is up to Espirito Santo to utilise them correctly.