Every transfer window we create a series of videos for the Tifo Football YouTube channel called Sensible Transfers.
In this series, we analyze problems within teams and suggest solutions in the form of incoming players. It’s a fantasy, but fun.
Today is Tottenham…
The 2021-22 season has been a success for Tottenham. Although he arrived after the start of the season, Antonio Conte was able to guide the club to the Champions League and the reward will be a stronger platform from which to recruit. And they will also have more funds to do so: in a break with club policy, Spurs owners ENIC announced a £150m capital raise at the end of May, meaning their transfer budget is more important than in recent years.
And that’s good, because there is plenty to do.
Some of their needs have already been met. Conte’s football relies heavily on the influence of wingers and he inherited a Tottenham side that was underpowered in that area. Matt Doherty returned to form before the injury, and Ryan Sessegnon and Emerson Royal each finished the season well, but the department still lacked drive, speed and tangible production. Between the four, Conte’s wingers contributed just five goals and 10 assists last season and aesthetically both flanks lacked the kind of influence and ability he has enjoyed in the past.
This issue is being resolved. Croatian veteran Ivan Perisic has joined on a free transfer and there is interest in Middlesbrough’s Djed Spence, who won promotion from the Championship while on loan at Nottingham Forest.
Spence is skilful, quick and likes to carry the ball forward, whether on the touchline or in the field. He is also 6ft tall and while some questions remain around his defensive positioning, working under such a precise coach as Antonio Conte would surely improve that area of his game. On the other side, despite being 33, Perisic remains an exceptional player whose attacking contribution will greatly improve Conte’s full-back options, and who will bring a wealth of silverware and experience with him to north London.
Conte has forged a capable three-man defense from a trio of players he inherited: Cristian Romero on the right, Eric Dier in the middle and Ben Davies on the left.
Davies performed well in his suited position in the second half of the season. Outside centre-backs in a line have a more dynamic role and should contribute well forward of the defensive line. Davies did it, moving the ball forward efficiently, distributing at a decent level and – arguably – producing one of the best forms of his Tottenham career.
So he’s definitely not a problem, but still someone who can be improved. There are players who could be more effective in forward areas. There are also better defenders. Likewise, while Clement Lenglet is due to arrive on loan, he may be more of a deep signing, having endured a torrid few years at Barcelona. Lenglet is a good player, but it’s a recovery project; it does not match what we are looking for.
Josko Gvardiol has played on the left of RB Leipzig’s back three this season and, at 20 and over 6ft, he is an attractive option.
Use of smarterscout data – which rates players from zero to 99, either relating to how often they do a given action compared to others playing on their behalf (such as ball recoveries and interceptions) or their effectiveness (like how they progress the ball upwards) – we can take a closer look at the Croatian.
He’s a more skilful and adventurous player than Davies, but has the distribution to go along with his ball carrying – he’s able to progress the ball forward at a decent volume (64 out of 99) and productively ( xG of ball progression, 68 from 99), but combined with composure and assertiveness carrying the ball forward to penetrate defences.
Defensively, he is also more physically imposing, delivering impeccable intensity (99 from 99) and impact on the ball (88 from 99), and would add more height and aggression to this outside position as a centre-back. And, while he would undoubtedly demand a significant fee and has a contract that runs until 2026, Tottenham have indicated their willingness to spend big on their immediate needs.
Gvardiol would be a sensible option. Another regularly mentioned alternative – for several Premier League clubs – was Lille’s Sven Botman, who recently joined Newcastle. He’s left-footed, skilful and good on the ball, and could have been a great alternative to Dier in the central role.
However, he lacks the speed to play left of a back-three and so for the sake of efficiency, the best option may be to find someone who can play in both positions. This is a rare skill set, as defenders tend to be static or progressive and have attributes suited to these contrasting roles. Essentially, we’re looking for someone who has traditional defensive abilities like tackling, heading, physicality and discipline, but also has progressive qualities.
Known Tottenham target Alessandro Bastoni is one such player but it seems unlikely that he will leave Inter Milan. Instead, we opt for the Monegasque Benoit Badiashile.
Having already sold Aurélien Tchouameni this summer for a colossal sum, the French club will not be the easiest to negotiate, but we are not discouraged. Badiashile is huge. He is an imposing central defender. Let’s take a look at what his pizza chart says. He is 6ft 4in and is as confident in the air as he looks (amount of aerial duels, 74 of 99) while being a proactive defender who is not afraid to defend higher up the pitch and who has ball recoveries and interceptions to show for (93 out of 99). He’s not too shabby on the ball either, able to distribute it safely (Ball Holding Capacity, 64 out of 99) but also provide possessions at the opposite end of the pitch providing xG of the ball’s progression ball (74 out of 99) and creating plans (68 out of 99).
He spent last season as a left-back centre-half in a back four, but with his passing ability, skill and speed he would have little difficulty moving further outside, even if his role current has not produced the data to prove this conclusively.
The January arrival of Rodrigo Bentancur was a big factor in Spurs qualifying for the Champions League, with his partnership with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg providing a stable base. However, that midfield two remains a source of valuable little creativity, with both players best described as volume passers rather than progressives.
Conte has Oliver Skipp back from injury and Yves Bissouma has been signed and added to his squad. Bissouma is by no means a playmaker and so there remains a need for someone who can operate within Conte’s structured football, with its automation and fixed patterns, but with imagination and creativity.
Christian Eriksen is a very obvious solution. His recovery saw him perform miraculously well at Brentford and produce the sort of contribution that was often typical of his time at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino.
Eriksen has a previous relationship with many existing members of the Spurs squad and, despite a rocky start, became an important player for Antonio Conte during his winning year at Inter Milan. Eriksen understands what it’s like to play for Conte, his fit into that playing group would likely be seamless and he’s available for free.
It seems likely that he will move elsewhere, however, with Athleticism reporting that Eriksen has verbally agreed to join Manchester United, so another option would be Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz.
Ruiz spent 2021-22 in a double pivot alongside André-Frank Zambo Anguissa – a more defensive central midfielder – but acted as a deep playmaker. Ruiz is a good long-range and mid-range shooter, with the shot volume (64 of 99) to back it up, something Conte currently lacks in his midfield, but – more importantly – would provide a combination of passing creativity (xG ball progression, 61 out of 99), skillful ball carrying (41 out of 99) and ambition that Tottenham lack.
He is at peak age and won’t be 27 until 2023, and recently refused to sign a contract extension at Napoli meaning that – with just 12 months remaining – he will almost certainly leave the club this summer. and probably for a reasonable fee. Tottenham chief executive Fabio Paratici has shown a continued preference for Serie A recruitment and so this would be a sensible move to align perfectly with what the club has and add to what it has already done so far. now.
(Pictures: Getty Images)