In the last 18 months under Mauricio Pochettino, many believed that Tottenham had a near perfect squad.
Strength in depth, a balance of technique and brute force, good aerially, great on the floor and capable of winning individual duels. It was no shock to many when they began chasing titles and even reached a Champions League final.
The following six months that followed though saw Spurs crumble and weaknesses appear. Jose Mourinho came in and as we all saw on the ‘All or Nothing’ documentary series, he was desperate to add a nasty streak to a side full of nice guys.
Enter Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. The Danish international had been the Southampton captain under Ralph Hassenhüttl but had told the club he wanted to leave for higher level football. Southampton agreed to let him leave and it was expected that he would join Everton, after the Toffees agreed a fee with the club.
Spurs had registered an interest and following Everton’s bid, they moved for the player too and swiftly wrapped a deal up. He was given the departed Jan Vertonghen’s number 5 shirt and has slotted straight into the team as the first-choice holding midfielder.
With Eric Dier openly revealing that he wants to move back into his preferred centre back role, Mourinho has accommodated the request and Spurs look better for it in midfield.
In the opening game of the season, Højbjerg struggled as Spurs employed a 4231 formation. He was sloppy in possesion, he lost duels and couldn’t get his stranglehold on the game. Everton ended up taking 3 points and fans criticised the Dane for failing to do his job as a defensive midfielder.
Ever since then though, Spurs have switched to a 433 formation and Højbjerg has shone. As the deepest midfielder, he has been instrumental in their upturn in form as the single pivot. With Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele alongside him, he has options either side that are able to get box-to-box and assist him defensively while also supporting the attack.
His aggression is exactly the type of nasty streak that Mourinho was desperate for when he joined. He couldn’t get it out of his existing players, so he dipped into the market.
This Spurs squad is ripe for Mourinho. Everyone is at the optimal age to perform to their highest, while also knowing that Mourinho’s methods are a bit different from the usual. They have also been around long enough to know that if followed, his methods work and win trophies which is what they all want.
If Tottenham are to be successful this season, which looks very possible judging off early results and performances all over, then Højbjerg’s performances and form will have a huge say in it. He was their missing piece to the jigsaw, now they need to just put the pieces in the right places.