Premier League Transfer Review #17: Tottenham

2017/18 Season

After a great points tally of 86 in 2016/17 it was always expected this would drop in 2017/18, given the boost of the last ever season at White Hart Lane. I can’t find it now, but I remember at the time of the last game at White Hart Lane someone tweeted how a teams home record drops the season after moving from an old stadium. With this in mind, It’s not surprising that Tottenham’s home record of 17 wins and 2 losses wouldn’t be repeated in 2017/18, but a 3rd place finish and 77 points was still a strong season for the North London club.

They finished in line with their underlying numbers as they also finished 3rd on xGD and had some impressive individual performances.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo had more chances per game than Harry Kane last season, as his underlying numbers improved greatly from 2016/17 – despite tailing off towards the end of the season after he came back from his injury. In 2016/17 Kane had an xG of 0.491 p90 which he greatly outperformed with an goal rate of 0.852 p90. In 2017/18 Kane still outperformed his expected goal numbers, but his xG rose to 0.742 p90 – the 5th highest in Europe’s top five leagues – while his goal rate dipped slightly to 0.817 p90. Kane’s pursuit of goals may have led this change, given his xA effectively halved from 2016/17 to 2017/18, but this seems to have been rounded out throughout the team.

The only worry for Kane is how fit he is going into the season. He was rushed back from injury at the back end of last season, where he didn’t look like himself, then rushed into the World Cup before being put right into the starting line-up on the opening day of the season. While if he under performs in the early season it’ll be put down to the old August curse, it would have been nice to see him given some rest as it feels like it could be detrimental to him further down the line.

The good news for Tottenham is that Kane has a great supporting cast. Christian Eriksen is a great creative midfielder, with the 18th highest xA p90 in all of Europe’s top five leagues, while Dele Alli has an xG + xA of 0.573 p90 across the last two seasons – and he’s still only 22-years-old. Son Heung-Min added a huge 0.706 xG + xA p90, while Tottenham still have the likes of Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura to play, who both had injury troubles last season.

The problems for Tottenham come further back. Mousa Dembele is now 31-years-old, declining physically and in the last year of his contract, while both Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are also in the last year of their deals. With no one to replace Dembele’s progression from midfield it feels as though Tottenham should have either been looking at a replacement or a change of system – like the 4-1-4-1 as written about by @NathanAClark.

After some mixed recruitment last year and the lower points tally, it seemed as though it was going to be interesting seeing how Tottenham act in the summer window.

Incoming

Outgoing

Conclusion

Should they have done ANY business?

As talked about earlier, Spurs have a good squad with lots of players at a good age. I don’t think there was a necessity to go out and spend big money on someone, but to not add a bit of depth or talented younger players seems like a huge risk. I feel like you have to have huge confidence in what you have to stand still while everyone else is throwing huge sums of money to try and actively be better.

I’d say if anything Tottenham should have definitely looked to bring in a progressive midfielder and possibly a young centre-back.

Due to his fairly unique skillset, a Mousa Dembele replacement has been talked about for a while. I had a quick look at Dembele-esque players when looking at ‘Trying to Find Similar Players 2.0‘, while he also came up a lot in ‘Trying to Find Midfielders‘. The below graph shows just how good Dembele is at what he does, showing attempted take-ons in deeper central areas and attempted vertical passes into the final third.

Click to Enlarge

From the above you can see that Tottenham should have really gone all out for Naby Keita, but also for £17m they should have been all over Yves Bissouma, who I still can’t believe Brighton managed to sign. It feels as though it wouldn’t be surprising for him to have a great year at Brighton and end up moving to Tottenham next season. Bissouma had some great numbers for dribbling and passing, while also being active off the ball and still just 21-years-old. £17m feels like great value for money and Tottenham should really be kicking themselves.

Some of these may be more expensive and a few did end up moving, but there’s also players such as Stanislav Lobotka from Celta Vigo, Frenkie de Jong from Ajax, Lewis Cook from Bournemouth, Fabian Ruiz from Betis, Rodri from Villarreal, Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria or Mario Lemina from Southampton who offer progression (whether it’s via passing or dribbling) from midfield and are good enough to make an immediate impact while also having lots of room for growth in the future.

I feel as though moving Dembele on at 31-years-old and in the last year of his deal for anything over £10m and then bringing in Bissouma for £17m would have been a great move from Spurs.

Moving on from Dembele, a new young centre-back may have been worthwhile too. Tottenham signed Davinson Sanchez last year, which proved to be a great buy and a great replacement for Toby Alderweireld, who’s now 29-years-old and in the last year of his contract. Now Tottenham already have Juan Foyth who they may view as this, but it feels like they should have moved to sign someone to take over from Jan Vertonghen too. Vertonghen is now 31-years-old and also in the last year of his contract.

I have no idea on whether or he wants to renew, but it feels as though Tottenham should definitely be acting soon.

Rennes young centre-backs Joris Gnagnon (who moved to Sevilla) and Jeremy Gelin both pop up with some good passing numbers, while Rennes also had a similar PPDA to Tottenham last year, which would have made them an interesting pair to look into. For those 22-years-old and younger Caglar Soyuncu, who eventually went Leicester after lots of links to Arsenal, had the 7th most similar passing style to Vertonghen (Gnagnon had the 14th).

The under 22-year-old with the most similar passing style to Vertonghen was Malang Sarr from Nice, who could have also been a good investment.

Given Tottenham were reportedly open to offers for Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele, if they could have raised £50-60m they could have replenished their squad with some talented younger players at good value, like Bissouma and Gnagnon. It may well have been the case that Tottenham wanted to sell before they bought, but it does seem disappointing that they didn’t seek to add a few talented younger players to the squad. I don’t think the starting eleven needs a big change, but I think they should have brought in a few more players who can grow into the side.

Verdict

It’s disappointing that Tottenham didn’t look to bring anyone in. I still think they’ll finish in the top four, alongside Manchester City and Liverpool, with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal battling it out for the last spot, but it feels like with some better recruitment over the last two summers they could have really built on that 86 point season, as opposed to just kind of meandering on. I understand they had a young squad and they’ve done a good job of letting them grow together and how they’ve progressed in the last 5 to 10 years without big funding deserves huge credit, but it seems very risky to address any areas of the squad during the window.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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