hojbjerg analysis tottenham

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg Analysis – How does he fit in at Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur endured a very difficult 2019/20 campaign. At the back of their first Champions League runner-up finish, the 2019 summer window provided a chance for them to rebuild the spine of their team. Eric Dier was the only recognized midfielder who can play in the defensive midfield. However, it never happened and it led to the sacking of their beloved coach Mauricio Pochettino after 5 years of service.

Now, they are 9 months into the era of Jose Mourinho. The 3-time Premier League winner’s time at Spurs has shown numerous inconsistencies. However, he finished the season at 6th after taking over at a time when they were 14th. The Tottenham board and Mourinho himself have been quite keen on putting a stamp on their current squad. They have already signed 2 players in the winter window with Steven Bergwign and Gedson Fernandes coming through the doors. The 3rd signing of the Mourinho era has come in the name of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg

The Danish midfielder joined Tottenham from Southampton for £15m. Even though he isn’t a massive name in European football, the Tottenham fans can be excited. It is interesting to see the way Mourinho will deploy Hojbjerg into his team.

hojbjerg presented as a tottenham player
Hojbjerg’s first day at Tottenham

Hojbjerg’s Strengths

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The Danish midfielder’s greatest strength is his ability to press high. Ralph Hassenhutl was able to exploit his strengths very effectively against Mourinho’s Spurs and Pep Guardiola’s Man City. In those matches, he allowed him to press against their defensive midfielders so that both the full-backs remain in their defensive positions. It also allowed him to cut the supplies of any opponent attacking player who came deep to receive the pass from that defensive midfielder.

hojbjerg pressing against spurs
Hojbjerg pressing against Mourinho’s Spurs, also cuts Dier’s pass to Moura

This attribute has resulted in Hojbjerg becoming on of the highly valued players when it comes to ball recovery. He has had more recoveries in the final third than Jorginho, Declan Rice, Doucoure, and Fred.

pierre emile hojbjerg whoscored
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg Whoscored

Hojbjerg’s time at Southampton has been a very underrated one. His ability to carve open the defensive lines through his accurate passing is one of the biggest strengths of his game. It can be seen by the fact that in the 2019/20 season, he had completed more forward passes than sidewards or backward passes.

hojbjerg passing direction sky sports
Hojbjerg’s passing direction

As we can see from the profile web below,, Hojbjerg has been extremely influential in 2019/20 when it comes to tackling, interceptions and ball progression. However, due to him staying deep in midfield, he does not have meaningful stats regarding link up plays with the attacking players.

hojbjerg radar athletic
Hojbjerg’s midfield matrix

Højbjerg Role at Spurs

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In every team that Jose Mourinho has built, he has always utilized the formation of a 4-3-3. In a 3-man midfield, he was always in for the module of the deepest player orchestrating the playmaker or the defensive role. Many great defensive midfielders have played for the Portuguese coach such as Sami Khedira, Claude Makelele, Thiago Motta, and Nemanja Matic. We can expect the same for Hojbjerg.

spurs team with hojbjerg
Mourinho’s likely team with Hojbjerg

Spurs have 6th highest expected goals against statistic at 47.42. The only teams with higher predictability than Spurs are in 13th place or lower in the Premier League table. This is a consequence of their defensive midfielders being caught out of position time and time again leaving their backline exposed. Most notably, we can see that in their RO16 encounter against RB Leipzig.

spurs when they loose the ball
Spurs when they lose the ball

With Ndombele out of favor, Sissoko is Tottenham’s best midfielder. However, he lacks in the department of positional awareness as he is trying to protect Serge Aurier all the time.

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Eric Dier is the only recognized player who can play in the defensive role. However, he either lacks the ability to anticipate where the opposition might attack, or lacks the athleticism to position himself correctly. As a result, Hojbjerg is the kind of player who may connect all these dots.

Hojbjerg has the potential of anticipating where he should be to disrupt opposition play and the physical means to make it so.

spurs defensive structure
Spurs’ defensive structure with the DM caught out of position

We can blame Harry Winks in the defensive structure above. However, it is unfair to criticize someone whom you rely on passing and the defensive structure both at the same time. With a 2-man midfield, it is even more difficult. In the above situation, someone like Hojbjerg offers extra protection for Spurs defense. This is one of the reasons why he was the first name on the team sheet for Ralph Hassenhutl.

I want to apologize to Eric Dier. It is never easy to bring off a player just after 30 minutes of a match. However, he knows that I did it for the team and the team won.

Jose Mourinho after the Olympiacos win

Mourinho in his early games tried to rely on Eric Dier regarding stability in the defensive structure. However, it only took him the 2nd game to take him off after only 30 minutes against Olympiacos. Tottenham won the match 4-2.

There’s no doubt that Hojbjerg’s success is due partially to the system that he plays in. Southampton is scarily aggressive and intense when they are off the ball, with the lowest Plays Per Defensive Action in the League (8.73). However, the lesser the responsibility, the more freedom it brings to a player. We can say the same about Højbjerg and its very likely that just like Matic, we may see Jose Mourinho develop him into either an outstanding ball winner or a great deep-lying playmaker that can break up play.

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