Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg Is the Man to Unlock Tanguy Ndombele at Tottenham

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg | Naomi Baker/Getty Images

This whole Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg move to Tottenham screams one word: astute.

Defined as 'having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one's advantage', 'astute' business evolved Liverpool into a Premier League and Champions League-winning outfit with the additions of Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, etc.

Andy Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum
Liverpool signed Gini Wijnaldum from Newcastle and Andy Robertson from Hull for a combined £31m before both played huge roles in their recent success | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Now, that isn't to say Hojbjerg's addition will morph Jose Mourinho's Tottenham into anything close to what Jurgen Klopp's got going on at Anfield, but there's little doubting that the Dane solves a plethora of issues for the Lilywhites.

The need for a midfield screener is paramount in N17, not only would a player of this profile ensure greater stability for a vulnerable - albeit improving - defence and help bring about some control at transitions, but - maybe most crucially - they'd also be the man to pick the Tanguy Ndombele lock.

Fitness woes plagued much of the Frenchman's debut campaign in England up until the unprecedented halt in March, with Spurs boss Jose Mourinho growing increasingly agitated by his persistent spells on the sidelines. And although the Portuguese boss was happy with Ndombele's work ethic throughout the three-month hiatus, his emphasis on a 'defensive process' - which has certainly paid off since the restart - has limited the club-record signing's minutes as of late.

In fact, Ndombele's yet to start since that infamous 1-1 draw at Burnley at the start of March, with his only minutes since the restart coming when his side were 2-0 down - and folding - at Sheffield United and as a half-time substitute in the painful stalemate with Bournemouth - although, Ndombele's innovation, technique and verticality certainly added some thrust to a tepid attacking display from Mourinho's men on the south coast.

Tanguy Ndombele, David Brooks
Tanguy Ndombele looked bright off the bench against Bournemouth | Pool/Getty Images

Nevertheless, for all his talent - which is described a little more here - it's somewhat understandable as to why opportunities have been hard to come by since the restart.

With the aforementioned 'defensive process' at the forefront of Mourinho's mind, the Frenchman's sub-par positioning, recovery running and struggles with tracking runners mean Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Winks have been favoured as the midfield pairing in recent times - with Mourinho showing off his tactical flexibility.

While Spurs have often settled into a 4-4-2 out of possession under the Portuguese boss, the 'outdated' system was used in all phases of play in the North London Derby, while both the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 were both utilised in the 3-1 victory at Newcastle.

The 4-4-2 is supposedly a system we could see a lot more of in the future, especially in the 'big' games with Moussa Sissoko doing his best Ramires impression. Mourinho was a huge admirer of the modernised counterattacking system in place at Lille in a rock-solid 4-4-2 and was a major factor in Joao Sacramento - former assistant at Les Dogues - arriving in north London as his assistant last November.

However, with Ndombele's profile not exactly ideal for Sacramento's ideals, this doesn't spell good news for the former Lyon man and Oliver Skipp's late arrival in the victory over Arsenal while Ndombele remained on the bench perfectly summarised where the player currently stands with Mourinho: his manager simply doesn't trust him yet.

Joao Sacramento, Jose Mourinho
Joao Sacramento (R) helped Lille execute a counter-attacking 4-4-2 during his time as an assistant at Lille | Michael Regan/Getty Images

But that's where Hojbjerg comes in.

Despite no agreement in place or any potential move even looking close to being completed, there's a sense of inevitability about the Southampton man joining Spurs this summer. The Guardian reported on Thursday that Mourinho wants to sign Hojbjerg and 'play him in a disciplined role in front of the back four with Ndombele and Lo Celso in more advanced positions in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1'.

Music to the ears of Spurs fans.

The addition of Hojbjerg has the potential to be brilliant, while he's not your archetypal screener - or the Denis Zakaria-like 'destroyer' Lilywhites would prefer in an ideal world - the Dane is incredibly effective at what he does. He loves to harry opponents from behind and overwhelm with his intensity off the ball, while his defensive nous means he certainly capable of being deployed at the base of midfield or as the positional midfielder in a double pivot.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Ralph Hasenhuttle
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the Premier League's current youngest captain, aged 24 | Pool/Getty Images

The 24-year-old has made more tackles and interceptions this term than all of Spurs' current midfield options - Winks' 2.7 per 90 minutes comes closest to Hojbjerg's 4.0 - while no player with over 500 Premier League minutes has made more ball recoveries than the Dane (10.6).

And although he hasn't evolved into the Sergio Busquets-esque metronome that Pep Guardiola once believed, Hojbjerg is certainly more than competent in possession despite not being progressive. But if you're alongside Ndombele - a master line-breaker - and Lo Celso - a demon in tight spaces - as part of a midfield three, it's fair to say ball progression issues are solved.

Overall, while there may have been superior options which were wiped off the table by COVID-19 - I'm looking at you, Zakaria - this move for Hojbjerg seems like the perfect harmony, with the potential of a deadly dynamic establishing in Spurs' midfield due to the greater freedoms granted to maverick Ndombele.

The Dane's a player who solves a number of issues for Mourinho, while Premier League experience can't be underestimated. This is clearly a motivated, ambitious footballer who'll provide significant leadership qualities to the Spurs dressing room.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson...
Sir Alex Ferguson admired Marcello Lippi's use of 'do a job' players in his Juventus sides | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

There's no need for superstars all over the field and Sir Alex Ferguson's epiphany when facing Marcello Lippi's Juventus in the late-90s proved that.

The Scotsman realised the importance of functional or 'do a job' players needed to carry out specific tactical roles. Lippi had the likes of Moreno Torricelli, Angelo di Livio, Gianluca Pessotto and Alessandro Birindelli to supplement Zinedine Zidane and co, while Fergie turned to the unspectacular Ronny Johnsen and Phil Neville among others.

The need to supplement the talent - which Spurs clearly have - is imperative for Mourinho, and if Hojbjerg's the man to get the sensational best out of Tanguy Ndombele, Lilywhites will be eternally grateful.