Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg Becoming the Latest Defensive Midfielder to Shine Under Jose Mourinho

Nov 27, 2020, 6:00 PM GMT
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg played a pivotal role in keeping the Manchester City attack at bay last Sunday during Tottenham's 2-0 win
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg played a pivotal role in keeping the Manchester City attack at bay last Sunday during Tottenham's 2-0 win | Pool/Getty Images
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Following last Sunday's 2-0 victory over Manchester City, Tottenham currently sit at the summit of the Premier League table for the first time in six years.

Their sudden upturn in form has led to speculation among both fans and pundits that this could be their year.

The partnership of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min has stolen the headlines for much of the season, but it's the work of one of their summer signings that has proved most influential.

When Tottenham announced the £15m signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Southampton in the summer, there were question marks over whether the Denmark international had the quality needed to take Spurs to the next level.

Just over three months later and those doubts have well and truly vanished.

We're nine games into the current season and Hojbjerg remains the only outfield Tottenham player to complete every minute of Premier League football this term. So why has the former Southampton man become a such mainstay in Jose Mourinho's side?

If you look back at Mourinho's title-winning teams, a constant in each of them is the presence of a top class defensive midfielder - whether it be Claude Makelele at Chelsea, Javier Zanetti at Inter, Sami Khedira at Real Madrid, or Nemanja Matic at Chelsea the second time round.

Hojbjerg has played every minute of Premier League football under Jose Mourinho this season
Hojbjerg has played every minute of Premier League football under Jose Mourinho this season | Pool/Getty Images

It's apparent the Portuguese manager believes Hojbjerg has the quality to perform the same role as the names mentioned above.

Earlier this season Mourinho went as far to describe Hojbjerg as 'captain material'. Strong praise from his manager, but the stats since the beginning of the campaign would back up the faith Mourinho has put in the midfielder.

The 25-year-old has made 29 tackles during the Premier League this season - 16 more than any of his teammates. Furthermore, he has completed 695 passes, second only to Michael Keane of Everton (703) across the league.

It's no mystery becoming more difficult to beat and staunch at the back has coincided with Tottenham's rise to the top of the table. Wins over Burnley, Brighton and West Brom via one goal margins have highlighted a resilient backbone that was missing at times during the Mauricio Pochettino era.

Jose Mourinho, Nemanja Matic
Matic was hugely effective under Mourinho at Chelsea | Clive Rose/Getty Images

A tendency to pick up narrow and hard fought victories is always helped by the presence of a player who thrives on breaking up the play and serving as a shield in front of the defence.

While it remains early days, it seems Tottenham have found their man in Hojbjerg. But how do his stats compare with players utilised in a similar position under Mourinho?

The last time Mourinho won the Premier League title, with Chelsea in 2015, the man chosen as the defensive shield was Serbia international Matic.

Mourinho brought Matic to the west London club in January 2014 for a fee of £21m - three years after the player left to join Benfica. He went on to re-sign Matic again while at Manchester United in 2017.

Nemanja Matic played a similar role to Hojbjerg underJose Mourinho
Nemanja Matic played a similar role to Hojbjerg underJose Mourinho | Stu Forster/Getty Images

The 6'4 holding midfielder played in 36 of the 38 league games during the 2014/15 season which saw Mourinho's Chelsea lose only three Premier league matches. Matic's role in Chelsea reclaiming the Premier League title was recognised when he was named in the PFA Team of the Year.

Across the entirety of the campaign, Matic made an impressive 129 tackles - the highest of any Premier League player that year. Furthermore, he performed 72 interceptions and successfully completed 2,298 passes - bettered only by Santi Cazorla (2,367), Yaya Toure (2.412) and Chelsea teammate Cesc Fabregas (2,743).

If Hojbjerg continues on his current form, his stats will share a staggering resemblance to those Matic finished with in 2015.

Of course, Hojbjerg's real influence will be determined by whether or not he can finally help Tottenham capture silverware for the first time since 2008. At £15m, he has looked a coup and has so far repaid all the faith his manager has put in him.

However, it is essential that both he and his Spurs teammates remain focused, especially in what is proving one of the toughest and most inconsistent Premier League seasons to date. Fans of the club will be hoping that Hojbjerg's fine form will continue this Sunday, when Tottenham travel to Mourinho's former employers, Chelsea.

They themselves have enjoyed a fast start to the season, putting together an unbeaten run of 13 games across all competitions.

The attacking threat of players such as Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech offers new challenges for Hojbjerg going into this mouth-watering clash. However, these are challenges he will need to overcome if he is to join Matic on the list of Premier League winners under Mourinho.

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