Talking Tactics

Hojbjerg and Sarr hold the balance in Spurs' midfield

By Adrian Clarke 17 Feb 2023

Adrian Clarke says duo can provide the missing spark and combine well against West Ham on Sunday

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Pape Sarr & Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (TOT)

This season, Tottenham Hotspur have conceded 35 Premier League goals and lack defensive solidity ahead of Sunday's London derby with West Ham United.

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Despite pushing for a top-four finish, only three Premier League teams have faced more shots in 2022/23 and in open play, that number is reduced to just one.

Averaging 50 per cent of possession, Spurs spend longer periods without the ball compared to most of their top-half rivals.

Their counter-attacking style of play means they absorb certain amounts of pressure.

Yet the structure of their 3-4-2-1 formation has not been as robust as Antonio Conte would want or expect it to be.

Spurs have made too many individual mistakes and been pulled out of shape too often, while their 29 goals conceded from open play is the highest in the Premier League this season.

West Ham are not the most attack-minded away side in the league, but will feel capable of finding the back of the net in this London derby.

Most goals and shots conceded from open play
Club Goals conceded Club Shots conceded
Spurs 29 Brentford 271
Leeds 28 Spurs 250
Southampton 27 Everton 248
Nott'm Forest 27 AFC Bournemouth 246

With goalkeeper Hugo Lloris injured and a back five that is not settled in terms of team selection, Spurs' central midfield pairing need to provide a strong platform.

Losing Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma to injury is a huge blow, with the former out for the rest of the season, leaving them with just Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Sarr as their midfield options.

In the absence of Conte too, who is recuperating from his gallbladder operation, assistant manager Cristian Stellini is expected to name Sarr as Hojbjerg’s partner against the Hammers.

The 20-year-old impressed during the 1-0 midweek defeat to Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

Very composed in possession and always wanting to get on the ball, Sarr’s drive and distribution caught the eye.

Out of possession he was also excellent, covering plenty of ground and recovering the ball more frequently than any of his team-mates.

Sarr's stats v Milan
  Total Spurs rank
Poss. won 12 1st
Tackles 5 =1st
Tackles won 3 1st
Passes 59 1st
Shots 3 1st

If David Moyes opts for the same formation he used in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, the Hammers will match Spurs up in a 3-4-2-1 of their own.

Sarr and Hojbjerg’s duel with Declan Rice and likely Tomas Soucek will be of great significance to the outcome of the match.

Hojbjerg holds the key

With a youthful player alongside him it will be important for Hojbjerg to relish this added responsibility.

Hojbjerg's ability to protect the defence and contribute to the attack will be crucial if Spurs are to beat West Ham. 

Hojbjerg's stats 2022/23
  Total PL rank
Succ. passes in opp. half 628 2nd
Poss. won 166 5th
Poss. won in middle third 87 4th
Interceptions 34 6th

Despite playing for a side that does not enjoy a lot of possession, Hojbjerg is second only to Manchester City midfielder Rodri for successful passes into the final third.

His presence helps Spurs' attacking trio get on to the ball as quickly as possible.

If Hojbjerg and Sarr click as a pair this weekend, it can help Spurs win the match and ease concerns that their midfield might be a weak link in the weeks ahead.

Also in this series

Part 1: Can Man Utd shackle Leicester's formidable front four?
Part 2: Longstaff can step up to fire Newcastle's midfield

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