Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg: Mourinho's new midfield monster 
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on September 27, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Wow, what a fairy tale.

Gareth Bale, seven years after leaving, returns to score the winner for Tottenham Hotspur against Brighton in the Premier League.

There’s your headline. There’s your poster. There's your story. 

But, there’s something else bigger, and possibly better, brewing in N17 that is going criminally under the radar. 

Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg.

The 25-year-old has played every minute of Spurs’ Premier League season and has been a revelation in Jose Mourinho’s solid new-look midfield. 

Here is everything on Hojbjerg's excellent start to the season: 

  • HOJBJERG’S ROLE SO FAR

Mourinho has used 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations so far this season. 

In the 4-2-3-1, he forms the right half of the central midfield duo.

But he mainly gets utilised as a holding midfielder in the 4-3-3 – allowing his fellow midfielders more freedom while offering a solid base.

The centre of midfield has felt like a lonely gap ever since Moussa Dembele’s departure, but the Danish international is making sure that the Belgian’s memory is becoming a fond memory in legends.

This was opposed to before when any conversation about Dembele would be similar to talking about your ex that you really miss and want back.

But if that's the case, it appears Spurs have found a new lover. Anyway, let's get into the analysis.

During the build-up phase of possession, Matt Doherty or Serge Aurier’s runs initiate the working of Hojbjerg.

If they act as the inverted right-back, he moves higher up the pitch and attacks the half-spaces while the wide player maintains width. 

But if the right-back overlaps, he makes supporting runs with less risk. 

When used as a holding midfielder, he is mostly entrusted with defensive duties. He does not hesitate to form into a back three and helps out immensely in build-up phases.

The general feeling is that this duty will be his most common in a Spurs shirt. 

As is the way with life, it’s one thing knowing what is expected within a role but doing it with success is a completely different story. 

Hojbjerg is taking it on with immense results. He has overnight become an essential cog in Tottenham’s complex machine, and without getting carried away – the 25-year-old is an early contender for the signing of the season. 

Before his arrival, Mourinho had Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier as the defensive options in the midfield. 

The main difference between them and Hojbjerg is the positional awareness in defending. The Denmark international positions himself between the lines in an effective way. His anticipation abilities help him identify and disrupt passing lanes efficiently.

Some may view this success story as a bit of a shock, but Mourinho and Hojbjerg were always going to be a match made in heaven. He has always used midfielders with similar roles to this one. 

In fact, the Portuguese manager virtually invented this role with Claude Makelele at Chelsea in the redefining 2004/2005 team. 

Thus, it would be safe to say that Hojbjerg may develop into one of the best players in that role under Mourinho.

Good work rate, progressive passes, and sound ball recovery. Just like Makelele, to be fair.

Mourinho clearly views him as one of the first names in the team sheet and he needs to continue performing in the role, at this level, if Spurs want to have a good season. 

  • PASS MASTER

Hojbjerg has one aspect of his game that deserves a whole section to itself. 

His defensive duties are well documented, and his protection of the defence has become so valuable to Spurs.

But his passing, and how it influences  Tottenham’s build-up play, is also proving to be an absolute hit.

The 25-year-old is so much more than a tough, no-nonsense defensive midfielder. He is those exact things, but he also has excellent qualities on the ball. 

Don’t get the impression that Hojbjerg is a safe sideways passer based on one or two situations. 

His progressive passing was demonstrated in the recent win over Brighton, where his excellent probing, purposeful stab to Erik Lamela started the move that led to Harry Kane’s penalty.

The game on Sunday was probably his best performance bar Manchester United, but that game feels unfair to put in any competition as it was simply outstanding on all levels. 

Hojbjerg has made the most passes out of any player in the Premier League so far. Yes, this stat can be misleading considering they could potentially be 589 poor, slow, needless or backwards passes. 

But every Spurs fan will tell you that’s not the case.


Dictating the play from further back is something Hojbjerg does, often dropping into the space between the two centre-backs to collect the ball and try to start attacks with a good quick tempo. 

Obviously, he’s not going to chip in with many assists as that would be a completely unrealistic ask for someone of his role.

But saying that …. did anyone see his assist to Aurier in the 6-1 thrashing against United?

It was a phenomenal first-time ball that tore United’s defence to shreds and left the right-back with only David De Gea to beat. 

This action of play alone does leave questions as to whether his abilities on the ball mean he could play in a more advanced role if needs be. It is certainly an interesting discussion. 

Spurs do have issues facing against a low block, as from time to time they struggle to create and get forced into an incredibly slow tempo with no dangerous attacking patterns.

Hojbjerg hasn’t solved this issue entirely, but he will go a long way into tackling this problem. He always tries to play good quick passes into the lines where he usually finds the more dangerous players – Kane, Son Heung-Min, Ndomeble, etc. 

To give him a rare criticism, this is not always the case as he has sometimes slips into the lazy route of playing too many sideways passes and creating a slow tempo from deep. This has been on show in recent games against Burnley and Royal Antwerp

But that is one tiny wrong mixed with 100 big rights. His passing from deep has been a great addition to this side.
 

  • “DON’T DROP, DON’T DROP”

Analysing his actions on the pitch has been enjoyable so far. But let’s move onto something equally important that Hojbjerg has brought to the squad.

Mourinho’s famous line in the Amazon documentary, “Intelligent c****”, was hilariously brilliant at the time, but he really wasn't lying.

It appears Spurs have signed exactly that. Hojbjerg is a natural-born leader, who is old-school in the sense that he loves to shout, loves a brawl, and loves a tackle. 

This was pictured perfectly when he was in a Terry Butcher-style head bandage against LASK Linz in the Europa League last month after a collision that left him needing stitches on the pitch.

There were also scenes of him confronting Antwerp players following Spurs’ Europa League loss to them on Thursday. 

Clique alert, but he would die for three points. This trait in his game makes sense when you delve into his background. 

He joined European giants Bayern Munich in the 2012/2013 season. This was when the leadership and ‘win at all means’ attitude started to form.

At Bayern, the message forced into every young player is win, win, and win. Whatever it takes, win the game of football. 

Bayern achieved the record-breaking treble that season, getting their hands on the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, and the Champions League.

Hojbjerg only made two appearances, but he was mixing in with born winners every day. Learning, taking it in, and was literally witnessing a blueprint of how to win elite trophies. 

His midfield competition was Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Toni Kroos. All leaders, all winners, and all brilliant football players. 

“He’s a captain without needing to wear the armband,” Mourinho explained last month.

Or, as the actual Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris said: “He has had a big impact because of his personality… he is pushing us.”

Those quotes speak for themselves. 

Going back to the most recent game against Brighton, Hojbjerg was certainly pushing the team to victory.

In the early stages, he played a pass out wide to Sergio Reguilon and then admonished the full-back for not returning the ball to him.

On multiple occasions, he yelled at his team-mates and was not afraid to dish it out to club talisman Kane either. 

He screamed at the England captain when Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was lining up a free-kick. What was said during the exchnage was unheard, but it was definitely an instruction.

One that could be heard was this:

“Don’t drop, don’t drop,”

Hojbjerg yelled this in the closing stages of the game. His team-mates listened, holding firm and digging out a win that moves them up to second place behind only defending champions Liverpool.

Personalities like these are key parts of every successful team. 

  • NDOMBELE’S JOY 

There is a genuine feeling that Hojbjerg has also unleashed a beast that could leave every Premier League team quaking. 

This beast is a scary prospect, but by no means ugly. Tanguy Ndombele is the name. 

The French midfielder was brought in with all the hype last summer. However, he failed to produce the performances in his first season in English football but showed sparkles of his immense flair. 

There were many reasons for this failure, and one of them was the lack of defensive protection behind him. 

Ndombele has been a different animal this season, weaving his way into the starting XI. His attitude seems different and fans are starting to witness him produce creative magic consistently. 

There is absolutely no doubt that Hojbjerg’s anchor role in the three-man midfield has been a massive catalyst for this resurgence. 

He is like Ndombele’s personal security guard. Looking after him and cleaning up any attacking play behind the 23-year-old Frenchman. 

Having this solid base behind him allows the French international to play in a ‘free eight’ role, where he floats around pockets centrally looking to break lines and create some attacking sequences without defensive instruction. 

One common criticism of Ndombele last season was that he took too much out of the ball at times, resulting in some unnecessary turnovers. 

But one of the reasons for his improved dribbling success this term has been the fact that Hojbjerg has provided him with an option to release the ball backwards when being pressed aggressively.

Hojbjerg has done some excellent things so far, but unleashing Ndombele’s full potential could one of the best ones. 
 

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