It has been a fairly typical transfer window for Tottenham so far, with a huge number of players being linked with the club but most of those rumors falling flat. However, that is looking increasingly likely to change, with new arrivals Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Matt Doherty perhaps being joined by an eye-catching duo from Real Madrid. Sergio Reguilón is expected to sign for Spurs this week, following a fine season on loan at Sevilla, and a return for Gareth Bale appears a real possibility.
No team should be judged on one game, but the manner of Spurs’ defeat to Everton at the weekend suggested there is big room for improvement. For all his merits as a dependable defender, Ben Davies’ lack of attacking threat leaves the side imbalanced. They are also lacking strength in depth in attack – a problem that was evident throughout last season.
For that reason, the moves for both Reguilón and Bale make perfect sense from a tactical perspective, though the latter is undoubtedly the bigger gamble. Bale is on huge wages; he is 31; he is short of fitness; and he has been in limbo for some time. He only completed six games for Real Madrid in the league last season and, in the last five seasons in La Liga, he has played just 46% of the minutes available. If Tottenham can get Bale to anything like the form he showed before leaving the club in 2013, he would be a huge asset. But it’s a big if.
Reguilón, meanwhile, is a player very much on the rise. The 23-year-old earned the left-back berth in our La Liga team of the season for 2019-20. His overlapping runs down the flank caught the eye in La Liga and the Europa League, which he won with Sevilla. His willingness to get forward would restore balance to Spurs’ lopsided attack. The Spaniard completed more dribbles in La Liga last season (49) than Davies has managed in his entire 129-game Premier League career at Spurs (45).
With Davies not contributing much going forward, Spurs relied on Serge Aurier to support attacks down the right wing. Aurier completed 280 passes in the final third (the fourth highest in the squad) and had 53 touches in the opposition box (the fifth highest in the squad). Davies and Danny Rose were not nearly as creative on the opposite flank. They made just 237 passes in the final third and had just 31 touches in the opposition box between them.
Reguilón would solve that problem; he managed 369 successful passes in the final third and 82 touches in the opposition box last season. Spurs have already recruited a like-minded option on the opposite flank in Doherty, who completed 321 passes in the final third and had 93 touches in the opposition box. By playing Reguilón on one flank and Doherty on the other, Spurs would have balance in the team.
Mourinho could push forward with a tactical system he tried to use last season with limited success. Tottenham adopted a back three – or back five – formation on six occasions in the league, winning only once and ditching the experiment mid-game on more than one occasion. In Reguilón and Doherty, they will have two natural wing-backs who are energetic enough to cover the flanks and let Mourinho set his team up in a more compact fashion through the middle of the pitch.
With three centre-backs and two of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Højbjerg providing protection in midfield, there would be less onus on the front three to defend. That would suit Bale, who is unlikely to put in strong defensive shifts given his age and injury record. While everyone at the club knows about the his talent, they will be wary of the physical restraints of a player who has suffered a long line of injuries during his time in Madrid. Nevertheless, on the wages he will command, Bale will be expected to start more often than not. In doing so, he will likely replace Lucas Moura, often the hardest working of Tottenham’s typical front three.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are guaranteed starters when fit. A front three completed by Bale is an undeniably exciting prospect. However, it will be up to Tottenham’s new full/wing-backs as much as a functional midfield to ensure there is a connection to the rest of the team. The other player most adept at knitting the team together is Giovani Lo Celso. A 4-3-3 with the Argentinian given the license to get forward is certainly another possibility, before we even consider how Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombele could contribute.
Tottenham may also consider Bale as a potential alternative to spending a significant fee on a back-up striker for Kane. The Welshman has led the line for his country on many occasions and has the physical attributes to be a focal point in attack if Kane falls foul of injury yet again. Spurs fans have reason to be optimistic that the squad will at least have far more options. They became very predictable at times last season, even when Mourinho did try to spring a tactical surprise or two. If they can sign Reguilón and Bale, they should be anything but.
The Guardian Sport