How Nuno Espirito Santo Plans to Transform Tottenham Hotspur With Defensive Changes

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The arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo brings more than the promise of attacking football after Jose Mourinho’s reign. It heralds the possibility of a new tactical set-up in defence for Tottenham. Namely, the introduction of a back three for Spurs, a system he used so effectively with Wolves.

New Tottenham Hotspur Boss Nuno Espirito Santo Plans to Transform Spurs’ Style

Transformation Expected for Spurs

Tottenham do not have much history or success with a back three (or five for more defensive outfits). It was used a few times by Mourinho, and disastrously by Mauricio Pochettino in the 2017 FA Cup Semi-Final defeat.

But Santo has a history of utilising the system to great effect. He powered Wolves to the Premier League and then to the Europa League. With the players now at his disposal, there’s no reason a back three for Spurs could not be used to clinical effect.

As the full-backs attack, the defence isn’t left as exposed with three centre-halves. Toby Alderweireld once more has the opportunity to establish himself at the heart of the defence. Centrally placed to coordinate, he can also play out calmly and become the defensive lynchpin as he is for Belgium.

The system could almost have been designed to maximise Davinson Sanchez’s attributes. After an underwhelming couple of seasons, this could be his last chance to impress. With two other covering defenders, much of the one-on-one defensive pressure is relieved. He will be given the time and space to play out, and the opportunity to use his pace.

A back three for Spurs allows the team to force the attack. The outside centre-half on the ball-playing side can push on and offer attacking support. Ben Davies demonstrated his ability to do this for Wales. Depending on the opposition he could line up as full-back or on the left side of the back three for Spurs.

His compatriot Joe Rodon also impressed during the Euros, breaking out as a young one to watch. With opportunities limited to him last season, he has the chance to establish himself as a first-team quality defender.

In a similar vein, Japhet Tanganga (should he avoid injury) can stake his claim to a starting position. His versatility means he could slot anywhere cross the back three for Spurs, or as a full back. His debut came as part of a back five against Liverpool, shifting across the pitch as the game progressed.

Should a more defensive set-up be required he can provide excellent cover as a full back. But based on his presence of mind on the ball, it would make more sense to see him slot in as the right-sided centre half.

Santo’s arrival offers another chance to his former full-back Matt Doherty. During his tenure at Wolves, he extracted the best possible play out of Doherty, perfectly suiting the tactics.

Youthful Revival as Loanees Return

The return of loanees provides opportunity for a youthful revival. Ryan Sessegnon was a tantalising 2019 signing form Fulham, offering flair, pace, and variation. But he effectively played third fiddle behind Danny Rose and Ben Davies. His return offers serious competition to Sergio Reguilón, and a different attacking style depending on the opposition.

Similarly, Oliver Skipp had a tremendous season at Norwich, making the Championship Team of the Season. The arrival of a new manager heralds the perfect opportunity for him to prove his worth.

It’s not that he’ll be starting every week, but there may be games where a partnership with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is chosen. Coupled with a back three, this affords the potential for one of the deep-lying midfields to break forward in attack.

In a nip-and-tuck manner, it gives greater attacking variation and surer midfield presence than the static, Mourinho-era idea of a single, strictly defensive holding midfielder. Denmark’s run to the Euros semi-finals demonstrated Højbjerg’s ability to be part of the play further up the pitch.

The defensive personnel definitely require renewal. If new Director Fabricio Paratici has anything about him, he’ll move on Serge Aurier and Eric Dier. After the Harry Kana saga, the acquisition of new defenders surely has to be a priority.

More than anything, what is needed is a sense of stability. Line-ups are chopped and changed, that’s part and parcel of a season-long campaign. But it is vital to have solid foundations from which the defensive structure and the entire system emanates. A back three for Spurs offers the perfect foundations from which to rebuild.

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