As football season ends, focus moves from pitch to market. In this series, I’ll assess the needs of clubs around Europe and suggest new signings.
This week, it’s Tottenham Hotspur — an impartial first pick.
Without a sporting director or a permanent manager, Spurs are a headless chicken. After Saturday’s Brentford loss, Tottenham will miss out on Europe, which hurts revenue and player pull. Worst of all, Harry Kane’s contract expires in June 2024. That’s an impossible dilemma: Sell your talisman now, or lose him for free next summer.
It feels fruitless to plan transfers in this uncertainty. But the squad is full of holes. We have no heir to Hugo Lloris in goal, a defense as leaky as a catheter and the attack cries out for a creative midfielder.
Lloris has tended Tottenham’s goal for 11 years. Despite his loyal service, his replacement is overdue. He’s saved just 68% of all shots faced this season, and the underlying numbers are even worse.
Post-shot expected goal difference (PSxG-GA) measures the number of goals a keeper is expected to concede — including shot location and quality — minus the number they actually conceded. The result is the number of goals prevented. Lloris’ PSxG-GA is -4.1 — he’s let in four more goals than expected. That’s incomparable to a top goalie like Liverpool’s Alisson Becker, an absurd +10.1, or even an average +1.4 like Palace’s Sam Johnstone.
Distribution has never been the Frenchman’s strength, but Lloris has completed just 77.1% of his passes this season. That’s slightly less than teammate Dejan Kulusevski (77.7%), who passes more adventurously as a winger. You could excuse Hugo if he played long, direct balls, which would be easier to intercept. Yet, he only launches 30% of his passes, of which only 35.3% find their target.
Competent distribution anchors the backline: A reliable outlet in goal relieves pressure on the defense, something our current center backs need.
27-year-old David Raya has left his mark on Spurs, starring in the Bees’ upset win in N17 and the 2-2 draw earlier this season. Having started both of Brentford’s top-flight campaigns, the Spaniard knows Premiership rigor. As a bonus, the Blackburn Rovers youth product counts as homegrown.
Raya is a “sweeper keeper,” often leaving the penalty area and marshaling the space behind the defense. Securing that area lets him launch attacks, and the defense to bomb forward and press. This was once Lloris’ forte, but Raya’s 1.5 per 90 outdoes Lloris’ 1.2 this season. On top of that, his shot-stopping is superior, Raya’s PSxG-GA is +4.6, third-highest in the league. With Raya in goal, perhaps Spurs would let in fewer soft goals.
However, Raya completes only 64% of his passes, markedly worse than Lloris. Is he a worse distributor? He launches 53.5% of his passes, completing 39% of those. He goes long much more frequently and effectively than Spurs’ number one. Brentford plays high-pressing, direct football, with heaving balls straight from back to front. Brentford’s tactics demand that Raya play riskier passes, netting him lower accuracy than the more conservative Lloris.
This deal’s finances work in Spurs’ favor. Raya’s contract runs out in summer 2024, and he’s rejected two recent extension offers. With the player open to a step up, the Bees would be wise to cash in.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Tottenham’s defense has imploded this season. 62 goals conceded is the team’s joint-worst record in Premiership history.
The center backs have especially underperformed. Davinson Sánchez and Eric Dier have had years to forget. Fan-favorite Cristian Romero has merely been the best of a bad bunch, while Barça loanee Clément Lenglet has been decent, if uninspiring. Spurs need a shot in the arm, at least two starting-quality center backs.
Facundo Medina grabbed headlines for threatening to send Kylian Mbappé home in an ambulance before facing PSG. But the RC Lens defender isn’t just a bruiser. Modern football demands that defenders play offense, where Medina excels. He ranks 99th percentile for progressive passes and carries among center backs — he can drive the ball forward himself or help his teammates do it. His ball-playing leads directly to goals: He’s 90th percentile for expected assists.
Kane and Son will relish the outlet he’ll provide. He can score, too, netting three this term (from 2.6 expected).
Attacking output is a plus, but Medina is a defender first. He rates low for tackles, blocks, clearances and interceptions per game. That sounds concerning, but defensive stats are often misleading. Everyone rates Raphaël Varane, but he flops by these metrics.
Just looking at numbers eliminates context. Lens, like Man City, dominate possession. Medina doesn’t actively defend in great volume because his team is usually on the ball — you don’t have to tackle your teammates.
When stats fail, I trust the eye test. From a small sample of his Ligue 1 tape, his anticipation stands out. Even against the likes of Mbappé, Neymar and some Lionel Messi fellow, he’s always in the right place. He doesn’t have to touch the ball even when defending, because he’s positioned to deny the pass or shot.
His actual tackling could use some work, though. His gravest weakness is aerial: He loses second balls too often for a six-footer, though his towering compatriot Romero should mitigate that issue.
Unlike Spurs, Lens can offer Champions League football. But reaching it was a massive overachievement, one Lens won’t likely replicate. As Ligue 1 reels from the collapse of its media deal, Premiership money will be irresistible.
Aged 23, Medina has room to grow. If Spurs want the finished article, that’s Joachim Andersen. The 27-year-old Dane has three seasons of PL experience, helping keep Fulham up in 2020-21 before moving to Crystal Palace.
Andersen can’t match Medina’s dynamism: His progressive pass/carry numbers are only respectable, albeit better than Dier and Sánchez. He leads center backs in long balls per game. These long balls are usually diagonal switches of play—perfect for Son to cut into. Notably, he reaches 90th percentile in penalty area touches. When he does move the ball forward, he does so decisively. And when it reaches the box, he’ll be there to raise hell—he’d especially threaten from set plays.
Unlike Lens, Palace spend most of the 90 off the ball. Andersen defends very actively as a result. Watching him at Selhurst Park, he’s a solid tackler, and his decisive clearances inspire more confidence than Dier’s. He’s even an aerial match to Romero. Between Andersen, Medina and Romero, Spurs will have three center backs who can pass the ball while shoring up the defense.
An established player like Andersen will command a considerable fee. But Palace’s priority will be holding onto their star assets — midfield wonderkids Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise dominate the gossip columns, as does Andersen’s center back partner, Marc Guéhi. For all his talent, the Dane has flown under the radar, posing an opportunity for Spurs to swoop in.
Harry Kane’s 28 goals have kept the team afloat this season. But Spurs’ dependence runs even deeper. The England captain is also the team’s key creator, leading the team in progressive passes, expected assists and shot-creating actions. Kane’s vision is remarkable and understated, but there’s an opportunity cost to having your best finisher supplying balls, rather than receiving them.
A new attacking midfielder will share the creative burden.
Spurs should be wary of marquee signings: The likes of Richarlison and Tanguy Ndombele have floundered. James Maddison deserves an exception. Seven years on from dashing Tottenham’s title hopes, Leicester City have one foot in the Championship. Maddison still has 19 goal involvements in this abject side.
The numbers speak for themselves: 10 goals from 6.2 expected speaks to a strong finisher, and he’d get more than nine assists (from 9.3 expected) playing with Kane and Son. His silky dribbling and audacious long shot will excite the Lilywhite faithful. Maddison plays best as a free attacking midfielder, and our workhorse midfielders like Rodrigo Bentancur, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg will give him license to roam.
Normally, an English international in such electric form would command a ransom. But Maddison is far too good for the second tier, and relegation would cripple the Foxes financially. The Coventry product will be available for a cut price. Spurs will have to compete for his signature, with the likes of Newcastle interested, but a player of his quality is worth a bidding war.
These four targets won’t solve all of Tottenham’s problems. Spurs need a succession plan for Son at wide forward, and Kane’s situation deserves its own article. But in replacing Lloris, upgrading the backline and injecting midfield creativity, the club can take a huge step in the right direction. With the rest of the league strengthening, Spurs can’t afford to be passive.
Daniel Levy must deliver.