On 20 November, Jose Mourinho arrived to replace popular manager Mauricio Pochettino as Tottenham boss in a move that many were unsure of.
As of 1 July, Mourinho has seen his side win nine, draw four, and lose six. These results have kept Tottenham well out of the top four race, but there is a glaring issue for Spurs: Since Jose’s Tottenham tenure began, the Lillywhites have conceded 25 goals in the Premier League.
With Jan Vertonghen likely to leave Tottenham, a left-sided central defender who is an upgrade on Vertonghen is key. In addition to the hole Vertonghen will leave, right-back remains an issue. Serge Aurier is the only true right back at the club right now, and it is arguable that he is not good enough. Mourinho will need to find ways to revitalise the backline, and he can look to the big five leagues for his replacements.
In all of the top five leagues of Europe, there are only 119 left-footed defenders. Compared to the 394 right-footed defenders, it is safe to say the talent pool is thin. When adding a filter of age (looking for players younger than 30) and a value filter of less than €40m, the talent pool drops to just 91 potential players who are playing in the elite leagues. With additional filtering of minutes played with a minimum of 1500, that leaves Mourinho with 38 options. So who stands out in this limited player pool?
The first choice: Nathan Ake
Ake is the obvious choice here, having been a bright spot in an underperforming Bournemouth side. Chelsea would likely be favourites in getting Ake, but all elite clubs in England appear to be interested in signing the Dutch international for obvious reasons.
At just 25, Ake can still improve and has already proven himself as a team leader who can play at a high Premier League level. Looking at the statistics, Ake wins 72.2% of his defensive duels and has a Possession-Adjusted interception output of 8.62, putting him among the best. However, his aerial ability brings slight concern, winning just 46.6%. Ake is valued at €28m but if Bournemouth go down, as is looking increasingly likely, he may be available around, or even less than, this price.
The alternative: Pau Torres
Torres has emerged as potentially the next great Spanish central defender. At just 23, he has already played 2600 minutes with Villareal this season.
Torres manages the best defensive duel rates of the player pool at 76.7% while also winning just 46.7% of his aerial duels. Torres will likely cost a very similar price as Ake, and he only has one serious season in the top flight to justify it. The Spanish international has all of the signs of being elite and has drawn interest from top clubs around the world, but can Tottenham afford the risk?
The surprise: Moussa Niakhate
Mainz defender Niakhate has quietly enjoyed a great season in the Bundesliga. The 24-year-old Frenchman played 3144 minutes this season, where he showed his dominance in the air by winning 69.3% of his duels.
In addition to a high aerial duel success rate, Niakhate also has won 65.3% of his defensive duels. Niakhate comes from one of the most efficient clubs in Europe who rarely make a mistake on the market, but he could be ready for his next challenge since joining Mainz from Metz in 2018. Tottenham could bring in a quality defender for less than €15m, allowing them to invest in other crucial areas.
The transfer market has a lack of depth right now in the right-back market. Looking at the Premier League, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka set the standard as to what Tottenham should try and acquire. In the big five leagues, there are 57 right-backs with at least 1000 minutes played as of 4 July and a market value of at least €5m. Three players stand out as ideal choices, considering their defensive and attacking abilities.
The first choice: Max Aarons
Norwich City’s Aarons is likely to see his club relegated this season, but as a 20-year-old Englishman who has shown promise, he will be staying in the Premier League. With a value of €20m, he may be a popular choice for a transfer.
However, when compared to current Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier, there are some red flags. Aarons is more accurate with his crosses (completing 33.3% from the right, compared to Aurier’s 22.1%) but he plays a lower quantity of crosses, which can be assumed by possession differences. In addition to the crossing difference, Aarons wins 7.65% less of his defensive duels and averages 2.58 less progressive passes P90.
While an Aarons transfer could give a similar feeling as Andrew Robertson’s transfer to Liverpool from Hull City, he is not necessarily the upgrade Tottenham need. With a promising career ahead of him, perhaps Aarons will be a better fit for Tottenham in the future.
The alternative: Kevin Mbabu
Versatile Swiss international Mbabu could be a different look for Tottenham that fits well. The 25-year-old played 1801 minutes spent his season purely as a right-back for Wolfsburg but offers the ability to play anywhere on the backline.
Valued at just €6.5m, Mbabu is very similar with the number of crosses played to Aurier, but he is 18% more accurate. In addition to the crossing output,
Mbabu is very similar in defensive duels P90 and progressive passes P90. However, much like the crossing quality, Mbabu is much more accurate with his progressive passing. Mbabu arrived last summer from Young Boys, but could be convinced to move again for less than €12m as a similar but more promising player to Aurier.
The surprise: Ruben Aguilar
Monaco’s Ruben Aguilar has played just 1144 minutes this season and is only valued at €6m. Aguilar offers a potential low-cost option while bringing elite quality to Tottenham. For the sake of putting it into perspective, you can see below the key metrics of Aguilar compared to Liverpool’s Alexander-Arnold;
Aguilar vs Alexander-Arnold
|Stat||Ruben Aguilar||Trent Alexander-Arnold|
|Def Duel %||67.52||54.04|
|Crosses from Right /90||5.11||6.53|
|Cross from Right %||38.46||39.17|
|Progressive Passes /90||8.34||16.02|
|Accurate Progressive Passes %||90.57||79.06|
|*League minutes only|
While Alexander-Arnold has almost double the progressive passes of Aguilar, Aguilar comfortably beats Liverpool’s star in most categories. Aguilar has the benefit of playing in Ligue 1 compared to the Premier League, but the 27-year-old Frenchman has enjoyed life in Monaco and could be ready for a move to London.
Tottenham’s backline needs work if Mourinho truly wants a degree of comfort in a challenge for a top-four spot and the statistics look favourable for these six targets. After looking at statistics, video and personality scouting will need to be done to assure these targets will fit the system and culture of the club.
If you are interested in more articles like this along with data visualizations, you can follow Aidan on Twitter @ARDataAnalysis.