Looking back to August 2020 when Tottenham Hotspur completed the signing of Southampton skipper and Denmark international Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Spurs supporters assumed we were getting that midfield rock, and shield for the often underwhelming back four.
During his first season at Spurs, that is what we saw, to an extent. Hojbjerg would often lead the team in tackles, clearances, recoveries, and was everywhere in an often desolate midfield. Partnered with players who seemingly never tracked back, nor aided the Dane with much defensive support, Hojbjerg played every second of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign. A true testament to his fitness, and skill set. His reputation as Spurs “Viking” only grew with every match he played. However, in a team that struggles to create chances at time, there was always the wonder of, “could he do more?”
Enter the EURO 2020, but due to the COVID world, played in no other than 2021. After a start to the tournament that no one could have predicted, nor want to see, with what happened to Cristian Eriksen, Hojbjerg and his teammates rallied around one another, with Spurs “Viking” taking up more of a creative role in the Danish side. Hojbjerg played in six matches at EURO 2020 logging 570 minutes and covering 64.1 km. He completed 84% (347/410) of his passes, created seven chances (lead the tournament), and finished with three assists.
Spurs fans, myself included, took note of his performance at EURO 2020 and wondered how could we get that production, and creativity out of our Viking while wearing the Lily-white? With midfield partners such as Ndombele, Lo Celso, Winks, and Sissoko not being able to do much in the department of creating chances, and having no one that ever really replaced, well, Cristian Eriksen, why couldn’t it be Hojbjerg?
Enter Oliver Skipp.
The academy product finished off a stellar season on loan in the Championship with title winners Norwich City. He got the reputation as a gritty midfielder who shielded Norwich’s back line, and “mopped up” the midfield. This was the role many a Spurs fan thought Hojbjerg was coming in to do at Tottenham.
While the start to the 2021-22 Premier League season has already been a typical Tottenham roller coaster ride, one thing is clear (at least to me), Oliver Skipp NEEDS to be on the field. Skipp has been the deepest lying midfield, shielding the back line, not Hojbjerg. When asked what, specifically, Nuno works with him (Skipp) on, Skipp replied, “staying central when we lose the ball, to protect the back four,” and that is exactly what he does. This, or the lack of this couldn’t have been more evident then when Skipp was dropped from the starting eleven in the first installment of this seasons North London Derby. The midfield was over run, the back four exposed, and nothing was generated going forward.
What Skipp brings to Spurs was also on full display in Spurs latest (Oct 3) victory (2-1) over Aston Villa where Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg opened the scoring after being picked out at the edge of the box by Heung-Min Son. The reason Hojbjerg was able to get forward and join the attack? Oliver Skipp.
Gone are the days of Hojbjerg doing all of the “dirty-work,” and protecting the defense. Skipp’s got it. Will we see mistakes from the twenty-one year old? Sure. Will it help to unlock the attacking potential of Hojbjerg as shown during his international duty performances? Time will tell.
I’m not saying Hojbjerg is going to step in and play the 10 role like Cristian Eriksen did, but I do think we can expect more from him going forward then we’ve seen so far in a Spurs shirt, and that’s thanks to Oliver Skipp.
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