By Jason McKenna
As you walk into Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium there is a T-Shirt that welcomes you stating Arsenal “don’t buy superstars, we make them”, a famous Wenger quote. Well Tottenham can proudly trump this now, they make superstars and can afford to buy them too. Ndombele is not just a world class player that any team in Europe would welcome, but its a statement of Tottenham entering the upper echelons of European football.
In January this year Moussa Dembele left Spurs for the Chinese Super League. He was an integral part of the midfield, but his playing time in recent seasons had been cut short so he was allowed to leave the side. Indeed the search for a new player at Tottenham had begun in 2017/18. The departure of Dembele left a gap in midfield depth that the team had to fill. But in the signing of Tanguy Ndombele, for a club record fee, Spurs have acquired a midfielder that does everything Dembele did and more. The fact their names are similar is coincidental but the club have shrewdly replaced a high quality midfielder with another brilliant one who plays in a very different way and who can strengthen weak areas of the team.
Ndombele’s role has mainly been as part of a double pivot usually deployed by Lyon. This allowed his midfield partners Aouar and Tousart to go forwards whilst he can sit back and shield the defence. But these players rotated their roles, Ndombele also regularly helped assist the attacking contributions; he is a strong dribbler who likes to carry the ball forwards too. With 7 assists last season he has shown he is helpful in moving the attacking play through the midfield onto the forwards. It must be noted though that he does lack quality in finishing showcased by his 1 goal in 65 Ligue 1 appearances, but this is something he can improve on.
Tottenham’s new record signing will fit into their current system as one of the double pivots in the 4-2-3-1 generally used by Pochettino at Tottenham. However he is comfortable across the midfield line in other roles and in different systems, which would suit the adaptable nature of the Spurs boss. This flexibility was on show last season when Lyon used 8 different formations.
This season Spurs have struggled when playing in deep situations and Ndombele will be able to help with this. He has the physical and mental attributes that means he excels in high pressure situations. Ndombele has the ability to dribble forwards with quick touches to attract opposing players and open up space for teammates. Last season he averaged 2.7 dribbles per 90 and this could allow attack minded players like Alli, Son and Kane to flourish with more space and less worry about defensive duties.
Along with his poor finishing the height of Ndombele poses a problem for Tottenham. At 1.8m tall he struggles to win aerial duels. This is something Tottenham may have to factor in with the double pivot or other formations going forward. Potential midfield partners of Sissoko and Alli are taller than Ndombele so Pochettino can probably get around this problem with the players he already has in his squad. But with 611 aerial duels lost Tottenham were the 5th best side for aerial battles in the Premier so this is not too much of a concern.
Tottenham already enjoy playing pressing football with quick ball transitions, a style that Ndomble played with Tousart and Aouar. He would be able to improve this at Tottenham and could help new teammates Winks and Alli to be more attacking. His contributions intially would be to build up play rather than a direct goal threat. In 2018/19 he managed 0.6 shots per 90 and 0.3 shots in the box per 90, so his utility is elsewhere until he works on his finishing.
What is most impressive about Ndombele is that he is equally good in defence as he is in providing for his attack. In comparison to other Premier League midfielders the data shows that Ndombele is a truly all round midfielder asset. He is as good at making a killer pass or through ball as he is at a defensive contribution.
|Player||Tackles per 90||Interceptions|
Comparing the data of some of the Premier Leagues most notable defensive midfielders Ndombele producers a very similar output. He intercepts often in matches and makes lots of tackles to protect his back line. Although his numbers are lower than his new Premier League counterparts Ndombele has played a dual role this season of Box to Box as part of the Lyon pivot system. Also he is younger than all the players in this list, thus under the stewardship of Pochettino these numbers may improve further as he grows into the Spurs side getting more experience.
|Player||Dribbles per 90||Key Pass per 90||Final 3rd Passes per 90|
Also when looking at the data of more attacking midfielders Ndombele’s data, once again, shows he is capable to rubbing shoulders with the best in the league. Last season he averaged 8.66 successful final third passes per 90 making him a very progressive passer for a “defensive” midfielder. His final third passes per 90 are not impressive in the context of the other midfielders in the list, but it is for a player in his deep position. However the other data shows how important Ndombele will be to Tottenham’s forward play. With 2.7 dribbles per 90 and 2.5 key passes per 90 in Ligue 1 his data is comparable and in some instances better than some of the best attacking midfielders in the league.
What can also be said is that we have already seen Ndombele can play against the very best in the Premier League. Last season he made up the midfield that defeated Manchester City in the Champions League. Ndombele had control of this match and showed his quality against the back to back Premier League champions.
So into the 2019/20 season Harry Kane, Heung Min Son and Delle Alli will be given a better service next season. The defence of Tottenham can look forward to more protection and the midfield partners of Ndombele will be allowed more creative freedom in the midfield. Spurs have made a very good signing that will help all the players in the starting 11 on match days. There are no certainties in the transfer market, but from the numbers it seems that Tottenham a world class player in the making.