Let’s be honest, Nuno Espirito Santo’s appointment at Tottenham is a baptism by fire. By no fault of his own, he has trudged into a club like the last kid picked on the school yard. Following Jose Mourinho’s sack in April, Spurs’ overtures toward a slew of other candidates were all spurned, the many suitors including Hansi Flick, Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca, Julien Lopetegui, Gennaro Gatuso, Julian Naglesmann, Erik ten Hag, Brendan Rodgers, and even Mauricio Pochettino.
Following initial success at the Molineux, Nuno was dealt several hard blows, including the loss of his premier striker Raúl Jiménez to a horrific clash of skulls last November. After Wolves struggled for goals last season and finished in 13th place with a goal differential of -16, many Spurs fans will wonder how their new manager will reverse the dull, negative tactics of José Mourinho.
With a new managing director of football in Fabio Paratici, combined with the fiscally frustrating chairman Daniel Levy and the looming threat of Harry Kane’s exit, Nuno has the tough task ahead of settling the team after a boatload of turmoil, while being practical with the tools available to him. In his first official press conference as manager, Nuno was clearly trying to focus on finding out what he has in this squad. Watching the presser, you can see him lose steam but maintain a genial positivity, a big change from the intentional aggression of José Mourinho last season. This is a man not only trying to hold his cards close to the vest but also trying to figure out what cards he even has. Following outcry from Spurs supporters at the circus of a manager search, Levy has tried to assure fans that there will be a return to attacking football.
With so many moving parts in a condensed amount of time, it’s fair to assume that Nuno was brought on with the intention of providing more entertaining football. As Alastair Gold recounts during a recent interview loosely quoting Japhet Tanganga on the new style of play under Nuno:
“I could tell you for sure, really attacking.”
To be fair, within the same video by Gold, Nuno allegedly throws cold water on this assumption, signaling that his focus is on improving fitness first in the post-Mourinho regime, also saying that the team approach will be revealed once player fitness is achieved to his expectations. However, it has been widely reported that Nuno could return to a style more comparable to his management time with Valencia.
The Kane question
In his first press conference, one of the few emphatic answers Nuno supplied concerned the captain on every fantasy manager’s mind, Harry Kane:
“Harry is our player, period.”
Clearly the situation is more complex, but let’s move forward assuming Kane is at Tottenham. Managing Director Paratici has a reputation for circulating as many prospective transfers as possible, playing the market and trying to win the best deal by the sheer quantity of supposed interest. In recent days, transfer suggestions include Takehiro Tomiyasu, Bryan Gil, Christian Romero and Pierluigi Gollini. This will no doubt be a changed team in a few weeks time, but for the moment let’s focus on two players whom I believe will flourish from a fantasy perspective under Nuno’s direction, regardless of whether Kane stays or goes.
#1 Matt Doherty
Doherty did his best top-flight work under Nuno, and his respect for Nuno’s coaching style is clear. With the talented but problematic right-back Serge Aurier publicly stating his wish to move on from Spurs plus speculation that the club is welcoming Aurier offers, Doherty has his opportunity now. This is a player with a desire to prove himself to Spurs fans after a tough first season under Mourinho in which he never fit the tactics employed. Take a look at Doherty’s 2020-21 season with a focus on defenders attacking, as this is where Spurs will likely improve under Nuno:
Compare to Doherty under Nuno during 2018-19:
The difference is night and day. Granted, it was a short season for Doherty, but it will only go upwards from there. Nuno did have a more passive defense with Wolves compared to Valencia, so I expect him to focus on winning the ball back in the midfield and improving crosses from his wing-backs.
Doherty had eight assists during his last two seasons with Wolves, and although his crossing accuracy dipped in 2019-20, I expect his physical presence to be a real factor in providing threats going forward. With eight goals to his name in his final two campaigns at the Molineux, he could be a fantasy differential once the Spurs fixtures turn favorable.
#2 Dele Alli
Dele and Mourinho mixed like oil and water. Just as Mourinho’s attitude towards Luke Shaw, one always got the feeling that a season turnaround was never in the stars for Alli. Once Mourinho made up his mind, there was not going to be a path to rebuilding that relationship on or off the field.
To be fair, many fans have expressed frustration with the lack of passion and work-rate shown by Alli, but his improved attitude and willingness to accept blame signals a player ready to burst out. Nuno is known to be a manager that gives a true clean slate to his teams at the beginning of a new season, so if Dele can rediscover his connection with Kane, and assuming Heung-min Son maintains his scintillating link-up play with captain Harry, this could be a gem of a resurgence. Think Jesse Lingard at West Ham.
It’s unclear how Alli will fit into the structure as only one preseason match has been played, which was really more of a fitness test for all players involved, but look at this stretch of fixtures for Spurs from a fantasy perspective:
If Nuno has settled his starting XI by this stretch and Alli is firmly fixed, we could see the midfielder again approach 170 - 200 FPL points.
In fantasy football it’s often helpful to look for the players that are hungry after a tough spell. Both Doherty and Alli fit the bill, and both look poised to reward fantasy investment even if King Kane abdicates Tottenham’s throne to a new striker.
Will you take a chance on Spurs assets to start the new fantasy season? Do you think Nuno will lead to more points from an attacking defense? Taking a wait-and-see approach? Please comment below!