Role at Tottenham
Ndombele struggled in his first season at Spurs, in part due to problems with his fitness but also – and arguably more significantly – because of their lack of a high-quality holding midfielder. There wasn’t a player who could do the essentials in central midfield alongside Ndombele and allow the talented Frenchman to thrive. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, since signed from Southampton, can do just that. With Hojbjerg alongside him, Ndombele, who played his way into Mourinho’s starting XI despite doubts over whether he would remain at the club, has the freedom to work in the areas he is most comfortable. Spurs therefore finally have a player in central midfield who can carry the ball forward at pace, and turn defence into attack.
During 2019/20, when Mourinho was unconvinced by Ndombele’s fitness, the Portuguese had little confidence in their other central midfielders, and in particular their ability to collect the ball defence, turn, and progress play. Those doubts meant that he would often instruct his defenders to bypass their midfield entirely, and to play long balls towards Harry Kane – which proved ineffective. With Ndombele starting, Spurs can play through midfield to move up the pitch and retain possession through the thirds – and he attempts to do so with bold and daring moves and passes, even when close to his own goal (below). He looks to combine with other teammates to help his team play their way out of trouble.