A Year in Review – Players of the Season, Pt. 2

Who loves a good roller coaster? There is not a better analogy for the 2021-22 Tottneham Hotspur season than that of a roller coaster, and I am here to guide you through the roller coaster that was this season. My name is Dustin Gentile, and I am here to give you my take on the 2021-22 Tottenham Hotspur season. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will be bringing you my take on the best goals, most exhilarating games, the biggest moments, and brightest stars from the season that was 2021-22. 

Here are the countdowns from the previous weeks:

Week 1 – Goals of the Season – Part 1Part 2

Week 2 – Matches of the Season – Part 1Part 2

Week 3 – Moments of the Season – Part 1 –  Part 2

Week 4 – Players of the Season – Part 1

Without much further ado, let’s look at this week’s list…

Players of the Season (#5-1)

Just a reminder in creating this list, I looked at four components: statistics, consistency, impact on the season, and classic moments. I’d also like to take a second and thank some of the resources where I was able to gather my information for this week’s list. First, I want to give a shout to Cody Mac on Twitter. He is responsible for all of the heat maps that I used throughout this week’s list. Be sure to check him out on Twitter for some great Spurs content. Second, I would also like to give a shoutout to Tottenham Clips on YouTube for some great compilation work. Be sure to go and subscribe to their channel. Lastly, thank you to FotMob for their extensive database. If you do not have the FotMob App, I would highly recommend you check it out for all your updates on your favorite clubs and players.

Let’s get back to our countdown…

#5 – Dejan Kulusevski

We start today’s post the same way we ended Tuesday’s post, a January signing from Juventus. Enter the 22-year old Sweden international, Dejan Kulusevski. It is funny to me how many people wrote this man off to begin his Spurs career. In his first 98 minutes in North London, Spurs vastly under performed as a team. While his debut saw him see off the final 22 minutes against Brighton in 3-1 FA Cup win, his next two appearances came in contests where the team as a whole played poorly (consecutive home losses to Southampton and Wolves). It was the recent signee who then became the scapegoat for the defeats. He was not fast enough to play down the right side. He was not cut out for the Premier League. He was going to be the next wasted loanee like Gedson Fernandes (side note – management squandered that loan and the loan for Carlos Vinicius, but that is another topic for another time). Well, the Podspur crew has been team Deki from the jump, and it is our job to remind everyone who spoke ill of the Swede just how wrong they were. 

Yes, he only made 20 appearances for the club, but the argument for why he is high on this list is almost a carbon copy of the argument for Rodrigo Bentancur’s higher ranking on this list. Once he settled in, he made our team so much more dynamic. On the whole, Spurs scored 69 Premier League goals this past season (nice). From the time Deki made his first start in a Spurs shirt at Manchester City to the end of the season (a total of 15 matches), the team scored 38 goals. The appearance of Kulusevski in the starting XI saw a 1.18 goals per game increase in Antonio Conte’s side. So just how much 1.18 goal per game increase came as a result of the Kulusevski? Quite a bit actually. According to fbref.com, Deki had 3.35 shot creating actions per 90 minutes played (SCA90) as well as one goal creating action for 90 minutes played (GCA90). His GCA90 actually led the league and put him 0.14 GCA90 ahead of second place Gabriel Jesus (the largest gap between any two successive players on the list). That is the technical answer. The simple answer is that Kulusevski contributed five goals and eight assists in 18 Premier League starts. Those eight assists were good enough to tie him for the 10th spot in the league for the entire season. Additionally, he out performed his expected goal (xG) and expected assist (xA) totals for the season. These are just a few of the reasons I am very excited to see what his time in lilywhite could look like.

It is crazy to think that I have not even mentioned that not only is the right winger immensely talented, but he is able to play alongside the best winger and striker in the game today, who are both entering the primes of their careers. Fans relished the 2020-21 season because it provided the fans the chance to see Son and Kane play alongside Spurs legend Gareth Bale. That trio put up impressive numbers despite the fact that Bale only made 20 appearances for the club. In those 20 Premier League appearances, Bale totaled 13 goal contributions. Kulusevski also totaled 13 goal contributions for the club, and he is 10 years younger than Bale. 

As I was writing this, I was listening/watching the June 19th episode of the Last Word on Spurs, “Squad Analysis” before I had stopped to talk to our HVAC guy who is replacing our unit in the middle of record heat wave in Bowling Green, KY (lucky me). The pause was long enough for YouTube to recommend a video from Spurs’ channel with all of the goal contributions from Dejan Kulusevski. I just played back his assist on Son’s hat trick goal from the Aston Villa match. Everything that makes Deki a terrific player was on display. He received the ball and was able to dribble the ball into space to create time and space for his teammates; he made a nifty move to sit down Tyrone Mings and draw a second defender; he then cut on a dime and slid a pinpoint pass to Son who buried the shot. It is just so effortless. He has poise, vision, strength, agility, and accuracy. I am so excited Conte did not write him off like some people did.

#4 – Harry Kane

To quote Anakin Skywalker, “this is where the fun begins.” Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, I have Harry Kane at number four on our list. This was a tough decision. It is so easy to put Kane in the conversation for the best every season because he scores consistently, he is our best number 10 on the roster, and he has been doing that for us for a long time now. For this list, I am analyzing the players in the vacuum that was the 2021-22 season, which is why Kane falls at number four on our list. Last week, I spoke about the summer saga of Harry Kane at length. Be sure to use the link at the top of this post to get the gist of that story. Once that saga ended, it was clear that the England captain was off. Goals that seemed like tap-ins that he always scored were not falling … well, at least not in the Premier League. The class of Kane was still there in the Europa Conference League as he carved up the likes of Pacos de Ferreira and Mura early on in the competition, but those performances never really seemed to get him going in the premier league as the striker scored just one goal in the club’s first 14 matches. Things seemed bleak.

Well, maybe not bleak for the last four Premier League matches in that string. It was in those matches we saw the arrival of Antonio Conte to N17, which really seemed to spring Harry Kane back to those levels he is capable of. In those first four Premier League matches of the Conte era, Kane totaled 13 shots, had an xG of 1.77, and xA of 0.58, and average FotMob match rating of 7.13. Are those the numbers we want consistently from Kane? No, but they do show things were starting to happen for the striker. All he needed now was to kick on during a big match. That big match was a home contest against Liverpool, where we were treated to our typical Harry Kane performance. While the game finished two-all, Kane would get on the scoresheet with the opening goal of the match, complete two successful dribbles, make two recoveries, and win five of his eight duels. A strong performance from our star man. Including that match against Liverpool, Kane scored 16 goals in the team’s final 24 Premier League matches. Had he scored at that rate the entire season, he would have won his second consecutive Golden Boot to bring his count to four, which would have tied him with Thierry Henry for the most in league history. 

The biggest thing that people forget about Kane is how much he does outside of the creative statistics. If you look at his possession and passing statistics, Kane saw career highs in successful reception efficiency, total distance covered, successful dribbles, dribble efficiency, mid range passing efficiency, long range passing efficiency, and completed crosses in the box. While Harry Kane is the best striker in football, I do think Harry Kane is more than just a striker. He has proven time and time again that he is an excellent passer, he can sit deep and start the attack, and he has a knack for making some key defensive plays as well. While it may have been a slow start for Kane, there is a direct correlation between his return to form and the squad’s charge towards the Champions League. Yes the likes of Dejan Kulusevski, Son Heung-min, Rodrigo Bentancur, and others were also huge in that run, but without Harry Kane, that probably falls just short.

#3 – Eric Dier

Show of hands, how many of you all have wanted the club to sell Eric Dier at least once since the end of the 2018-19 season? Don’t worry you are not alone. Here is another question. Of those who answered yes to the previous question, how many of you still want the club to move the center back? I would venture to guess there were a lot fewer of you who raised their hands. I am in the same boat. I was sure he was gone multiple times, and I have sent multiple text messages that have said “I do not expect Eric Dier to play again in a Spurs shirt.” I am glad I have eaten those words. There is a reason why Dier finds himself as the highest rated center back on our list, and that is consistency. 

Over the course of the 2021-22 season, Eric Dier played and started in 35 Premier League matches and made 39 total appearances on the season, and his statistical output clearly explains why Dier was a fixture for our starting XI. One area where Eric Dier has always shown his quality is his passing. That quality shined as the England international set new career bests in short range passing efficiency and mid range passing efficiency as well as overall passing efficiency. While he may not have set any career bests in the terms of defensive outputs, there is no doubt that he was the anchor of our back three. There is a reason why Dier made the most starts at the centerback position on the team:  dependability. Dier has moved on past the days of his transition from CDM. He has sured up his game, and is a true leader on the pitch, both vocally and by example. When injuries plagued the back line, Eric Dier was there to direct the traffic for the likes of Japhet Tanganga and Davinson Sanchez as Spurs were able to procure valuable wins throughout the middle of the season. The heat map above speaks volumes to his leadership skills. That bright red middle lane in the Spurs half shows how much ground he was able to cover in that central role.

Many people believed that the sun had set on peak Eric Dier in a Spurs shirt after the 2016-17 season, but Antonio Conte has been able to unlock the Eric Dier renaissance. While it may not be the same Eric Dier from the Mauricio Pochettino era, this may be the best version of the player. We need strong leaders at the back who we can count on to hold the line and clear the danger. Eric Dier is that leader we need, and that is why he comes in at the number three spot on our countdown.

 #2 – Hugo Lloris

Oh captain, my captain. The 2021-22 season began with what seemed like Spurs preparing for life without their longest serving senior squad member. Hugo Lloris was entering the final year of his contract, and with a loan-to-buy deal for Atalanta’s Pierluigi Golini finalized, it was logical this may be the last ride of the French goalkeeper. While the club captain would sign a two-year extension this past January, if this would have been the last go around for the captain for the reigning champions of the world, he put in a shift.

I know I am biased as a Spurs fan, but I do not think Hugo Lloris gets the credit he deserves for the dedication and quality he has shown for the club since he joined from Lyon back in the summer of 2012. Through good and bad, Hugo has been the man between the sticks to lead the team and be that anchor. Once again, he was that anchor again for us this season. I have made it very well known how much our back line improved significantly, which was a key reason to the team qualifying for next season’s Champions League. I also think the play of Hugo Lloris has a lot to do with why the club made that run. Hugo may not be known as a great ball distributor, but what he is VERY good at is making stops, the most basic of skills for a keeper. We have talked a lot over the last four weeks about the stretch run of games from the first Premier League starts of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur. In that 15 games stretch, the French international conceded just nine goals and kept eight clean sheets, including a run of three clean sheets to end the season when Spurs needed him the most. During that time, Lloris also had a save percentage of 77.5%, which was 6.1% better than his save percentage in the Premier League on the entire season. From a numbers standpoint, 2021-22 was also a return to his top levels as well. Lloris posted his lowest goals against per 90 since 17-18, his most wins across all competitions (25) since he posted a career high of 26 wins in three consecutive seasons (16-17, 17-18, and 18-19), and his highest rate of clean sheets since 16-17. That era for Spurs was marked with title races, cup runs, and a Champions League final. It would be great to give our captain another run like that to end his run with the club. 

When putting together this week’s countdown, this stretch was definitely the most difficult. So many players put in huge performances this season, and I know that there will be a lot of you who may have an opinion of my picks. That is fine. I am just a high school math teacher from Kentucky. I do not and probably will never cover this squad as my full time job. What I can say is that Hugo Lloris was once again an absolute workhorse for Spurs this season. He made numerous incredible saves and his play down the stretch does not get enough credit (in my opinion) for how much it impacted our run to Champions League qualification. Long live Hugo!

And now, for the moment you have all been waiting for…

#1 – Son Heung-min

Was there any doubt who was number one on the list? We conclude our countdown of the top players of the season, as well as our year in review, with the South Korean sensation and my favorite player, Son Heung-min. My journey to becoming a Spurs supporter was cemented by Sonny. By this time, most of you know I started watching the Premier League in 2016-17, and after a little bit of research, Spurs really stood out to me through a combination of club history, playing style, and famous supporters I was a fan of (Finn Balor, Rupert Grint, Jude Law, etc.). That Saturday, Spurs were away at Middlesbrough in that amazing gold kit with blue pinstripes. That morning, I was treated to an incredible performance from Sonny, and that sealed the deal with my support of Spurs. This was my club, and Sonny was my guy. Simple as that. Here we are nearly six years later, and I am still talking about my favorite player.

Son has been on a real tear since he was able to get consistent playing time for Spurs in that 2016-17 season. In 435 appearances, he has 183 goal contributions in a Spurs side many people, including Pep Guardiola, consider a Harry Kane team. I do believe this year was finally the end of that tag for this club. I have even gone on record on this blog to say that Son Heung-min may be the most important player in this squad, and the reigning Asian Footballer of the Year definitely supported my claim. In short, Son scored 23 Premier League goals while adding seven assists marking the first time he has eclipsed the 30 goal contributions mark. That mark put Son in an elite club as one of just eleven players over the last ten seasons to reach 30 goal contributions. Did I mention those 23 goals were good enough to win a share of the Golden Boot? Well they were. Did I also mention none of his 23 goals were from the penalty spot? That is a feat that is not easily accomplished in any league, let alone the best football league in the world. That is extremely impressive. Also factor in the thought that the South Korean captain’s xG was only 16.4. That marks the second year in a row that Sonny scored six more goals than the analytics would have predicted. That is incredible! Want more statistical analysis on how good Son was this year? Well, I thought you would never ask. Son tallied career bests in completed passes, progressive passes, short range passing efficiency, shot creating actions, shot creating actions per 90, interceptions, touches, and carries. 

Now I hope you are comfortable because you have now entered the rant zone. Grab a drink and settle in. It is clear that 2021-22 was an amazing season for one Son Heung-min. Golden Boot, Asian Footballer of the Year, Club Player of the Year, Supporters’ Player of the Year. So what is there to rant about? Well two things. First off, Son was left off the PFA team of the season. In his place was Sadio Mane. No disrespect to Sadio Mane, but WHAT? Mane was not statistically better than Son, and Mane was not better than Son in either of the team’s two matchups. How does this happen? Well the PFA team of the season was essentially the combined starting XI for Liverpool and Manchester City plus Antonio Rudiger and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was not the best striker in the Premier League. That is absolutely ridiculous. To go along without that, Sonny was not even one of the six finalists for PFA Player of the Year. PFA, you need to do better. Last year, Harry Kane won the Golden Boot and Playmaker of the Year and was also shut out as the PFA Player of the Year. Of course Mohamed Salah matched Kane’s feat and was named PFA Player of the Year. PFA, you need to do better. Son Heung-min is a world class talent. He delivers on the domestic stage, he delivers on the continental stage, and he delivers on the international stage. He is also a tremendous human being. There is something amiss in all of this, and it is shameful. My only hope is that 2022-23 is even better for Sonny, and he will finally become the undeniable force that everyone at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club knows he is. Long live Sonny!

There you have it, my list of the top ten players of the season. Did I get it right? Am I missing anyone? Please feel free to comment on this page or let me know on social media of your thoughts. 

I also want to say thank you to anyone and everyone who joined me over these last four weeks as we journeyed through the 2021-22 season. I appreciate that you took time out of your day to hear my take on a year in the life of our favorite football club. I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed working on them. I definitely plan on bringing you more content here on the Podspur blog.

As June turns to July, we are dangerously close to the start of another season. With pre-season friendlies just around the corner and the transfer window very much open, be sure to join us here on the Podspur Blog for all things Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Be sure to also follow Podspur across social media as we bring you all things Tottenham Hotspur. Be sure to give us a listen wherever you get your podcasts. We are super excited to get back to recording and get back to talking Spurs on a weekly basis.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking here. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. COME ON YOU SPURS!

-Dustin Gentile

Published by dgentile25

Follower of Christ. Husband. WKU Alum. Teacher/Asst. Athletic Director. Let's Go Preds. Go Tops. Go Blue. Come on You Spurs. Let’s Go Reds. Psalm 105:4

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