Hojbjerg made a characteristic change of course, epitomized by a late one-man counterattack, but was part of a Spurs midfield that struggled to control possession for the second game in a row and, at times, , has been exceeded.
To some observers, Hojbjerg was uncomfortable with the visiting press and heavy in possession, especially in the opposition half, but BT studio’s Jermaine Jenas felt he was the standout player of the game.
It’s typical of the Dane’s mixed perception, more appreciated by his managers, team-mates and ex-pros like Jenas than the average supporter.
On paper, few Premier League players appear more indispensable to their clubs. Since Hojbjerg moved to north London in the summer of 2020, no outfield player has played more minutes in the top flight and he has only missed two games – the 2-2 draw with Liverpool for due to illness and a 2-0 loss to Wolves in February, when he was rested.
Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason, Nuno Espirito Santo and now Antonio Conte haven’t been shy about trusting Hojbjerg as a water carrier in midfield.
Yet there is still a lingering question over his importance to Spurs, particularly after signings this summer, and when Real Madrid’s interest in the 27-year-old emerged last week some fans were indifferent, seeing Hojbjerg as a useful but far from indispensable player. .
Certainly there is a case where Hojbjerg’s ubiquity over the past two seasons is as much the result of necessity as merit, and a midfield duo of Rodrigo Bentancur, Yves Bissouma and Oliver Skipp could give more control at Spurs.
Summer signing Bissouma is potentially a more press-resistant and dynamic option than Hojbjerg, which may have come in handy in the first half against Chelsea and Wolves, while Skipp and Bentancur are better on the ball and offer more creativity.
But what Hojbjerg lacks in technical quality he makes up for in his work off the ball and the many intangibles he brings to the team, so perhaps Conte’s midfield two would be outgunned more often without his fighting instinct?
He usually covers more ground than any of his teammates and performs a high number of tackles, blocks, interceptions and digs. The former Bayern Munich player is seen as a leader in the dressing room and on the pitch, raising standards for the rest of the squad.
His perfectionism and professionalism are widely valued at the club and if he has a character flaw it is a refusal to recognize when he needs a rest or should stop playing due to injury, which can be at its detriment – but it’s generally a trait loved by managers.
Assessing Hojbjerg’s true importance to Conte’s Spurs squad is only possible when he’s gone
With Skipp returning to full training this week and Bissouma leveling up, Hojbjerg’s streak of League appearances will surely come to an end in the fall as the fixtures pile up.
A Conte midfielder without him could lift Spurs to the next level, especially when it comes to controlling games and finding a way through stubborn opponents. On the other hand, what he will bring may only become apparent to everyone when he is finally gone.
Curiously, then, assessing Hojbjerg’s true importance to Conte’s team is only possible when he’s gone.