11 March 2021
By Roger Jones
Tottenham and Ireland right-back Matt Doherty finally looks set to play a big part in Spurs’ European push as the Premier League rounds the corner into the final straight.
A midseason slump amid a slew of injuries saw Tottenham fall off the pace, but they appear to be getting healthy at just the right time to compete for a remarkable 13th straight year in continental competition.
Bookmakers remain cautious on whether Spurs will be playing Champions League or Europa League football next year, however. The latest Premier League Top 4 odds rank them 4.2 outsiders amid tough competition from fellow European chasers Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and West Ham. Despite the crowded field for a small number of places, Spurs fans will quietly fancy their chances after a fully-fit Gareth Bale returned to the side looking like the man who won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 8, 2021
Behind a three-man attack of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Bale, Spurs can surely rival the goal-scoring output of any front line in European football. Kane and Son in particular have now combined for more goals than any other duo in a Premier League season and Spurs put four past Crystal Palace, Burnley and Europa League opponents Wolfsberger (twice) to put Premier League defences on notice.
At the other end of the pitch, Doherty has had to adjust to playing as a full-back instead of the more adventurous wing-back role he previously played at former club Wolves. Competition with the established Serge Aurier and Mourinho’s penchant for rotation initially saw Doherty play a more prominent role in Spurs’ Europa League campaign, where they played plenty of free-scoring football en route to the round of 16.
By Doherty’s own admission the 2020/21 season has not been everything he’d hoped for since signing for Tottenham, saying in a matchday programme interview, “I love being here. I have really enjoyed my time here but, personally, it’s not been a great season for me so far.”
Despite not getting off to a fast start, Doherty has become more involved in the fate of Spurs’ campaign as the season rolls on. Injuries to Aurier in February and March gave Doherty a chance to contribute more in the Premier League, and he rewarded Mourinho with strong performances in consecutive starts against Crystal Palace and Fulham that had the Portuguese describing his defensive work as “impeccable.”
But perhaps crucial to Doherty’s finish will be how he combines with Gareth Bale on Spurs’ right flank now the Welshman is injury-free and back amongst the goals. Mourinho expects his full-backs to get forward to create overlaps, but also to get back to their defensive duties when required, something that has had Spurs fans infuriated with Serge Aurier in the past for a perceived lack of work rate.
If Doherty can seize the Spurs right-back role for himself and have half the impact he did at Wolves, Tottenham will contend for the European places deep into this Premier League season.