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What now for Matt Doherty?

The Irish international has had a difficult first season at new club Tottenham.

Matt Doherty has started just 12 Premier League games for Spurs this season.
Matt Doherty has started just 12 Premier League games for Spurs this season.
Image: PA

PRIOR TO this season, if you were to ask most people to identify the best Irish player of the past couple of campaigns, the common refrain would be Matt Doherty.

The £15 million move to Tottenham from Wolves last August appeared to confirm the Dubliner’s status as a top-class Premier League player.

Yet it has been a troubled season for both Spurs and Doherty.

Last weekend’s defeat to Man United severely dented the North London side’s hopes of securing a Champions League spot.

With seven games to play, Tottenham sit seventh, six points off fourth-place West Ham.

Jose Mourinho’s men can scarcely afford to drop more points if they are to retain any hope of qualifying for next season’s edition of Europe’s premier club competition.

Spurs, even before Mourinho’s arrival, have looked a team on a downward spiral.

The 2016-17 campaign saw them achieve 86 points — the most they have ever picked up in a single Premier League season and a tally that would have been good enough to claim the title in a number of campaigns.

Since then, their decline has been clear — 77 points (2017-18), 71 points (2018-19), 59 points (2019-20). In their first full season under Mourinho, this negative trend could be set to continue, with the club having picked up just 49 points as it stands.

And perhaps even more fatally, they ostensibly face a fight to keep hold of star player Harry Kane, with widespread reports that the 27-year-old striker wants to leave Spurs to further his career amid links with Man United, Chelsea and PSG among others.

And Kane’s exit could be part of a summer overhaul for a Spurs team that has flattered to deceive on too many occasions this year.

British media reports have suggested at least six players could leave Tottenham come the end of the campaign.

Season-long loan deals for Gareth Bale and Carlos Vinicius are unlikely to be renewed.

In addition, Hugo Lloris, Serge Aurier, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Danny Rose, Erik Lamela and Juan Foyth have been listed as some of the players facing uncertain futures.

Doherty’s situation could come under scrutiny too.

The Irish player is currently out with an injury picked up during the international break, and Mourinho yesterday indicated he would not be available for tonight’s clash with Everton.

But even before that setback, the former Bohemians player was not in the Portuguese coach’s good books — just prior to going away with Ireland, he was being left out of matchday squads, with Serge Aurier and Japhet Tanganga often selected ahead of him.

In total this season, Doherty has started 12 of Tottenham’s 31 Premier League games, suggesting Mourinho does not fully trust the player.

It is a fairly unique position for the Irish star to be in, as he was a virtual ever-present in the starting XI during his time with Wolves and widely considered one of the best players in his position in England’s top flight.

The 29-year-old’s biggest problem appears to be that Mourinho is not convinced by his defensive capabilities.

For the majority of his time at Molineux, he thrived as a right wing-back. Since moving, he has generally been employed as a right-back and thus has more defensive responsibilities.

Mourinho, it seems, likes playing with an attacking full-back on one side and a more defensive-minded one on the other.

It is why when Doherty starts, it is almost always with the more defensively sound Ben Davies on the left.

The arrival of the similarly attack-minded left-back Sergio Reguilón last September complicated matters.

Doherty and Reguilón have started in the same team on just five occasions in the Premier League this season, against Brighton, West Brom, Wolves, Crystal Palace and Arsenal, and one of those saw the Madrid-born player begin the game in midfield.

More worryingly for Doherty, reports have indicated that Tottenham have targeted a new goalkeeper, centre-back and right-back as the key areas for improvement next season.

S0 is there any hope of rescuing a difficult situation for the Irish international?

It’s hard to imagine Mourinho switching to a 3-5-2 anytime soon, given how poor his options are at centre-back currently.

The best hope from Doherty’s perspective may be a managerial change.

Chairman Daniel Levy is unlikely to make any definitive calls until the season ends, but should the club fail to achieve a top-four spot for the second consecutive campaign under Mourinho, following four top-four finishes on the trot during the Mauricio Pochettino era, then they may seek a change.

Maurizio Sarri, Julian Nagelsmann, Brendan Rodgers, Massimiliano Allegri and Diego Simeone have been mentioned among the potential successors should the 58-year-old depart, and it’s not difficult to imagine Doherty flourishing under many of these more attack-minded coaches.

A player not dissimilar to Doherty, Luke Shaw, also had a problematic time under Mourinho at Man United, but has looked reinvigorated since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the Dubliner has the talent to make a similar recovery.

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Upcoming Premier League fixtures:

Friday

Everton v Tottenham (20.00)

Saturday

Newcastle v West Ham (12.30)
Wolves v Sheffield United (20.15)

Sunday

Arsenal v Fulham (13.30)
Man United v Burnley (16.00)

Monday

Leeds v Liverpool (20.00)

Tuesday

Chelsea v Brighton (20.00)

FA Cup semi-finals

Saturday

Chelsea v Man City (17.30)

Sunday

Leicester v Southampton (18.30)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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