Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Tottenham Hotspur’s 2021-22 season, in which the Lilywhites sealed a return to the Champions League.
A pair of new eras commenced for Tottenham Hotspur in the 2021-22 season, as Nuno Espirito Santo began the campaign in the North London dugout before established title-winner Antonio Conte made an impactful return to the Premier League.
The Lilywhites’ bid to end a 13-year drought without a trophy failed to bear fruit in 2020-21, and they would also end the most recent campaign without adding to their honours cabinet, but it was still a memorable season regardless.
Embroiled in a fight for the top four with bitter rivals Arsenal throughout the campaign, Spurs eventually pipped their North London counterparts to the fourth and final Champions League spot, and Lilywhites fans will savour the moment for a long while.
Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Tottenham’s 2021-22 campaign.
Final league position: 4th
EFL Cup: Semi-finals
FA Cup: Fifth round
Top scorer: Harry Kane (25)
Most assists: Harry Kane (10)
Tottenham brought in Jose Mourinho in an attempt to refresh the memories of supporters who had forgotten what it felt like to win a trophy, but after the Portuguese tried and failed to lead the North London club to silverware, Daniel Levy took a gamble on his compatriot.
Nuno Espirito Santo navigated the pre-season period unbeaten and welcomed a spate of promising new arrivals to the club, with Cristian Romero, Pierluigi Gollini, Emerson Royal and Bryan Gil all arriving as Fabio Paratici used his Italian contacts to the club’s advantage.
Beating reigning champions Manchester City on the opening day and taking nine points from their first three could hardly have seen Santo’s reign get off to a better start, but the cracks soon started to show for the former Wolverhampton Wanderers boss, who was not helped by the Harry Kane transfer saga and subsequent lack of goals from the England captain.
Three consecutive defeats soon followed for Spurs – the last of which saw them torn apart by North London rivals Arsenal – and a 3-0 home loss to Manchester United in October proved to be the final nail in Santo’s coffin.
The 48-year-old had only taken charge of 17 games before being relieved of his duties by the club, who wasted no time in welcoming Conte back to the management game at a time when they were languishing in ninth place in the Premier League table.
The accomplished title-winner would end up becoming the first Spurs manager in history to go unbeaten in his first nine Premier League games in charge, but a 2-1 Conference League loss to Mura was a particularly low point, and Tottenham were ultimately forced to relinquish their shot at European glory owing to a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski‘s signings did not have the desired impact right away, however, as Spurs were eliminated from the EFL Cup by Chelsea in the semi-finals and went down to Middlesbrough in the fifth round of the FA Cup to ensure that a 14th consecutive season would end without a trophy.
A run of four defeats from five Premier League games also saw Conte publicly question his future at the club after losing at Burnley, but things were soon looking up for the Lilywhites, who broke into the top four with a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle United on matchday 30.
In the midst of the team’s progress, a new Premier League record was also set by the deadly duo. Son Heung-min and Kane’s combinations have dazzled and delighted the Tottenham faithful all season long, and with the former scoring from Kane’s assist in the 4-0 win at Leeds United, the pair broke the record for the most prolific partnership in the tournament’s history.
With Kulusevski finding his feet, Kane rediscovering his goalscoring touch and Son simply being Son, Tottenham soon took control of the top four race, even if dropped points to Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford did hand the initiative back to Arsenal for a short while.
Holding Liverpool to a draw at Anfield and gleaning revenge over Arsenal meant that Spurs realistically only needed a point on the final day of the season against Norwich City to seal a return to the Champions League, but they instead hit the Canaries for five to clinch fourth place in style.
PREMIER LEAGUE STATS
Wins: 22 (=3rd)
Draws: 5 (=18th)
Losses: 11 (=16th)
Goals scored: 69 (4th)
Goals conceded: 40 (17th)
Yellow cards: 67 (=8th)
Red cards: 1 (=15th)
Passes: 19,165 (4th)
Shots: 491 (6th)
Big chances missed: 60 (2nd)
Saves: 98 (=16th)
Tackles: 598 (14th)
Own goals: 1 (=12th)
Hit woodwork: 13 (=6th)
Clearances: 758 (8th)
HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?
During the final day of the 2020-21 season, Spurs were on the brink of dropping out of the top seven entirely but ultimately clinched the Europa Conference League place with a one-point lead over Arsenal.
Once again finishing one spot better off than the Gunners, this time with two more points, Spurs were also just three points adrift of Chelsea and posted 22 wins compared to just 18 last term.
The Lilywhites only managed to score one more Premier League goal than they did in the entirety of last season – 69 compared to 68 in 2020-21 – but they let in five fewer goals throughout the campaign.
Entering the unfancied Europa Conference League already saw Tottenham fare worse on the continent than they did in 2020-21, as Mourinho led his side to the Europa League last-16 before Dinamo Zagreb happened.
Spurs would have fancied themselves as one of the favourites in the tertiary competition, but they only amassed seven points from their first five games in Group G before being forced to withdraw from the competition, with their COVID-19 outbreak meaning that they could not fulfil their fixtures.
Trying and failing yet again to end their domestic trophy drought, Spurs made it all the way to the final of the EFL Cup last season before falling 3-0 on aggregate to Chelsea in the semi-finals this time around.
It was deja-vu for the Lilywhites as far as the FA Cup was concerned, as they were eliminated in the fifth round by Everton in 2020-21 and were dumped out at the same stage by Championship side Middlesbrough back in March, with both exits coming after extra time.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON – SON HEUNG-MIN
Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, Tottenham announced that they had tied key attacker Son down to a new deal until the end of the 2024-25 season – music to the ears of the club’s supporters – and the South Korea captain repaid the Lilywhites’ faith in him the only way he knew how.
With Kane not enjoying his customary goal-laden season in the first few months, Son took it upon himself to lead the Tottenham charge and broke the 20-goal barrier for the league season in the crucial draw at Liverpool. Even more impressively, not a single one of those strikes came from the penalty spot.
The 29-year-old kept the Golden Boot dream alive until the final day of the season and ultimately shared the honour with Mohamed Salah following his 22nd and 23rd league strikes at Carrow Road, and he ends his most prolific campaign in a Tottenham jersey yet with 24 strikes and 10 assists from 45 appearances in all tournaments – making his £27m arrival in 2015 seem like an absolute bargain.
On May 12, 2022, Arsenal travelled to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium knowing that victory would cement their place in the top four while dashing Tottenham’s Champions League dreams for another season.
Revenge was also on the mind of the Lilywhites after their Emirates humbling, while Conte had not enjoyed a strong period of personal success over the Gunners, but the Italian’s side would proceed to bully their rivals.
A controversial shove from Cedric Soares on Son allowed Kane to step up and do the rest from 12 yards before the South Korean was the victim of one too many challenges from Rob Holding, whose first-half dismissal rubbed salt into the wounds for the hapless Gunners.
With Ben White also not at full fitness and left on the bench, Kane and Son took advantage to make the net ripple again as Spurs revelled in the jubilant North London scenes – boosting their Champions League hopes tenfold while damaging their rivals’ morale to the extreme.
Things started no differently at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City. Kane had struck for Spurs, but Patson Daka and James Maddison were both on target for the Foxes – threatening an end to Conte’s unbeaten Premier League streak.
Tottenham were 2-1 behind in the 79th minute when Bergwijn was introduced, and crowds were beginning to empty in the dying embers, but the Dutchman pounced on a loose ball in the 95th minute to seemingly rescue a point for the Lilywhites right at the death.
However, Spurs were far from content for just the one point while the whistle was away from Jonathan Moss‘s lips. With virtually the last kick of the game, Bergwijn nominated himself for the best ‘super sub’ showing in history by rounding Kasper Schmeichel and watching his scuffed effort trickle over the line via the…