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How a tactical switch would help Tottenham with their central midfield woes

Monday 13th August 2018

Tottenham Hotspur, the sole side in the Premier League who didn’t manage to sign one single player in the recently concluded summer transfer window. Now, Mauricio Pochettino will have to do with last season’s squad; until January at least...

Well, the fans would obviously get frustrated by the lack of transfers in the close season. Particularly when all the major rivals have brought in some significant reinforcements. But that’s not the case with Pochettino. He revealed that he’s not at all concerned by the North London club’s inactivity in the transfer market. Okay, so he might really mean what he said. Perhaps, one positive thing about the current situation is Spurs have managed to keep hold of their all key players despite strong interest from big parties.

Bringing in the players and spending exorbitant amounts blindly isn’t always the solution to perk up the squad. Sometimes the solution might lie within the ranks already.

Spurs have tremendous quality and a reasonable amount of depth in midfield. Still, they lack an established central midfielder. A proper box to box player. However, they do have some players who can temporarily adopt that role.

Sure, they have Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, who are natural central midfield players. But the problem is they are not among the first names in the team sheet and Pochettino isn’t going to use them either unless there is a kind of urgency. Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama could also switch to the central midfield role, a little advanced than their usual territory. But again, they are more suited in their preferred positions, playing slightly deeper.

Their strength lies in thwarting the opposition’s attack. Talking about Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, they excel in the attacking third of the pitch. They do their devastating work in the most advanced midfield position. While Alli’s versatility may be limited but Spurs have a midfield trump card in Eriksen. The Dane can play almost anywhere in the midfield.

So how a tactical switch will actually help Tottenham with their midfield?

Pochettino prefers the 4-2-3-1 system in which he uses Dier and Dembele as a fulcrum in the deeper position to protect the centre-backs. Eriksen plays on the left of the attacking midfield, acting as a link between the lines. At the base, they have Dembele. No doubt, the Belgian is excellent in his own terms. But as you can see, he’s not a kind of player who can control the tempo of the game or switch the wings with pinpoint lob passes. The former Fulham man doesn’t take many shots towards the goal, either. Now 31, we can’t expect him to cover much ground. On the other hand, Dier is more defensive minded. He often plays as an auxiliary centre-back when the full backs push higher up the pitch. Spurs certainly lack a player who can play the box to box role.

So here is where Eriksen can come in handy should Mauricio Pochettino choose to alter his system a bit.

A 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 system could work. Eriksen can acquire a central midfield position in these. Even if the Dane drifts a little further where his natural territory lies. There would still be two players in the central midfield to provide the cover for the centre-backs.

Eriksen is devastating from the left side of the attacking midfield and does most of the damage from that area. So, when the need arises, Pochettino can push him forward. Then, the 4-3-3 will become 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 will become 3-4-3. Both 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 are the Argentine’s preferred systems and he definitely knows how to get results from that. So, he has the freedom to play with a little-tweaked system with an option to switch back to his preferred system according to opposition or situation.

The idea here is to make the best out of Eriksen’s all-round abilities. Playing him in a three-man midfield is rational because there will be enough cover when he drives forward. And there would be much less defensive responsibilities. It’s not like Eriksen can’t defend. His defensive work is often overshadowed by his attacking prowess. Last season, he attempted most tackles (93) among the Spurs players and he was fifth best among Spurs squad when it comes to interceptions. If he plays in a two-man midfield (4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2) which is generally preferred by Pochettino, that might not work so well. That is because in these systems the central midfielders have more defensive responsibilities and their movement going forward is limited. Perhaps, this will not suit Eriksen at all.

Right now, Eriksen is the best bet for Pochettino to play the box to box role. But it’s just the short-term solution. Sooner or later Tottenham have to develop someone or sign someone to fill in that role.

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Zaid Pathan

A huge fan of Peter Drury's bombastic post-goal narration and an ardent football follower since his teens, Zaid believes the beautiful game is the best mode of escape from the daily hustle and bustle. He particularly loves to watch the Premier League and wants English clubs to dominate Europe again.

Life may or may not be beautiful, but football surely is.

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