Since Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival back in 2014, Tottenham’s midfield has undergone quite a transformation. This season alone has seen the favoured combination of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele forcibly give way to the likes of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko.
Wanyama’s injury is a particularly large blow for Spurs, who will miss his resilience and strength. However, it has allowed for the recent emergence of other midfield stars. This has been a test of Pochettino’s resources and, overall, it has emerged a successful one in some areas. Sissoko and Winks provide something different to Wanyama, or Dembele, but it does not make them inferior overall.
Tottenham’s Midfield Transformation
Sissoko’s huge price tag led Spurs fans to expect miracles from a misfiring midfielder. However, since then, after the spotlight has moved away from rating summer transfer’s performances, he has improved remarkably. It is an overstatement to claim Sissoko has transformed the Spurs midfield, but he has added a new, unique mix of skills.
His work is not always appreciated, which usually involves ball retention, but also a physical presence in midfield. One of the most useful parts of his game is his forward runs, driving with or without the ball. This creates the space needed for technicians like Christian Eriksen to work.
His meteoric rise has already seen him claim his first England cap. Undoubtedly, he has added some youthful exuberance into the midfield. Hard-working and forward-thinking, Winks likes to get involved in every linking move. He is able to start off an attack with long passes, or equally play off his fellow midfielders in order to make runs beyond the striker.
His debut goal against West Ham epitomises his play, striving to make runs into the box, smashing home a loose ball. This young man has some more progress to make but could become a special player for Tottenham. It is important with young players not to hype them up too early, but so far, he has shown great promise. Pochettino must continue to nourish this player, promoting domestic, academy youth for the sake of English national team hopes but English football in general.
Whilst players like Sissoko and Winks have been introduced, the injuries to Dembele and Wanyama are still affecting the midfield. These two players have so much quality and experience to offer to the team. Dembele is supremely talented on the ball, comfortably drifting past players, driving through the midfield to create chances. Wanyama too has some competence on the ball, but crucially it his reading of the game, his position and anticipation that makes him vital to Spurs’ defensive efforts.
But, their physical side of the match is also a key asset in midfield. They are two players who are able to hold off or dispossess any other player in the Premier League. Wanyama primarily uses his brute force in marshalling the defence, screening and protecting the back three. Dembele too is able to lever his opponents off the ball. This creates a fearsome duo, who can be called on when a match veers towards the physical side. Playing against notoriously physical teams such as Stoke City, or perhaps in the derby matches, this is crucial to match the opponents force.
This is perhaps an important factor in Spurs’ defeat to Arsenal. Whilst Sissoko and Dembele featured in midfield, the latter was still recovering from injury, but the former did perform some good work. Thus, the injuries to both Dembele and Wanyama mean that the squad has less depth in terms of these physical players.
There is no doubt that the squad miss the fully fit combination of Dembele and Wanyama. However, this is not to dismiss the efforts of the replacements in Sissoko and Winks. They have their own unique playing styles which benefit the team in differing ways. This allows for a certain level of transformation. The key issue that the injuries reveal is the lack of one other physical midfielder, that battles like Wanyama, which could help to swing derbies towards Spurs’ favour.