Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Changing Cliché: Tottenham’s New Midfield Stalwart Leaves Very Less To Be Desired

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Yash Shah
A skeptical mystic who likes to channel his inner loneliness into drumming and dissection of football games. Dreams of watching Tottenham play at the new White Hart Lane. Has spent a majority of the last two years on foul-mouthing Moussa Sissoko and worrying about his receding hairline.

When Tottenham lost Moussa Dembele through suspension last season, Pochettino failed to adequately replace that midfield void which eventually cost them the title. It wasn’t an overstatement when Pochettino said Tottenham didn’t exist without “The Big Belgian”.

Without Dembele, Tottenham lost 5 games out of 11 and with him in the team, they had lost just once last season. In addition to that, Harry Kane managed just 2 goals in the games Dembele didn’t feature in while he scored a whopping 24 goals in which Dembele featured. These particular stats itself give an indication of how overwhelmingly influential the 29-year-old’s presence is in the midfield.

Tottenham fans were understandably anxious about his absence in the first five matches through continued suspension this season and wished they would be able to get through this period as unhurt as the possibly could. The story has been entirely different though. They did not only survive Dembele’s absence but are flourishing with perhaps an able replacement in the midfield.

When Mauricio Pochettino brought in Victor Wanyama in the summer transfer window, Tottenham fans thought that the Kenyan would probably end up playing second fiddle to Eric Dier but the scenario has entirely changed with the 25-year-old’s performances. While many thought what was just a temporarily spell in the playing eleven with Dembele out, Wanyama has put Mauricio Pochettino in a big dilemma of whether to stick with Eric Dier with both Dembele and Dier available only for the second time this season.

The first time this happened, Danny Rose wasn’t available which meant Vertonghen had to be shifted to the fullback position with Eric Dier filling in the vacant centre-back spot.

Wanyama has been so good that his presence has enabled Pochettino to add men on an offensive front and employ a 4-1-4-1 formation with just a single man in the pivot. Despite being a bit aggressive and often rash in his approach, he has been the presence at the back that Tottenham midfield demanded last season in absence of Dembele.

Wanyama is a lot like Dembele is some ways; he is really strong and big and physically very difficult to outmuscle. Just like Dembele, he can often dribble his way out of trouble. But there are some obvious differences, though. Being a defensive midfielder his offensive contribution is often quite limited but then he slots nicely in the heart of the defense with split centre-backs.

In the game against Manchester City, he was assisted in his defensive work to a good degree by Moussa Sissoko who often covered full-length of pitch to track back and defend but Wanyama was certainly the one who did the dirty work at the back, often taking one for the team to stop the counter for which he rightly got the man of the match award.

Stats comparison between Wanyama, Kante and Fernandinho
Stats comparison between Wanyama, Kante and Fernandinho (Image credit:Squawka)

The stats above put Wanyama in comparison with two of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League and shows that he is among the Premier League’s finest holding midfielders and his quality is not far away from the elite as one would have thought. Wanyama has understandably fewer number of interceptions with his speed quite limited. This particular stat also casts a doubt over him being used in a pivot combination with Dembele since the pair wouldn’t be able to remedy Tottenham’s susceptibility on the counters.

Wanyama didn’t have the disadvantage of being under pressure of having big price-tag hanging on his head but he certainly did have the pressure of filling in the big shoes of Moussa Dembele and he has perhaps been able to do more than a satisfactory job filling in for the Belgian. He has a strong mentality and is doing all he could to give Eric Dier some sleepless night over the starting spot.

Wanyama also gives Pochettino the luxury of options and flexibility in the squad. He is perhaps the more defensive option to Dembele and while there are lesser chances he would work in combination with Eric Dier in the midfield pivot, Wanyama-Dembele or Wanyama-Sissoko pivot does seem theoretically to have all the prerequisites to work wonderfully against most oppositions.

He was a long way to go with Dier, Sissoko and Dembele all three fit now and it will be really interesting to see him compete for the starting spot with this cutthroat competition in the midfield.

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