The Window: Midfielders – Checking the wings before takeoff

On Sunday the window officially opened and Spurs have been quick to free up some space in our squad by sending youngsters Andros Townsend (to Leeds) and Harry Kane (to Millwall) out on loan on the first day of the window. Probably beneficial for both the club and the players since they will get more game time and experience in the Championship than they would at Spurs now that we’re already out of the Carling Cup and Europa League. Other young players like Tom Carroll and Jake Livermore might still go out on loan too, with Swansea and Fulham reportedly interested in Carroll. Loaning out Livermore might be less obvious whilst Tom Huddlestone is still recovering from his long-term ankle injury. Livermore has proven to be a useful squad player having come on to do a defensive job in midfield during 9 appearances as a substitute. Even if all of Townsend, Livermore and Carroll go out on loan we are still pretty spoilt for choice in midfield. The nucleus of midfielders clearly consists of Modric, Parker, Bale, Lennon, Van der Vaart and Sandro. Senior players currently on regular bench duties are Kranjcar and Pienaar, but both have failed to make a significant impact this season for differing reasons.

When people would ask me if we are short of midfielders my initial reaction would be: “Absolutely not. We’re loaded with midfielders!” But if you look beyond the nucleus of midfielders there’s a significant imbalance in the midfield options on hand. Livermore, Huddlestone and Pienaar all are central midfielders but none of them could fill the boots of Modric in terms of creativity, vision and passing. Kranjcar could play left midfield but fails to provide real width and pace. Conclusion: The second string forces us to alter our usual style of football to a more narrow and direct style due to the lack of wing play and genuine creativity in deeper areas. When Lennon is missing we lack an outlet on the right. Same goes for the left hand side when Bale is out. When Modric is not available our build-up play from the back suffers as Luka’s creativity and vision as a deep lying playmaker is sorely missed.

What do we need

Clearly we need better wingers to provide both cover and (to some extent) competition to the current wingers. Whenever either Bale or Lennon are injured we start to move players out of position to try and keep the overall quality of our midfield intact. Nevertheless, it still means some of our best players will be less effective since they’re not playing in their ideal positions. We need width, either in midfield or up front, it depends if we want to play a 5, 4 or 3 men midfield. Giving Bale a free role along Adebayor and Van der Vaart up front worked against Norwich, but the same tactics failed miserably against a well organised Swansea side. Bale cut inside on way too many occasions, failing to keep the pitch wide to stretch Swansea’s back four. The free role also seemed to have caused a more nonchalant attitude towards defensive duties by Bale. Don’t get me wrong, I think playing Bale up front on the left in a 4-3-3 could work tremendously, but giving 3 players a free role against a team that clearly knows how to set up against an attacking team leaves massive gaps in the wide midfield areas if the front wingers don’t drop deep to help out with defending.

Another thing we lack is a playmaker that can come on either due to injury woes or to change the game. We rely heavily on Modric to find forward passes to get our attack going. Van der Vaart often drops deep to provide support which actually angers some fans since they feel he should stay further up the pitch. I personally don’t really have a problem with it. In my view Van der Vaart plays between the lines and should actually help get the ball moving forward more quickly which he regularly does. But with Van der Vaart’s injury record we might want to get a player who could play a midfield role that hovers somewhere between that of Modric and Van der Vaart, i.e. a playmaker who can play in a deeper role but also move further up the pitch to provide goal threat just behind the striker.

Keeping it wide and simple

Forrest, Shaqiri, Hoilett, Reus, Marin, Cuenca
Playing a team with wingers suits our style of play and will help us play a consistent style, which will probably lead to better results long term. Therefore it’s key that we move on some of our fringe players that play central midfield positions in favour of more attacking wide players. There seems to be a pretty good supply of wingers these days. This is in sharp contrast to a few years ago where some Premier League clubs where that desperate for some decent wing play, they would sign players like David Bentley at a hefty price of 15 million pounds. But since the game is more and more about pace and handling speed it’s evident that pace is one of the most important requirements for a top winger. We all would love to see highly-rated young wingers Eden Hazard (Lille OSC) and Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund) move to the Lane. But with both players being valued at around £35m they are priced way out of our means and will probably move to one of Europe’s big guns like Barcelona or Real Madrid or alternatively to one of the “filthy new rich”: Manchester City, Malága and Paris Saint-German. However, there are still plenty of exciting players about that could prove to be valuable signings for us.

First, we take a look at what’s on offer within the Premier League. One of the most promising wingers is Blackburn’s David “Junior” Hoilett. Hoilett has been at Blackburn since 2007 but only joined the first team during the 2009/10 season due to work permit issues. Hoilett went on loan to German outfits Paderborn 07 and St. Pauli before returning to Blackburn. This season he has impressed with solid performances against Arsenal, Aston Villa and Newcastle. Hoilett is a willing runner but also has a great eye for the forward pass. Despite his average height he’s strong on the ball and difficult to dispossess without committing a foul. Hoilett currently plays on the left hand side for Blackburn but because he’s predominantly right-footed he could likely do a job on the right as well. At 21 Hoilett is not the finished product but he has shown lots of promise so far this season. The fact his contract runs out this Summer will force Blackburn’s hand to either cash in on him now or risk losing him on a free at the end of the season.

Looking abroad there are plenty of great players who might be tempted to move to the Premier League. Marko Marin has been linked with a move to one of the Premier League’s top teams on numerous occasions over the last 2 seasons but he’s currently still plying his trade at Werder Bremen. The Germany international is a very exciting player who can play both in wide midfield positions and as an attacking midfielder. The fact he can play a wide variety of positions makes him multi-versatile and much sought after. Marin won’t come cheap but definitely has the kind of qualities that could make him one of the best wingers in the Premier League. The only thing lacking about him is physicality and an impressive goal scoring record.

Staying in the German Bundesliga there’s a new kid in town that’s making all the waves. Marco Reus has been ripping it up this season with impressive man of the match performances for Borussia Mönchengladbach. He scored 7 goals in his first 12 Bundesliga appearances this season. Mönchengladbach, a side that regularly struggled to fend off relegation out of the Bundesliga, has benefited massively from Reus’ impressive form and are currently sitting comfortably in 4th spot. Reus has an impressive acceleration in his dribble, a bit similar to Gareth Bale. He’s fairly two-footed (being able to dribble, cross and shoot with both his left and right foot), meaning he can cut inside or go round the outside on either sides of the pitch.

UPDATE: About an hour after this article was published it was announced that Borussia Dortmund signed Reus for a reported €17.5m transfer fee. Reus will join Dortmund at the beginning of next season.

A name that probably nobody had ever heard of before this season’s Champions League group stage is Vaclav Pilar. The Czech player impressed with his displays in the Champions League for Viktoria Plzen, showing little fear for opponents like Barcelona. He’s quick, full of trickery and can produce an incredible cross. Although he was impressive in the Champions League it’s always a gamble bringing in a player from a relatively small league. However, many Czech players have successfully established themselves in leagues around Europe in recent years, especially in the Bundesliga. There surely will be plenty of interest for a player who’s dubbed “The Czech Messi” and who will probably cost a relatively small transfer fee.

Another name that keeps popping up in transfer target lists is Xherdan Shaqiri. The 20-year-old Swiss international is highly-rated and a target for many of the top teams in Europe. He’s lightning quick, built like a tank and is quite the free-kick specialist. Shaqiri already has a fair amount of European experience for a player of his age, having played in the Champions League two seasons on the bounce. All-in-all he’s a top prospect who deserves to play in a bigger league than the Swiss Super League.

To finish up our round-up of winger prospects I’d like to highlight two young talents: James Forrest (Celtic), Isaac Cuenca (Barcelona). Forrest has been scouted by Spurs before and the word is reports so far are fairly positive. Forrest’s main weapons are his crossing ability and the fact he is naturally two-footed. However, the Scottish Premier League is of a dubious standard these days so any move to the Premier League for Forrest will be a big step up. Therefore it will take him some time to get used to the far superior standard of football. Some might think I’m mad to think we could land a highly rated Barcelona youngster. Well we’ve done it before, but let’s not presume any potential move will have a similarly disappointing outcome. Cuenca joined Barça’s La Masia academy at the age of 12 but left after 3 years. He then returned to La Masia in 2009. This season he has joined Barcelona’s first team. He stood out in Barcelona’s 4-0 away win at Viktoria Plzen with an inch-perfect assist for Fabregas’ goal but was absolutely outstanding in the last group stage game against BATE Borisov, highlighting his performance with 2 assists.

Creativity and vision

Gaitan, Ilicic, Martin, Sahin
Besides some fresh blood on the wings we need more creativity in order to cope with the absence of players like Modric and Van der Vaart due to injury or just to add something different to a game when we’re struggling to get forward. Setting up attacks and scoring goals from midfield is what we’re looking for.
First up is Josip Ilicic. This 23-year-old Slovenian burst onto the scene when he joined Serie A outfit Palermo in 2010 after just being at his previous club NK Maribor for 5 games. It was no surprise that Palermo were quick to pounce on the Slovenian midfielder since he was vital in Maribor’s 3-2 away win against Palermo in a Europa League qualifier. Palermo managed to go through on aggregate but Ilicic made his mark and so the Italian club decided to sign him at a reported € 2.3m bargain price. Ilicic is one of the most exciting players in the Serie A with impressive vision and a tremendous hammer of a shot in his left boot. He formed an incredible attacking quartet at Palermo with Pastore, Miccoli and Hernandez last season. He’s an attacking midfielder but he plays a fairly box-to-box game. He stands 1.90m (6ft3in) tall which is always a bonus in a physical league like the Premier League. Ilicic has been linked with a move to the Premier League before, hence Palermo’s eccentric owner Maurizio Zamparini was quick to offer Ilicic a new contract last Summer which will last till 2015. With the new contract all sewn up it was a matter of time before “Zamp” slapped a £30m price tag on Ilicic to fend off any potential suitors. But with Palermo currently on a bad run of form in the Serie A there might be room to broker a deal for one of Europe’s best up and coming midfielders.

A playmaker who seemingly has flown under the radar thus far is Marvin Martin. The young Frenchman currently plays for Sochaux in Ligue 1. He recently made his international debut for France in a friendly match against Ukraine, putting in a man of the match performance during his 2nd half substitute appearance by scoring 2 goals and providing the assist for Younes Kaboul’s goal. He might be a diminutive figure on the pitch but his passing & movement speaks for itself. He reminds me of Modric with his quick turns, quick thinking and his eye for finding space to receive the ball. He might not be a big name yet but watch out for this man, because he has what it takes. Just have a look at this amazing goal.

A long shot but a very interesting option, even if it only were a loan deal, is Nuri Sahin. The 23-year-old only German of Turkish descent joined Real Madrid last Summer from Borussia Dortmund but has only played once for Los Merengues after being sidelined due to injury since August. Sahin was regarded as one of the best players in the Bundesliga before moving to Real Madrid. As the Germans would say, he is a “typical number 6” midfielder, i.e. a box-to-box midfielder who spreads play and pushes forward when possible. Last season Sahin’s vision was second-to-none and was one of the key players in Dortmund’s title winning season. It’s hard to see Madrid selling him already but they are spoilt for choice in centre midfield with players as Khedira, Kaká, Özil, Xabi Alonso, Granero, Altintop, Diarra and Callejón. That’s not even taking into account Sergio Canales and Fernando Gago who are currently out on loan.

Probably one of the most sought after players in Europe right now is Benfica’s Nico Gaitán. The little Argentinian has taken the Portugese league by storm since joining Benfica from Boca Juniors in 2010. Gaitán is a very skilful player who plays a free role in Benfica’s midfield popping up in wide areas but also closely behind Benfica’s hitman Oscar Cardozo. Gaitán also impressed outside of Portugal with his displays in last season’s Europa League and great performances against Manchester United in this season’s Champions League group stage. A great player whose incredible technical skills and pace will see him a wanted man among many of Europe’s elite clubs. He’s an outside possibility but he definitely fits the “special player” profile Redknapp has been talking about in recent weeks.

The Boys from Brazil

Ganso, Lucas
Our Brazilian midfield commander Sandro is quickly becoming a fan’s favourite so why not add a bit more Brazilian flair to our squad? Moving on to two of Brazil’s brightest midfield talents: Paul Henrique Ganso and Lucas Moura. Both these players are expected to play a role in Brazil’s attempt to win the World Cup in 2014. Ganso has been linked with Spurs but also enjoys interest from the big guns in Italy’s Serie A. Injury trouble did cause a slight fade in interest for Ganso in early 2011 but now Brazil’s league season is over there is bound to be an upturn in speculation about Brazilian players moving across the big pond. Ganso is often likened to Kaká as both have a similar posture and play an attacking role behind the main striker. Along with Neymar and Borges, Ganso provides the goal threat at Santos. The major doubt about Ganso is if he would be able to adapt to the fast pace of the Premier League.

São Paulo’s Lucas Moura is the faster one of the two. Lucas can play in various positions such as right winger and attacking midfielder. He’s an avid dribbler and knows how to pass his man. He might not be as tall as Ganso but his determination and tenacity are traits that will definitely help him cope with the nature of the Premier League. Given the fact Lucas has already made 10 appearances for the Brazil senior international squad it’s without a doubt that he will be one of the main men in Brazil’s World Cup squad in 2014.

Well that’s the round up of the midfielders out there that could add a real impact to our squad. Of course there were plenty of other names we didn’t even cover but we have to make some kind of selection to keep things (somewhat) readable.


Dutch Spurs fan, football connoisseur and ambassador of free-flowing attacking football.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Blogs
0 comments on “The Window: Midfielders – Checking the wings before takeoff
1 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Window: Midfielders – Checking the wings before takeoff"
  1. […] With a striker being the priority though, money may not be as readily available to spend in this area, so Redknapp will have to buy a player who has both potential and is available. There are two targets that immediately spring to mind: Blackburn’s Junior Hoilett and Werder Bremen’s Marko Marin (Find out more about these two in Total Tottenham’s previous article: The Window: Midfielders). […]