This is going to be a problem. Upon the completion of Tottenham’s emphatic victory at Aston Villa the words on my fellow supporters’ lips were clear: The Beast is Back. In perhaps a concession of fault after the West Ham defeat, AVB reinstalled Sandro aka “The Beast”, as the gritty and gutsy base of our midfield. And boy did it come off. Against West Ham we looked a side with no spine, and no ability to defend the counter. Quick changes of possession left the duo of Paulinho and Dembele straggling, neither properly aware of the other’s role. Rather than a defined emphasis in defense or attack, both men at times took on an offensive role, leaving a shield against the counter nowhere to be found. The similarity of their play (box to box w/ attacking emphasis) often left massive gaps that exposed not only the space in between the midfield and our too flat defensive line, but also our need for a bone crunching, physical presence in the middle of the pitch.
Enter Sandro. For those that can’t remember anything from last year aside from Gareth Bale hitting screamers from outside the box, consider this: Sandro and Dembele were at one point heralded as the best midfield pairing in the league. And I believed and still believe every bit of it. Sandro was, against Villa, the crucial and all-action anchor this team needed so desperately against West Ham. His dominant display in the centre of the pitch was even commended by Andros Townsend on Twitter. On his Man of the Match award he had this to say: “Also nice to get another one of these! Although I think sandro deserved it a lot more…” While I could talk all day about how Andros put on a masterful display and looked likely to score or assist a goal every time he broke down the wing, his recognition of Sandro proves a particular point. Its easy to overlook just how crucial he is to the balance of this team, but, as evidenced by our match against West Ham, we desperately need a defensive minded midfielder at all times. It’s great to see Sandro and his immense presence back, but at the same time his seemingly necessary inclusion brings about a rather unfortunate question. Who’s to be left out?
Although criticism might ensue, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Paulinho, Dembele, Sandro, and Eriksen are our best midfielders. I adore Lewis Holtby (and his nothing short of spectacular work rate) and I think he has a massive role to play for this club, but he needs to commit to a particular role in order to flourish in our midfield. Instead of attempting to replicate Dembele or Paulinho in a Yaya Toure-esque attack capable box to box style, I think he will find success in the No. 10 role. His vision and link up with Defoe in the Europa League has been sumptuous, and I think competition between himself and Eriksen for the furthest forward in a midfield trio will yield great results. But for me, at this moment, he has a nasty tendency to easily get lost from time to time, pushing Eriksen into the Starting XI.
Consistency, at the end of the day, is the reason Lewis is left out. Now with Sandro making a rock solid case for inclusion, and the lack of a No. 10 proving to be detrimental to creativity, as evidenced by Arsenal away, that seemingly leaves either Dembele or Paulinho to grab the last spot. In a season hardly underway its difficult to make resolute conclusions. That being said Dembele at the current moment is my pick for the third spot. His performance against Chelsea was nothing short of incredible and he has the most strength on the ball of any midfielder in the Premier League. Some tinkering with a 4-3-3 still needs to happen before we actualize our potential, but the combination of Sandro-Dembele-Eriksen seems wholly balanced and nuanced with versatility. I think AVB will proceed with this combination barring any stutter of form or injury, although he has shown a penchant for Paulinho up to this point. With so many options its impossible to say for sure what midfield trio can lead us to victory.
But in reality the relatively unfamiliar midfield trio we used against Villa played very far from their potential and we still cruised to victory. So, yeah, we are getting that good. With so much talent in our midfield and AVB seeming awfully ruthless this year, I’m getting a little bit giddy. We are comfortably dominating teams with the likes of Lamela, Dembele, and Lennon on the bench. Although I don’t have room for Paulinho in my Starting XI just yet, his versatility and insurance against any injury-rooted collapse in the midfield is plain old exciting. With The Beast at our base and talent waiting in the wings, we are looking more and more the team everyone knows we can become.
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