Tottenham’s midfield: Maestros or misfits?

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Following on from my piece on the Tottenham defence, it’s now time to tackle the complexities of our midfield. Having read an excellent piece on our midfield from Mark Norris over the weekend, I hope you find the following stirs up further debate.

Where to start? No better place than our two holding players – Etienne Capoue and Sandro. The former looked to be on his way out in January as the gaffer appeared reluctant to play a holding player, but after thumping Newcastle last time out with Capoue back in the squad, I’m guessing a change of heart is in order.

It would’ve been something of a shock for the Spurs hierarch to admit defeat in selling Capoue so soon after his purchase, and having watched him in our opening game against the Gooners, I was most enthused with his energetic display. An injury sustained in that match saw him out of the side for over a month, but when he did return he failed to shine.

For me Capoue is decent back up for ‘The Beast’, and worth his place warming the bench, but the general consensus amongst Spurs fans is that Sandro is our Number One. Not one to shirk a tackle, he does a great job of cleaning up teammates’ mistakes and puts the wind up the opposition. My one negative from a few years back (though not so much a part of his game now) is that he was prone, as was Scott Parker, to giving away free kicks in dangerous places. But I’m a big fan, as I believe every team needs a strong arm in the middle of the park.

Moving to the more creative parts of the field, Mousa Dembélé is a number one choice on current display. It’s no wonder the guy has hip problems – for a big guy, the way he turns on a sixpence is something to see. He can tackle, regain a lost ball and shuffle his way into a shooting position, all while taking several of the opposing players out of the game as he looks for that killer pass.

The biggest surprise under Tim Sherwood’s embryonic tenure so far has been the introduction of the composed, yet inexperienced Nabil Bentaleb. As Mark Norris pointed out in his article, Bentaleb wouldn’t be a starter for me, as on-loan Tom Carroll is no worse (though almost half Bentaleb’s size). It is hard to believe at least one of our international players shouldn’t be ahead of young Bentaleb at this stage.

Fair play to Sherwood for giving this youngster an opportunity, as he shows composure, a decent pass and can break up play; however, he has been found wanting against the better teams. A slower introduction via the Europa League, League Cup, FA Cup and the lesser sides in the PL might serve him and the team better.

Like Capoue, Christian Eriksen also enjoyed a stellar debut, with one of the most intelligent lay-offs for a goal I’ve seen all season.  Like the former, Eriksen also has failed to look worth his place on more than one occasion. To be fair, he is still adapting to the pace here, as are so many of the newcomers this term, and has punched above his weight more often than not so deserves to be a starter.

The one player in the centre of the park I’m still scratching my head over is Paulinho. The classy Brazilian has looked disinterested and bemused at times when losing the ball, with no great urgency to track back. ‘That’s unfair’, I hear some of you scream, but he is one of those players that can be a liability one minute and a match winner the next. I wonder if Tim has issued some rockets up his backside at some of the half-time talks?

Hang in there with me, just the wingers to go. For me, Nacer Chadli hasn’t shown he is PL class so I wouldn’t be sad to see him packed off to pastures new, despite his rocket goal at Newcastle. Aaron Lennon is a good old stick. A bit like Daws, he tends to put his heart and soul into the game, though he is prone to having a quiet game and his dodgy hamstrings are a concern.

Our new post-Gareth Bale hope, in the form of Andros Townsend was a breath of fresh air at the beginning of the season. When I hear him speak, there appears to be a genuine passion in his voice that suggests he is relentless in wanting to improve himself. He comes across as quite humble, which is refreshing to hear amongst some of the egos in the game these days.

I believe some teams have started to ‘read’ his movements on the pitch, which appears to have stifled his improvement, but playing time is only going to improve him. Already the impact he has made on the England team already has been quite breathtaking.

Glyfi Sigurdsson is another player who on occasions has come off the bench to change a game, and now that he’s back off the crocked list it will be interesting to see how much he figures in Sherwood’s plans. The ideal sub for me.

The one I feel slightly sorry for is Erik Lamela. I know, I know – but hear me out. As Tottenham’s record signing, the pressure he must be feeling can only be imagined, and this is compounded by well-documented family and relocation issues. Given the circumstances and the few games played thus far, I refuse to believe he is only as good, or poor as he has shown us so far. He needs a run in the side so I’m hoping we don’t give up on him just yet, as we could rue selling him on only to see him thrive elsewhere on the continent.

To cap off, my midfield would read Dembélé and Eriksen (with Sandro in behind if playing away or against a top four side), supported by Lennon and Townsend on the wings. Lamela, Paulinho and Sigurdsson on rotation.

Why don’t you get involved and tell us who your midfield dynamos would consist of?

Have something to tell us about this article?


  1. Definitely misfits. There are no maestros in the current first team. Eriksen has potential to be a maestro but hasn't got close yet. Spurs best midfielders are out on loan: Carroll and Pritchard.

    Probably the worst midfielder I have ever seen at Spurs is Paulinho, who plays like a ghost. I mean you rarely see him on the pitch and when you do, he is usually giving the ball away or shooting miles over the crossbar.

  2. still too early to decide, wouldn't mind seeing a bit of a change depending on who were playing of course, but going with 3 at the back at times might give us some real flair going forward and give us the opportunity to play more of these new guys, walker/vertongen/chiriches (kaboul) giving us a chance for Lamela/Dembele/Sandro/Eriksen/Chandli with Capoue/Townsend/Paulinio/Holtby slotting in when form slips leaving us Soldado/Ade up front, you could even slot Eriksen for Soldado or Ade and move Holby back into the middle in his place, can't see us being over run to often in the middle.

  3. I'd pretty much go with the article. I don't want to see Eriksen on the left wing ..I want him inside dictating the play and tempo (ie playmaking). Yes, Dembele beside him with a fully fit and in form Sandro as the DM. I agree about Townsend and Lennon sharing the wings (no balance last season was a problem for us, partly because of no playmaker and Bale doing it all down the middle) and Ade or Soldado up front. Paulinho is great back-up until he shows he is too classy and effective to be left out too often. Capoue is the same and could one day supplant Sandro. Bentaleb is highly promising and a welcome addition to the squad, but I fear he's playing too often and I agree that (currently) he comes up short against the best teams. Sig and Chadli are the quandaries. Sig, not as talented as Kranks, and yet he has had more chances than the latter ever got. He's no winger and not influential enough to be a playmaker. Chadli's problem is pace (or complete lack of it) ..and as a left winger, going into a team which once had the best and fastest left side in the PL, he's not the answer to Bale's departure. When he's got time he looks good, but more often than not, the best players create their own time, and in the PL, mostly time is not what Chadli's got. Get us another playmaker to support Eriksen, and maybe let go one of the DMs.

  4. I completely agree with you regarding Paulinho the reason we lost at home to Neecastle was because he completely bottles out of a 50/50!, He can look so one paced and ordinary at times! I think Bentaleb has been doing well and had his best game against Newcastle, but would rather like you say play Eriksen in the middle because hes class.

    • Like the look of Bentaleb, but could do with a rest occasionally. Prefer Holtby to Sig (although he was very impressive in early games scoring a few and looking like one of our biggest threats) but the fact is we have so many injuries Tim may not have been able to play the midfield set up exactly as he wants just yet. What is our best mid field set up? I believe Holtby could develop into a top class midfielder given time (which is probably why he’s on loan at Fulham rather than being sold) Eriksen needs a consistent run at No 10 behind Ady who has really surprised me since Tim’s been playing him. Sandro has to start most games when fit to give the other midfielders confidence. Liked Capoue when he came on against Palace but has been a bit up and down, what with injuries and fitness. The truth is we have some excellent players at the Lane but need to qualify for CL, get to summer and regroup (under Tim – give him a chance, he has a contract until end of next season, let’s see what he can do) Finally, please let’s buy a couple of quality strikers this year, we all know it’s what’s been missing for so long. Benteke, Michu, Remy, someone with strength and mobility in place of Soldado (sorry but it just hasn’t worked out for him) keep Ady if he’s happy to stay and feels motivated (which surely he would if we achieve CL)

    • Like Bentaleb but feel he needs a rest occasionally, Sandro gives the attacking mf's confidence, prefer Holtby to Sig and believe he could develop into a class mf if given time (probably why he's on loan at Fulham and not sold). Sig had a good start to season scoring a couple and providing a threat Soldado was unable to. Would like to see Eriksen given a long run at No 10 behind Ady (who's really surprised me this season – well done Tim) Paulinho I'm still not sure about, same with Capoue (looked good against Palace in first game as sub) Dembele looks strong and classy, particularly when allowed to roam a bit. Chadli is worth persevering with but Lamella!!! – unless we try him at No 10 (I know, I said Eriksen needs a run there) what else can we do with him? He apparently has the ability to play there, so let's give it a try in a few games.
      The truth is we have so many quality mf's has Tim had time, when they're all fit, to play exactly how he wants? We need to qualify for CL, get to the end of the season and regroup, preferably under Tim to maintain consistency (provided we don't have another meltdown) and buy a couple of decent strikers – Benteke, Michu, Remy, anyone with strength and mobility please!!! Hang onto Ady if he's motivated (and surely another shot at CL for him would do it?)
      Having all this quality is a good problem to have, just need to mould the team a bit – that takes time, will Levy be patient?

  5. Derek a good article – but, as you referenced, ground already covered by another article with the same conclusion !! I happen to agree with both you and Mark Norris – Sandro, Eriksen, Dembele, Lennon and Townsend when playing one striker and dropping Eriksen when we play two strikers. Add back in Carroll, Benteleb, Paulinho, Holtby, Livermore, Lamella, Chadli, Capoue and Ziggy and you have overcrowding. Surely we can sell Capoue, Chadli, Livermore and one from Carroll and Ziggy and we are still in great shape !! 14 midfielders wingers is just plain silly. Pity we don't have a bit more depth at full back and striker ! I would also say that I believe Soldado deserves more of a chance – I know patience is not our biggest asset at the Lane but good lovin' gone bad ? I don't think so.

  6. Despite having so many physical monsters, our midfield is so light weight and lacking fight, look at the game against Everton where Dembele and paulinho were being harried and never gave any fight or that nastiness that you got from a Keane, Viera, Ballack or a Javi Martinez, Van Bommel, de Jong. The only one that appears to have any energy is Sandro, who has all the qualities of the aformentioned players. Rather than becoming a Testudo in front of a back four, our midfield seems to be softer than it has ever been. Look at what happened at the Library, Wilshere, Arteta, Ozil, these tiny blokes bullying Dembele and Bentaleb, both 6 ft, physical players who lack energy and fight (less so Bentaleb).

    Dembele is the one who bothers me the most, as a dribbler, he is as good on the ball as Yaya Toure, but it is incredibly frustrating to see him beat hes man very well, very skillfully, then over play the ball or just freeze when it comes to playing a killer ball. His ball retention and recovery is poor, I haven't seen him put a decent tackle in for a long time and he never looks switched on or interested. I like Dembele and I want him to do well, mainly because his form when he first arrived was brilliant, but he should be the one that takes charge of our midfield in the way Toure does. The similarities between the two is amazing, Toure is obviously bigger, but Dembele has the skill, the size and the ability to be as good as Toure, create as much and score as many as him. He should be the one saying to Paulinho, Capoue and Bentaleb "I am the one who is expierenced in this league, I have been here longer, I am going to be the one who is an influence in the final third, you are new to the side so I want you to do the water carrying role". I don't see that in him.

    With regards to Lamela, I have so much sympathy with the guy. I hate to do this, but look at the situation at Arsenal with Ramsey, out of form, being heckled by his own fans. Look at the kid now, Ballack said during coverage of an Arsenal game at the start of the season "when you are a youngster who is injured/out of form, you need a manager who puts faith in you and will stand by you", in doing so it was high praise for what Wenger has done for Ramsey. It feels like Lamela is suffering from loss of form, fitness and lack of games. When he is fit, Sherwood needs to say to him (and to a lesser extent Eriksen) "the rest of the season I want you to show me your quality". He has good qualities, quick feet, pace, good through balls, he just needs to be able to showcase them for a long spell, rather than an occasional half a game or 10 minute substitute appearance every couple of sodding weeks! How can the kid get any form, confidence, idea of his role in the team, belief, trust in the manager, his team, his own ability? Meanwhile he is getting slammed left right and centre by idiot journalists, opposition fans and presenters who have no idea what they're talking about.

    Townsend is another one who frustrates me, am I the only one who is getting sick of watching him cut in on his left foot and spoon it into the Park Lane? Its infuriating. The kid has no variation in his game, he never gets his head up, never tries to find another white shirt, he cant cross, he can't play a killer ball. How many great moves has he ruined by belting it over the bar? The one goal he did score was from a cross! I spend my whole match screaming at him "YOU'RE NOT RONALDO!!!".

    My midfield ideally would be Sandro, Paulinho, Lamela, Eriksen and Lennon. The issue this season has been that there has been so much chopping and changing that none of them have been able to form a cohesive unit where they are all able to settle into their roles and identify a style of play. The midfield under Harry for example, the bulk of them (Bale, Lennon, Modric, Huddlestone) had been playing together for a couple of years so as a result when a couple of additions came in, there was a core who knew how/where to play do it worked very well. If we can get that midfield playing together once everyone is fit then I believe the football will start to improve as the team becomes settled. Keeping Sherwood will be a key thing, otherwise someone else comes in and it's all change AGAIN. Will Levy be able to resist the lure of a De Boer or a van Gaal? I don't think so.


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