The middle ground


Tom Huddlestone

Following on from my last article on the defence and inspired by the news that Tommy Huddlestone is back in contention for Saturday’s game at Wigan, thought I would look at our squad and the key characters in the midfield arena.

I don’t think many of us would dispute that our four best midfielders are Gareth Bale , Luka Modric , Rafael Van der Vaart (VDV) and Aaron Lennon, few would also dispute that they could not all possible line up in a 4-4-2 formation , without a proper workhorse to assist Modric in the centre of the park.

The first question, therefore, is who would you drop out of these 4? Gareth Bale has been a revelation this season and is now considered a truly world class winger , Lennon gives balance on the right and is gifted with pace , indeed even Dave Beckham was once quoted as saying Lennon was the fastest he has played with. Bale and Lennon are automatics; their wonderful wing wizardry has enthralled us all this season.

Next there is Luka Modric who in my opinion is simply the best player at Spurs. The little Croatian, who, Arsene Wenger (what does he know after six years with no trophies?) said was too small to play in the Premiership, makes everything purr in the Spurs’ engine room. The ball sticks to him like the proverbial evostick; he is the Nijinsky of our team, a thoroughbred with stamina that enables him to do a surprisingly good defensive job if needed.

Seemingly it appears that the one we have to drop is VDV? The 28 year old Dutch playmaker joined us in a shock, last minute deal, last August in a reputed deal worth £8m from Real Madrid. I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that this was one of the shrewdest deals ever done by Spurs? He is borne to score, Spurs’ top scorer already with 10 goals and I love his “attitude”; we haven’t had a wind up man like him since the loveable Steffen Freund, his job on Joey Barton just after Christmas still lives in the memory.

Of course we can’t drop him that is why Sir Harold has “accommodated” him in the hole. Once fit , and let’s face it he hasn’t looked fit yet, this is the place for him , especially in the truly difficult games for us, like when we play Real Madrid next week, he can drop in and make a five in midfield . However if he is unfit it leaves the lone striker exposed but even then because of his charisma ,class and presence we should still play him, as long as Bale or Lennon are able to support the lone striker from the flanks when we are on the break.

So who is going to play alongside Modders in the centre of midfield?

Early last season, without a moment’s hesitation, I would have said Wilson Palacios. The man from Honduras joined us for a cool £12m from Wigan in the January transfer window of 2009. I have to admit he was not on my radar at all, but by the end of the season when he had single-handedly nearly got us Euro qualification, I now believed he was the missing link for “soft-centred” Spurs. Sadly he has not been the same player; my belief is that confirmation of his brother’s death at the end of the 2009 season contributed greatly to this loss of confidence. On the upside there are recent signs of improvement again.

Last season some sections of the Lane faithful ridiculed Jermaine Jenas, but this season JJ has blossomed under Sir Harold, filling in admirably for various team mates, not wasting passes or trying to do too much like he used to. He is one of the best box to box players we have and has to be one of the fittest players running tirelessly. For me he still comes up just short, he seems to lose his way once in the box, doesn’t do dead balls and rarely makes the killer pass. For these reasons I think JJ may be on his way next season.

The man mountain that is Tommy Huddlestone is becoming a firm favourite with me. It is hard to believe he has been with us five years already, I can remember being there for his first goal against Port Vale in the League Cup in 2006 and thought then he was going to become a star for us. I have to say I then became a bit disillusioned with him, thinking he was just too slow and cumbersome for life in the Premiership at the highest class and could only see him as a sweeper or a central defensive partner complimenting Ledley’s pace.

Again under Sir Harold’s tutelage, what a transformation, he seems more mobile, fitter, more spatially aware and of course what a pass and what a shot on him. Coupled with his aerial threat (in attack and defence) and dead ball skills he is almost the complete player, only a slight lack of pace prevents him from being truly world class. If Tom had been fit all this season we would be I believe definitely in the top 2, our win record when he plays in recent times stands up to scrutiny

Coming up on the rails, however, is a chundering young, 22 year old Brazilian named Sandro Ranieri. We seemed to sign him before the end of last season with an agreement that he would not come until the start of 2010/2011 season. No one really seems to know how much we paid but general consensus is about £8m. I first saw him against the Goons in the Carling Cup and was reasonably impressed. But then he went off the radar, including some awful displays, one especially I recall against Bolton when he seemed way off the Premiership pace.

As if by magic Sandro transformed himself and was undoubtedly man of the tie in our recent epic battle with Milan. Since he has played well and even looked good playing the last five minutes for his national team against Scotland last weekend. His time will surely come.

It is probably clear from the text that I would play in a 4-man midfield, but just in case: Lennon, Huddlestone, Modric, and Bale.

I think it is fair to emphasise that in my time supporting the Mighty Spurs I don’t think I can ever remember such a plethora of midfield talent, when you consider skilful players such as Niko Kranjcar and Steven Pienaar not getting a mention in this article, but clearly are great back up for Lennon and Bale.

In fact we are so overloaded that David Bentley and Jamie O’Hara are both out on loan at lesser clubs and I haven’t even mentioned the many youngsters we have on the books either on loan such as Bostock, Townsend, Rose and Livermore

Hopefully you found this article of interest and I would welcome your views on our midfield or any potential formations you think we should be playing with the personnel available, but on a final note with such a strong midfield why are we still linked with players of the likes of Scotty Parker (excellent player but he is 30), Ashley Young (who is strongly rumoured to be coming our way for definite next season) and an almost certainly hideously overpriced Charlie Adam.

By Simon Cruddace

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  1. Exellent, for us Spurs fans on the the other side of the world, the Spurs web and especially articles like this are a good second best to queueing up at the Lane. COYS!

  2. Lets put the 541 system to bed it is no good for our style of play and this is why. Having two wingers without Huddlestone to get them behind defences has bean bad enough but playing a half fit Van Der Vaar thas bean hard to take. When we managed to get Lennon and Bale away they first had to beat there man and because of Hudds excellent passing missing through his absent’s when the ball eventually got in the box there was at least eight defenders waiting to stop one attacker receiving the ball Van was that deep he left the loan striker on his own Crouch or Defoe. Our History in the (fast) frenetic Premiership requires two strikers to pull defenders away from the goal and allow other players to come through and score. The teams who are successfully with this 451 are energised work horses who are designed to sty full teams and snatch a goal and win or draw we don’t play like that we play attacking wingers born out of our historical past. Our problem is we have two witch can leave us light in the middle

  3. This was our most successful midfield Lennon Huddlestone Modric Bale I would now put Bale left back till he his match fit and play this midfield Lennon Huddlestone Sandro Modric the only other team i would play Van in is this one. Gomes Gallas Dawson Bale at the back midfield Lennon Huddlestone Van Sandro Modric Crouch Defoe . Having Hudds and Sandro in the middle we would have enough cover for the missing deender' so with Van 351 without him 442 dead in the water 541 and no good in the energised PREM.

  4. Horses for courses?

    4-5-1 is deffinately the way to go in Europe, and I don’t think many would disagree with Lennon and Bale on the wings. VDV has a poor fitness record and can rarely last 90mins. Mod and Krancar could also play in the hole. If you want to be more defensive you could pair Hudd and Sandro in the middle. Last season I think we coped well defensively with Mod and Hud, because we defended so well as a team. When we play Sandro I think more of the defensive resonsibilty seems to shift to him (which he has done well, but this could equally be to do with the quality of oppostion we are facing this term).

    As Davspurs mentioned Bale can always revert to Left Back. As we approach our hectic run in, we are going to need to rotate. Benoit could do with a rest at some point. Importantly, apart from the form of our strikers, we are looking good. We could ALSO play 3 at the back with our wingers as wing backs if we wanted to do something REALLY exciting: Gomes, Gallas-dawson-Charlie, Bale-Mod-Hud-Sandro-Lennon, VDV + one from (defoe, Crouch, Pav, Krancar, piennar) – [defoe to stretch the play?]

  5. I see you left Pienaar off. I am sure it was not deliberate but just goes to show how anonymous he has been since he signed and I for one would be glad never to see him in a Spurs shirt again.

  6. i would play a midfield of:

    lennon on the right – beginning to show his class again (maybe in the absence of bales limelight)
    bale on the left – i think he picks himself.
    sandro in the middle – his work rate and ball winning mentality is second to none.
    thudd in the middle – his passing range has been missing (maybe this is why our strikers havent been scoring)
    modric in front of this 4 and behind a striker – he can score goals and can spread the ball well when needed.

    so as a (mock up) starting 11 it would look

    hutton dawson gallas ekotto
    lennon sandro huddlestone bale

    if this is not working, it could easily be changed with either sandro or thudd being replaced by vdv and playing a makeshift 433 (4,3,21).


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