Midfield Meddling Madness

Discussion in 'Columns' started by Spurger King, Jan 22, 2015.

  • by Spurger King, Jan 22, 2015 at 7:38 PM
  • Spurger King

    Spurger King can't smile without glue

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    Central midfield is usually the beating heart of a team, but this season it seems as though Pochettino has been carrying out a bit of backstreet surgery to get Tottenham's blood flowing - with mixed results.

    Some people like to unwind after a hard day of pretending to work by watching a bit of TV, maybe play a game or two of FIFA, or simply by hooking themselves up to their IV drip of vodka. Not me. Instead I could think of nothing better to do than trawl through Tottenham's line-ups this season to try and put my finger on why we so often look like we lack shape, familiarity, and general coherency. What I found tells a story of experiments, injuries, breakthroughs, and ultimately a Spurs team that is still very much a work in progress.

    Going back through recent seasons Tottenham's central midfield seemed to pick itself. Palacios and Jenas enjoyed some solid months together; Modric and Parker (interchanging on occasions with Sandro) were at the centre of arguably our most impressive side in years; and for all too brief a spell we saw what appeared to be a genuine understanding between Sandro and Dembele. Since then this pivotal area of the team seems to have become something of a free for all. Central midfielders that have played a part this season include Holtby, Sandro, Paulinho, Capoue, Dembele, Bentaleb, Mason, and Stambouli. In total we have had a staggering eight different central midfield combinations in our starting line-ups. Let's take a look through the square window to see what they have been so far...

    Holtby made two appearances, and Sandro started one game (all of these appearances were in Europe) so it's probably best to discount them altogether. Instead we'll start with the much maligned £17m Brazilian International misfit, Paulinho. The interesting thing to note about our #8 is that all eight of his starts have been alongside two central midfielders (including three times with Stambouli and Bentaleb, and four times with Stambouli and Dembele). That's seven out of eight appearances with the DM Stambouli. This suggests that not only has Paulinho made less appearances than any of our current central midfielders, but also that Pochettino considers him to be more of an attacking option, and one that needs a more defensive-minded player behind him.

    Perhaps surprisingly the most frequent central midfield combination under Pochettino has been Stambouli and Dembele, who have started a not particularly impressive seven games together. As mentioned above, Paulinho played in four of those seven games.

    In games where we have started just two recognised central midfielders, the combinations of Mason and Capoue, and Mason and Bentaleb have been Pochettino's most popular, tied on six.

    That's followed by Stambouli and Bentaleb with five (again as above, three of these with Paulinho). After that there have been three appearances of Dembele and Capoue, three by Bentaleb and Capoue, followed by two appearances of Stambouli and Mason.

    Keeping up?

    Now I appreciate that these stats don't tell the whole picture (as they seldom do) - especially as many of these combinations have come about in European or low-level domestic cup fixtures - but it's still something of an eye opener to find that Stambouli, Bentaleb, and Mason have actually started more games than any other central midfielders (with fifteen starts in total). It's particularly surprising when you consider that Stambouli is a new signing, and Mason only broke into the team at the end of September. Capoue (thirteen), Dembele (twelve), and Paulinho (eight) make up the remaining starting appearance statistics.

    Notice any anomalies? That stand-out win for Pochettino's Spurs against Chelsea featured a central midfield combination of Dembele and Bentaleb for 76 minutes after Mason went off injured. To date they have yet to start together.

    Of course on and off-field events have played their part in this eclectic series of combinations. Capoue's starts dropped off pretty sharply (with rumours of dressing room altercations with Pochettino), whilst both Bentaleb and Mason have missed games through injury. The latter two appear to have been (prior to Bentaleb's recent excursions with Algeria) Pochettino's new flavour of the month. Yet their appearances, marked as they are by a mix of inexperience and youthful confidence, have been mixed at best.

    I understand that this is very much a 'transition season' for both Pochettino and Spurs, but out of these stats a pattern emerges of indecision and incoherency that goes some way to understanding why we have struggled so badly to develop a discernible character, style, and general identity as a team. Having missed out on Schneiderlin (much as AVB missed out on his identified linchpin, Moutinho), Pochettino has been left playing a game of hot potatoes with the midfielders at his disposal, and this critical area of the team has been left without some much needed consistency.

    That there is still so much debate about what our best midfield combination might be tells a thousand words. This needs to be Pochettino's priority if he wants to stamp his mark on Tottenham's history. Whether this happens through the transfer market, or on the training ground, the game of musical chairs taking place at the hub of Tottenham Hotspur needs to come to an end.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2015
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Discussion in 'Columns' started by Spurger King, Jan 22, 2015.

    Two good combinations so far, but only used sparingly..

    Mason and Capoue
    Dembele and Bentaleb

    Stambouli could take over from Capoue and could play with Mason, but I'd like to see Dembele partner Mason at some point and see how well they complement each other.

    The most solid combo was Dembele and Bentaleb against Chelsea.
    The most creative probably Capoue and Mason.
    The most fragile (lots of possession lost) would probably be Mason and Bentaleb.

    Les and Tim's philosophy doesn't work. No other top team has two similar midfielders. They all have complementary pairings. I hope Poch settles on partnerships soon and let's them develop.
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    Mason and Bentaleb have done well IMO, especially against Everton. It's risky to play them together due to their inexperience but in the long-term, it could work out extremely well for us.
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  3. Spurger King
    There's the 'horses for courses' argument, as well as other issues such as form, injuries, fallouts, emerging players, and African tournaments, but as you say we're not remotely close to a settled partnership. I'm not convinced Pochettino has even settled on one first eleven central midfielder, let alone two.

    If you leave out Paulinho, Holtby, and Sandro, there have been eight different combinations for two central midfield positions this season. After thirty-six games that averages out as a different central partnership every 4.5 games, with our most frequent partnership featuring in just over 20% of our games (from a very small number to start with).

    We've had:

    Bentaleb & Capoue
    Dembele & Capoue
    Stambouli & Bentaleb
    Mason & Capoue
    Stambouli & Dembele
    Mason & Bentaleb
    Dembele & Mason
    Stambouli & Mason

    As mentioned, the only time Dembele & Bentaleb have played together for a meaningful period of time was against Chelsea after Mason went off after 14 minutes.

    The sad thing is that I'm not sure I would be particularly happy or confident with any of those combinations, but how much of that is because they're not good enough, and how much is that down to an understanding between a partnership never having the playing time to develop?
    I think our priorities in terms of players in are another no 9 and a WF.
    What worries me is that actually we need two quality wing forwards and I'm not sure if Poch has accepted that. Townsend and Lamela are his only options on the right and actually Lamela may prove to be a great number 10 back up to Eriksen. Chadli on the left is ok but needs competition too. Obviously Townsend can do a job on the left and get the ball in, but he's not a conventional goal scoring wf.
    All of that means that I'd be amazed if we commit to getting another cm in, even if we do offload capoue. Paulinho is a useful fill in player, when we want to make early subs and rest them from cm or no 10.
    Conclusion? We need to settle which of the four work best as two partnerships and alternate using them etc as cup games come along.
  5. spursLA
    I'd have sworn we had a pretty stable combination of Mason and Bentaleb (behind Eriksen)until AFCON got in the way. Weird how memory works
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  6. Spurger King
    The problem is that all of our midfielders have looked good at times, and poor at times. I'm not sure chopping and changing the combinations so much (and I do get that Pochettino is still trying to find his best team) is very helpful. Experiment in training, and try to settle on a regular midfield as soon as possible.

    It says a lot that Paulinho hasn't started a single match under Pochettino as part of a central two. He seems to have become a bit of a utility attacking midfielder.

    Couldn't even begin to think of a midfield partnership based on what we've seen this season, which is as much to do with Pochettino's sporadic selections as it is to do with inconsistent performances (which in turn are probably partly down to the unsettled midfield formations).
  7. Spurger King
    Since Bentaleb came back from injury they've played together six times (including five out of seven games in November/December - WLDWW).
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  8. thinktank
    The problem cannot be solved with the current options in midfield.

    I think this whole season has been/is a season of exploration...and must be.

    With poch we are embarking on a new era. I think Levy has bought into him, and the 5 year deal is significant and holds genuine intention from our shiny-headed mekon meddler.

    If you have inconsistency in the options you have available, you're very likely to have an inconsistent outcome from the choices you make.

    When we eventually source the correct elements to populate poch's template we won't have the road bumps we currently have to continually negotiate.
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  9. Main Man
    AVB over-went the loss of our very best players in consecutive seasons yet was never allowed this "exploration" - why are fans more forgiving of Poch? Or is this us admitting the errors of our past ways?

    I just don't understand how so many fans are writing this season off. It simply doesn't sit right with me.
  10. thinktank
    Poch has a definite style which he is actually trying to implement.

    AVB came here - and I fully supported AVB up until it all fell off a cliff - and compromised/abandoned his style (for whatever reason...but yes, shinehead wouldn't give him what he wanted) and didn't look like he was going to bring through the yoots dem.

    So, fans have seen poch's work in action in the prem irt youth and dynamism; know exactly what he wants to do (well, a few get it anyway); know he hasn't got the right tools to do it at the moment; know he's gagging to develop a young squad from our home-grown pool as much as possible.

    So poch's long term vision is clearer and his method seems more holistic than AVB's and more promising irt long term success.

    Also iirc AVB was quite rigid and not one for 'exploration' as such.
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  11. Main Man
    Absolute nonsense from start to finish.

    I can't even muster an intelligent reply - this is the best I can do.

    Have a good weekend.
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  12. HappySpur
    Nice article SK. As you are one of the most intelligent posters we've ever had, it's great to see you taking the time to write up articles of this caliber. I might not have taken the time to read through, had I not seen that you had penned it. Well worth a read. Thanks.
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  13. thinktank
    "That surprises me"...said no one ever.
  14. newbie
    Also I think poch has shown more flexibility and does not have a Gareth bale.
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