TheHardTackle takes a look at the competition for places at Tottenham Hotspur, and examines whether Lewis Holtby can command a regular place in the team from White Hart Lane.

The very concept of ai???competitionai??? is ascribed a hallowed place in the doctrines that drive elite sport. Playing squads are constructed on the premise that success is unfathomable without it; fans demand it of their clubs and players speak of its nourishing effects, both individual and collective. Competition is resoundingly viewed as being a force for good: a recruitment policy that raises standards and separates the aspirational from the weak, bringing Darwinian Theory into practice.

Lewis Holtby - Tottenham Hotspur midfielder

Lewis Holtby has been impresseive – whenever he has played

Tottenham Hotspur are subscribers, one of many, and it is interesting to note that eleven members of their squad assume midfield/wide positions. As 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 (depending on the circumstances) are the favoured formations, eleven players are essentially competing for five roles. Perfectly rational one might say, two players vying for one berth, and it is, but careful implementation of such a system is required to maximise its utility. An abundance of playing talent for its own sake is a lewd vanity project, a garish affectation; rather, competition ought to enhance dimensions – it is altogether a more pragmatic construct.

How competition affects Lewis Holtby

Lewis Holtby personifies the necessity to implement competition with reasoned method. A German international (can praise get any higher?), he is disarmingly suited to the frenetic and dizzying pace of English football. Light of touch and bounding with the kind of exuberance generally seen in children high on their fifth glass of cola, here is a player destined to carve himself a legacy in the Premier League. Allied with his typically Teutonic strengths, Holtby has impressed fans with the dexterity of his final ball and his unrelenting search for gaps in opposition defences. There is subtle variety at play here: some passes are scooped, others are driven, others yet are distributed with the tenderness of a man who palpably hates relinquishing possession.

One would assume a player of such quality would figure prominently for the first team. Though he has played 366 minutes of competitive club football this season, only 54 of those have been in the league. Instinctively, this feels far too few, particularly as he has scored once and assisted six times in his eight appearances this term- formidable numbers by anyoneai??i??s standards. His virtuoso display against Aston Villa in the League Cup, arguably his signature performance, was one for the purists. Holtby supplied the critical final pass for three of Tottenhamai??i??s four goals, the first of which was a masterpiece borrowed from the inexhaustible vault of Michael Laudrup. It would have been indecent, perhaps even criminal, not to have been impressed.

The manager’s dilemma

Holtby has played to a standard since the seasonai??i??s advent. The chemistry he has forged with the oft derided Jermain Defoe is another eye-catching feature of his play. The diminutive striker has been a giddy beneficiary of the Germanai??i??s ability to bisect defences and their relationship appears to rely as much on telepathy as it does planning. Operating symbiotically within a team is about appreciating the rhythms of oneai??i??s teammates and it is an ability that Holtby has honed within a short period of time. He has talked repeatedly of his commitment in helping Defoe do what he does best; what is remarkable is the consistency with which he is backing up his words.

AndrAi?? Villas-Boas - AVB - Tottenham Hotspur Manager | Lewis Holtby And Competition At Tottenham Hotspur

AVB needs to get the rotation balance right

Andre Villas Boas finds himself in a delicate position. An advocate of meritocracy, he must surely have felt the urge to start Holtby in league games, especially given the troubles Tottenham have been having in front of goal. The issue of which player to demote, and for what reason [given the good form of incumbent players], would have reared its awkward head and the coach suddenly finds himself in a situation where the merits of competition are not quite so pronounced. To limit a player of Holtbyai??i??s dimensions to cameo appearances in the league is to risk stagnation of a significant talent. Players grow not through ties against inferior European opposition or involvement in domestic cup competitions, irrespective of how glitzy, but rather through the weekly test that only league matches with all their nuances can provide.

What lies ahead

Clearly, not everyone can play all the time. Indeed some players are purchased to lend the squad some depth and they fulfill an important function. Holtby is not however, to use the pejorative, a ai???squad playerai??? and he ought to be accommodated with greater regularity. Most comfortable centrally, though he can serve a purpose on the left, he possesses a trait that ought to be of critical importance to this Tottenham side: he offloads the ball quickly with progressive intent. This is important against both the strongest teams and the weakest. Teams weaker than Tottenham often adopt rigidly defensive tactics against them, focusing on ai???shapeai??? above all else. Space is at a premium and breaking down the opposition tends to be an exercise in patience and perseverance. The optimum time to breach their back line generally occurs when they embark on a rare foray forward and lose possession. Momentarily, they may have lost some of the ai???shapeai??? they worked so doggedly to preserve. It is at this time that the merits of a quick, precise offload are fully realized.

Similarly, Spurs were crying out for an exponent of such a pass against Arsenal earlier on in the season. Time and time again promising moves lost their momentum and direction when players dwelt far too long on the ball allowing their opponents to reposition themselves and shut down space. Moussa Dembele, a singularly unique talent, is guilty of such a thing far too often. Holtby is his antithesis in this regard and facing him must leave an opponent feeling as though they have unwittingly signed up for a series of back to back sprint competitions. The game today is so much about making the most of the few occasions when an opponent loses their shape, that players with Lewis Holtbyai??i??s skill-set are a commodity one must develop.

The competitive environment at Tottenham, engendered by their ambitious recruitment drive, promises a great deal but the coach must ensure its fine-tuning at each and every step. The season ahead is arduous and there will be enough games for everyone, though this ought not afford a sense of comfort. The twin risks of stagnation and alienation are ever present and the management must do everything possible to maximize the abundant riches they have at their disposal. The treatment of Lewis Holtby, the embodiment of this struggle, may go some way to determining how successfully the club achieves its desired objective.

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