Lewis Holtby was excited about joining Tottenham from Schalke and once the deal was made public his reaction says everything about this move.
Tottenham are a top club and I’m fulfilling my dream. Negotiations with Schalke were initially advanced, but then I looked over it all carefully again. I have spoken to André Villas Boas and I am confident in his plans.
Lewis Holtby was lined up by Spurs as a free agent for the summer. What prompted the Spurs think tank to enter negotiations with Schalke to wrap up the deal in January itself is still unknown. Spurs already have Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson as established players at No10 apart from upcoming sensation Ryan Mason. That prompts further questions, what is the need for bringing in another No10 in Lewis Holtby? Is it because neither Dempsey nor Sigurdsson have effectively replaced Van Der Vaart? Is it because of the season ending injury suffered to midfield enforcer Sandro? Or does Villas Boas have some surprise tactical plan to cover up for the lack of striking options available at his disposal?
Spurs had formed a formidable midfield pairing with Dembele and Sandro, that the Premier League followers realized that the absence Luka Modric and Van Der Vaart hasn’t derailed them. The transition from Harry Redknapp’s system to Villas Boas’ was never going to be a smooth one. As the performance and results saw a marked improvement, the Spurs fans started supporting the new tactician and his methods. One of the main reasons behind their success was the emergence of Sandro – The Beast.
Sandro’s emergence from Scott Parker’s shadows and beyond most of the Premier League holding midfielders was the main differentiator in a well oiled Villas Boas machine. Sandro and Dembele interchanged their defensive and attacking roles with fluidity and it made man marking a difficult proposition for the opposition. The advanced positions taken by Sandro surprised pundits and opposition players alike as he was considered as a defensive midfielder. Sandro’s tackling, defensive positioning and crucial interceptions were known traits, but the additional attacking movements, guile, key passes and vision coupled with Brazilian flair helped him to outgrow his position to form a vital cog in Villas Boas’s armoury.
Spurs are at cross-roads now after a season ending injury suffered by Sandro in their outing against QPR. Rumours started floating around about about the need for a replacement. Two Spurs players were rumoured to be on their way out – Huddlestone and Livermore found that they still have a role at the club. The return of Scott Parker from injury and the emergence of Tom Carroll were making it difficult for them to make the bench but now the scenario has changed completely. With the addition of Lewis Holtby to the already existing attacking midfield duo of Dempsey and Sigurdsson, Spurs have strength in depth within their central midfield. Different options are available for Villas Boas and Tottenham, but they need to find out the best suited one.
It is not easy to find an apt replacement with all of Sandro’s qualities in a short span of time. Even if they can find one, integration into a new team will not be easy and that too in the middle of a campaign. The expectations will be sky high and that has the potential to derail a newcomer in the tough Premier League. So the replacement (if any) needs to adaptable to the new environment and team. Moreover, what will his role be once Sandro regains fitness will be a long term question.
Are the existing resources good enough? In Scott Parker, Spurs have an enforcer returning and he can be integrated to the starting line-up with ease. The main difference will be his lack of penetration and offensive contribution when compared with Sandro’s role. In Villas Boas, Spurs boasts a master tactician who can tweak the system according to the strengths of players available at his disposal. Villas Boas has done it already by adopting a tactical change to plug the gaps left by Modric and Van Der Vaart. It remains to be seen how he weaves his magic to plug the Sandro sized hole.
Lewis Holtby at Spurs
Andre Villas Boas has learned a very important lesson during his stint at Chelsea. He has successfully incorporated that lesson with Spurs, as he eased Hugo Lloris into Tottenham starting line-up without displacing veteran Brad Friedel. Spurs faithful will be expecting the same in the case of Lewis Holtby as well. He is coming from a completely different set up in Germany and needs to adapt to a new country and team. His English roots might ease him into the side, but there are no guarantees and a huge risk cannot be taken with a talented youngster who is tipped to have a bright future. Spurs fans will try to recollect his performance for Schalke in disbanding Arsenal in the Champions League; they love him already. So there is no need to rush as Tottenham have a real gem in their hands which needs to be groomed properly.
Even though Luka Modric’s void was filled with Dembele, the hole vacated by Van Der Vaart wasn’t filled properly as Dempsey and Sigurdsson found it tough to replicate the Dutchman’s success at Tottenham. Their inept performances at the initial stage forced Villas Boas to tinker with his formation and he started deploying two men upfront with some tactical tweaks. The arrival of Lewis Holtby gives a new found hope for Tottenham, he is an established creator and has occupied the number 10 position with ease at Mainz and Schalke. Holtby can be the main play-maker and conductor in the No10 role, with his tireless running, hard-work, penetration and the ability to be at the right place at the right time. Spurs can expect goals and assists to galore from the versatile German international.
Another realistic possibility is Villas Boas’ favoured formation of 4-3-3. In the absence of Sandro, Parker will take the responsibility of doing the dirty work and being the pivot which controls the more creative forces in Dembele and Lewis Holtby. Holtby has already played in a deeper role with Schalke in the 11/12 season. With the assurance and support from Dembele and Parker, Holtby can blossom in a 3-man midfield. Lewis Holtby will have to adopt to the more demanding and exhaustive task of playing in a 2 man center midfield. With 2 established and experienced players around him, it might suit him and Spurs in a better way. Dembele and Holtby can drive the team forward and by playing deep, more space will open up for them as well as the dangerous wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.
The lack of striking options available at Spurs remains a problematic area. With Daniel Levy’s hard negotiating approach this area might remain the same for the near future. Villas Boas might have thought of the same while trying to conclude the deal for the versatile Lewis Holtby. A striker-less formation can be a possibility in the future as Holtby, Dempsey and Bale have enough goals among them. The trio’s ability to switch positions and to create space for others can have a real say in Spurs attacks. When the pace of Bale and Lennon combines with the trickery and cleverness of Holtby, Dempsey or Sigurdsson it will be a treat to watch even if Spurs are short of a striker.
A fluid, interchangeable front 3 will be a dream for any manager. With Gareth Bale, Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby in their ranks, Spurs possess the exact weapons in their armoury to implement this. All the three can play in left, center or right and add Sigurdsson to the mix and you’ve got a dangerous looking unit. Even though its not a tried and tested method, this is something which can offer the team a lot of attacking thrust and penetration. The arrival of Lewis Holtby has in fact provided Spurs with a number of options. His adaptability to multiple roles means that Spurs have a bright future in hand with the most versatile German footballer.
Which is the best option for Villas Boas is the million dollar question. At the same time, Villas Boas seems impressed with Lewis Holtby and his quotes give a clearer picture about his position in the team and his suitability to multiple roles.
“Lewis Holtby will fill the No.10 position, although he can play on the right or the left and he has also played in a holding role.”