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Friday, 27 September 2013

The Holtby Dilemma

I still remember the moment. I had alcohol pumping through my veins in the French mountains when I read that Daniel Levy had sanctioned a move to bring Lewis Holtby to Spurs in January. Immediate erection. The fuel of optimism was a feeling I'd rarely felt. It was gold dust. Of course, the reality was that we'd rarely seen much of Holtby in action. A few dazzling Champions League displays can build an unwarranted and inaccurate perception of what to expect. Adaption is critical when young players move between countries. Although Holtby didn't provide too much value initially in the few months that followed January, we were provided with moments of what to expect prior to digging any deeper.

It's easy to forget the age of some players considering the weight of expectation that we, sometimes unintentionally, place upon their shoulders. It's arguably a little naive to expect a player of Holtby's profile to come in and make the White Hart Lane turf his own within 6 months and it's exactly this reason why I continually fought consciously with myself to not jump into brandishing opinion on him last season.  We saw far more industry than end product with Holtby last year. There's an evident passion there. A fight inside him that commands our love and attention. We give a stronger emotional response than a rational one. But there's nothing wrong with that.

It's obvious right now that we're still trying to find a role that suits both him and ourselves. I naturally thought he was the number 10 we'd dropped to our knees and begged for but it's becoming clearer he's a far more rounded central midfielder. He mentioned himself that his preference is sitting in the middle of the pitch and this is where he's proven most effective for us. There's an obvious trait of playing that killer pass from a deeper position and bringing the ball forward. His energy allows him the freedom to press opposition which is something we're doing more and more under AVB.

So where does this leave us? We're lucky enough to be packed to the brim of centre midfielders; Dembele, Paulinho, Sandro, Capoue. Depth is beauty. We couldn't crave it enough last season and now we find ourselves in the fortunate position of having it. Selection dilemmas are under appreciated. Holtby offers far more flair breaking from midfield then distributing the ball. He needs more playing time there and to become more understanding of his role. He has the eye to play that final pass but needs encouragement to try it more often.

Call me crazy but his play is reminding me more and more of Modric. Obviously the skill set is not quite as matching but the way he can take the ball from deep and bring it forward then provide another option in the final third is similar to what the Croat did best for us. It was a role vastly under appreciated to the naked eye at first but a role that allowed us to be far more fluid. There's arguments for every player to have their position in the starting 11. It's incredible that if we rewind 12 months back, Dembele & Sandro were irreplaceable. Yet, now, arguably neither are guaranteed to start.

I'd like to see more of a chance taken on Holtby. Away from home against a top side may leave us needing more strength and stability in the middle but I'd like to see him given more game time at home alongside one of Paulinho or Dembele. He needs consistency to prove to both us and himself that he is worth a place in our first 11. He's proven effective when emerging from the bench but a consistent role should increase this effectiveness.

A start against Chelsea may be too much of a gamble at this moment but that's not to say that I wouldn't knock AVB for testing him. We'll want to avoid defeat more than anything. Let our CM's suffocate the space given to Chelsea and let our attack run at their defence.

Ben - You can follow me on Twitter here