In one of the more attractive vacancies in the footballing world, Spurs are on the look out for an attacking midfielder. Following the closure of the transfer window, Spurs will be looking in-house to fill the position.
Wanted: Attacking midfielder with proven ability to play on right side of a three.
Attributes required: The ideal candidate must show a willingness to run behind, press high up the pitch and provide cover for a marauding fullback when required. The ability to create chances, run with the ball and use possession efficiently are essential. Pace and shooting ability preferred.
Christian Eriksen, knee injury permitting, is the main creative force in the centre and was sorely missed against Everton, despite Ryan Mason’s sterling effort at filling in. One presumes Son Heung-Min has been signed as an upgrade over Nacer Chadli for the Jay Rodriguez role on the left-side, cutting in and supporting Harry Kane with goals.
But that leaves one space up for grabs. A third amigo, a third musketeer, a third banana.
In the season so far, Mousa Dembele has occupied the position, to limited effect. The Belgian has his supporters, but I’m not one of them. For all the talent and touch and seeming class, there is little-to-no end product. He presumably had some traumatic experience with long-range shooting as a child, such is his unwillingness to have a go at goal. He also has developed an aversion to carrying the ball forwards in recent seasons, preferring instead to take a step forward, stop, retreat, and then pass the ball sideways like some latter day Ray Wilkins.
His slow plays gums up Spurs attacking flow and makes it too easy for the opposition to get into formation, and is a frequent contributor to the tedious play we see at White Hart Lane with its tight pitch. As I’ve mentioned previously, I actually would like to see him up front — I’m going to keep banging on about this until either a) someone agrees with me or b) Pochettino tries it and he is rubbish.
So, let’s take a look at the other candidates:
Nacer Chadli: Once Son settles in, it will be at the expense of Chadli. Chadli had all the makings of a transfer bust in his first season, but then turned it around splendidly once Pochettino arrived. He scored 11 goals in 35 appearances last season, and already is off the mark this term. He looks like he has everything — pace, power, technique, goal-scoring ability and height. But the whole doesn’t quite add up the sum of the parts — he is a very good player, but not a great player. There are times when he drifts out of the game, or appears to settle for a 7/10 performance when a greedier player would be sniffing around for the extra goal or assist. You’ve got to want to dominate. But, to me, I’d rank Chadli as the primary option to fill the vacant spot due to his ability to score goals. Bar his first season at Spurs, he has been a consistent scorer throughout his career. He should be able to operate on the right rather than his preferred left flank.
Andros Townsend: Sorry, England international Andros Townsend. I thought Spurs would move Townsend on this summer while his stock remains high after his excellent international outings. But, they kept hold of him — it now feels like the last chance saloon. Last season, Pochettino gave Townsend and Lamela extended runs and neither excelled. In 17 league appearances last season, Townsend had two goals (one was a penalty) and two assists. This is pretty pathetic when you have your mate Harry Kane up front and breathing fire. To me, Townsend is best coming off the bench as an impact guy who runs at tired defences. When he starts, he gives the ball away too much, doesn’t track back and contributes little. He may improve, and he certainly needs to.
Erik Lamela: The record signing and official club enigma. I thought he was out the door this summer, but various transfers collapsed and he is stuck at Spurs. He is never going to be a £30 million player, but there is undoubtedly talent there. First of all, Lamela makes things happen. Last season in 25 league appearances he had two goals and seven assists (Eriksen had just 2 assists in 37 games). He obviously has a wand of a left foot, as that rabona and the game winner against Burnley showed. His problem is that he gives the ball away constantly, and fouls whenever he tries to make a tackle, especially during League games when it appears the pace is too high. This must drive Pochettino mad. But, as a creative option, I’m glad Lamela is still kicking around — the squad feels a bit samey and predictable without someone like him. I’m not sure how much time he will see in the League, but I expect Lamela to light up the Europa League this season — even if only in a bid to secure his move away from the Lane.
Dele Alli: In his few appearances so far, Alli has looked seriously exciting. He scored what should have been the winner against Leicester, and against Everton he was immediately into the action and could have been involved in two goals. He looks an extraordinary athlete, with great technical ability and a willingness to make runs and get involved. It would be no surprise if Alli had made this position his own by the end of the season.
Alex Pritchard: His injury at the U21 Euros was seriously unfortunate as it cost him a rare chance to impress Pochettino in preseason. But, he is fit now and has an opportunity with the Europa League and Capital One Cup kicking in. I think it is easy to downplay what he did last season with Brentford — he was sensational. Twelve goals and seven assists in 45 matches is some performance. I watched a couple of the games as I was starting to get excited — it wasn’t that he was technically good, what caught the eye was that he was dominating and leading the team. In his brief England performances in the summer, he was one of the few players to make an impact and was sorely missed once he was injured. In style and physique, he seems a lot like Eriksen, but a lot of his play for Brentford was from the wide positions.
Josh Onomah: From what I know about him, he primarily plays through the centre. But many a fine player has shifted wide in search of playing time early in their careers. I’ve only seen glimpses — but they are so tantalizing! What touch and vision he shows. I’m sure it is a year or two too early for him — but who knows? The fact that he is still there, rather than out on loan, means he has a chance.
Clinton N’Jie: Can he play on the right-side of a three? Can he play up front? Can he play at all? Is he the next Samuel Eto’o? Is he the next Helder Postiga? Can he walk in a straight line without falling over? I really have no clue, and suspect no-one else does either.
Those are the main contenders. Ryan Mason, at a push could play out on the right, but this would be a defensive choice. Harry Winks plays centrally. I’d like to nominate Tom Carroll as the official “forgotten man” of the Spurs squad — I’m amazed he is still here. Though, with the lack of central midfield options, we may be seeing him in the Europa League. But anyway, he isn’t a wide man.
So, there are options. In fact, there are plenty of options — it’s just not entirely clear if any of them are good options. Some are intriguing, some are an exercise in optimism, some have already flattered to deceive.
But I like the fact there is clear competition for a spot in a good Premier League team, and that it will come down to who is the hungriest and who takes their chance when offered.
Charles Richards blogs at The Spurs Report. Follow him on Twitter (@crg_yeah), and Fresh Spurs (@Fresh_Spurs_)