The game against QPR was a thoroughly disconcerting watch. Not only were we completely unable to dominate possession against a recently collated midfield, but we were largely ineffective on the break. Of course 3 points is 3 points, and the second goal was absolutely classic spurs (both in the lightning quick counterattack and in the near evasion of a wonderful opportunity before JD put it in) but I was certainly left a tad worried about the next few games, and deeply intrigued as to our selections from here on in.
In the first few games of the season, we played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sandro and Jake Livermore as the holding players, and Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson linking up in a further midfield three, behind Jermain Defoe. I actually like this formation and the way it suits our players, however there is no denying it did not work as perhaps it should have. The key to this line up in many ways is Gylfi Sigurdsson, as the only central midfield player given attacking license he has to perform a double role of sorts, linking back with Sandro and Livermore to play in a more condensed midfield zone when we lose the ball, and attempting to bomb forwards every time the opportunity arises. When we signed Sigurdsson I really thought we had pulled off a coup, for Swansea last year he was effortless in possession, a constant goal threat and a set piece expert, as well as the cheap pricetag and his good attitude it seemed we had bought a good fit for Spurs. The problem is that Gylfi has thus far played exactly as he did at Swansea last year, looking predominantly to get on the end of cut backs and to link up with Gareth, Aaron and JD, which of course is his natural role as an attacking midfielder. The problem lies in his inability to contribute significantly to the centre of midfield. This has left us with real difficulty getting from defense to attack. In attacking positions, I think Gylfi could be a fantastic weapon for us, especially at White Hart Lane, but unfortunately the play between Sandro, Livermore and Sigurdsson was just not succinct enough for the top level, and not dynamic enough for the football league.
Moussa Dembéle is one obvious solution to this, as his role as a forwards-driving deep lying central midfield player has helped significantly in the games since he has arrived, his ability to contribute all over the field has been important in helping link defence with attack, and I think his role in a first choice spurs team is safe for the time being. There were promising signs, especially in the game against reading, that Sandro and Dembéle could make a great midfield pair, the two interacted intuitively, always covering for each other when a forwards run was made, and generally looking like perfectly balanced players.
If we assume Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and JD's places to be safe for the time being, the only remaining spot outside of the defence is once again that to which Gylfi Sigurdsson's name has been tentatively chalked. Sigurdsson was truly dire against QPR, leading me to believe that for the time being he must be left out of the starting XI. A player I like very much, but one who currently does not suit our style of play or our needs. Clint Dempsey and Tom Huddlestone are the alternatives,
Dempsey offers the more like for like replacement for Sigurdsson, albeit with a higher work rate and greater defensive nous. I think Dempsey is going to be a good player for Spurs this season, particularly whilst we are without Emmanuel Adebayor as he can offer a more versatile attacking threat than anyone else currently available to us, shy perhaps of Gareth Bale. However, I still don't see him as the man to fill the hole in question, as I am not sure he has the passing range necessary to play in that particular role.
Tommy Huddlestone is in my eyes the outstanding candidate for the role. His relative lack of mobility has often been cited as primary detriment to his place in the first XI, but I think in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 he would be absolutely perfect. when Thudd was at the top of his game, we were playing a dynamic 4-4-2 with Luka Modric sitting just ahead of Huddlestone in central midfield. The two players were sometimes perfectly in sync, but that couldn't hide the fact that they were not natural partners, Huddlestone's lack of any great work rate or physicality was not offset to a great enough degree by our departed Croation comrade (or Croatian Combination when Krancjar started). I feel however that in Sandro and Moussa Dembele he may have the two perfect partners to get him back to his very best. Dembéle's fantastic physicality and good short passing game make him the perfect candidate for the furthest forward of the three central midfield roles, whilst Sandro is obviously the most defensively sound of the three and therefore takes the role of destroyer. This leaves Tommy free to play as a deep lying playmaker, what some have referred to as the 'quarterback' position which really is a pivotal role in relation to both the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations, the two most Andrésque (ha) formations available to us. His role would be that for which Andrea Pirlo plays for Italy and Juventus, Xavi for Spain and Barcelona and Xabi Alonso for Real Madrid. It is worth noting that I am not sufficiently biased to believe Tom Huddlestone to be the equal of any of those players, merely that in terms of style they are the definitive deep lying playmakers ever to have played the game, leaving aside the last 5 years of Paul Scholes' career as he will always be rightly remembered as a lung bursting box to box midfielder. However, Tom was our best midfielder 2-3 years ago and was consistently dominating the best midfields the premier league and Europe could throw at him. It is also worth noting that not one of Pirlo, Xavi or Alonso reached the top of their game before they were in their mid to late 20s, exactly as Tom is now. There is no denying he has the technical passing range to match any player in the world, if he can get back to his best and if the players around him play as they can, only then can we accurately judge his importance to our future. 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations are the future of Tottenham under Andre Villas Boas, and I believe that there are few players in the league, let alone at the Lane, as perfectly equipped to excel under the transition than Tom Huddlestone.