On Lewis Holtby, AVB, tactics, and anything else that springs to mind

(Before we begin, let me just explain that the following started out as a comment in response to the other Lewis Holtby-related FanPost that appeared today, but I ended up going on a bit of a tangent and it got a bit over-long, so it's been recycled into my début FanPost)

Lewis Holtby has not lived up to expectations. He has been a big disappointment.

Full disclosure, when he signed I genuinely thought he would be the difference from last year and that he would be the creative number 10 we'd needed all season to replace VDV. He would solve this problem of teams parking the bus against us with his vision, creativity and passing ability, and he would be the final push needed to get us into the top 4. I confidently told Liverpool-supporting friends he would be much better than Coutinho, another young trequartista who signed at the same time. Thank Christ they've forgotten that conversation.

Unfortunately for Lewis, when he made his debut against Norwich, in the same game Gareth Bale scored a brilliant goal (so what else is new) through the middle of the park. Ironically Lewis played a big part in this goal, flicking the ball onto Defoe with a cute backheel. Now, despite having just bought a very good number 10, all of a sudden Bale goes HAM through the middle for the rest of the season, meaning Holtby either has to play on the wings, or deeper, neither of which he immediately adapts to. It's been said a lot on this site that Bale's exploits in the middle have potentially been to the detriment of the team; this is perhaps an example of that. This positional homelessness, coupled with over-eagerness and too much of a desire to impress meant we lost some of the silky touches and awesome creativity that made him stand out before in Germany, and instead got a hyperactive Ryan Gosling lookalike who captured all of our hearts through social media, but did little on the pitch. The Schalke game against Arsenal is an example of this - I distinctly remember one assist where with his back to goal, Holtby almost did a bicycle kick, for a through ball that split the Arsenal defence and allowed Huntelaar I think to score. When did Holtby ever look like doing the same for us?

Despite this disapointment, we can't write Holtby off. I have enough confidence in what he's shown in Germany before his transfer to Tottenham, and the flashes we've seen from him this season that his obvious potential can still be realised. While U-21 national team success means nothing in England, in Germany, with so many talented youngsters, to be the captain says a lot to me. He's obviously an extremely talented young man and I have every confidence that when he has had a full preseason to be integrated into the team, and Andre has had a whole summer to form this Tottenham team in his image without worrying about being hounded so much by the press, that we'll start to see a lot more cohesion from the team in general.

I feel that this season, AVB has to an extent prioritised results over long-term building for the future; understandable given how much he had to prove to the media, the fans and the team. There's been a distinct sense of a 'stick to what works' philosophy, which perhaps explains why he was more willing to use 'proven' players like Gallas and Parker (but Lord knows I'm not getting into all that again) instead of taking more of a risk with players like Caulker and this site's favourite player. (You all know who I'm talking about). As a result, AVB has been doing what works in the short term, namely, setting up the team in the way which meant we've lost 3 times in the last 6 months. This team doesn't look coherent, or even that organised. A lot of the time it's looked very dysfunctional. Who's our best left back? Should Dempsey play on the wing and sacrifice width for scrappy goals? Should Siggy play on the wing and bring his Mummy's-Curse bad luck with him in terms of goalscoring? Should AVB tell Bale to stop coming through the middle and stay on the left? If he does that, who's best in the centre? The proven pro Dempsey, the goalscoring mid who has flattered to deceive Siggy? The slightly more proven than Siggy but worse throughout the campaign Holtby? These are all questions which I would say haven't been answered conclusively even now. It's a bugger on FIFA that I don't know what out best team is, and it seems like AVB didn't either. Bale has papered over the cracks pretty spectacularly, but as someone said on the site a while ago, Gareth Bale scoring 89th minute winners every week isn't a proper team philosophy, and neither is it a sustainable tactic throughout a season. Bear in mind this isn't a criticism of AVB per se, as quite honestly I would have probably done the same thing in his position.

This summer, therefore, will be crucial for AVB to form his vision of how he wants us to play. He'll have the whole summer, he'll be backed in the market (PLEASE DANIEL) and he'll finally have the time to establish our style that we will use in the coming season. This team will finally start to have an identity. I've said it before, but when everyone is fit I would struggle to name a clear cut first-choice XI, and while some would argue that is a good thing, I feel that if we have established who is first choice where, then we can form a team ethos and style of play around a core of players, and from there work out who covers or understudies who, and who we need to bring in, and who we can afford to let go. These needs are going to be very different if we decide to move Bale permanently to the center, or the left, or the right, or if we play 4231 or 433 or any one of these tactical shifts. AVB has 3 months (give or take) to work out how to get the best out of this team, how to continue getting a worldy out of Bale every week but at the same time, how best to utilise the other members of the squad like Holtby so we're not being carried on Bale's back for a whole season leaving us up guano creek when (if) he leaves for Spain. With a whole season in a set, defined role that he's been committed to training in for preseason, guys like Holtby, and Siggy and Dempsey can be more aware and clear of their place in the team, and hopefully be better for it.

In conclusion - I don't know how to write concisely. Apologies for the somewhat rambling nature of this but I had a lot to say and no doubt there's a hundred other things I've forgotten. Also the formatting. Thanks for reading, and COYS!

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