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Desperately-needed Spurs midfield signing finally on the verge

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Sven Bender Bending Rodriguez

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This is big news. Tottenham Hotspur have been delaying a new midfield signing all summer, leading many fans to worry that the team did not plan to upgrade midfield. And if they did, maybe it would just be to add another box-to-box type rather than the defensive midfielder that was clearly needed. Now Sven Bender, the 26-year-old defensive midfielder from Borussia Dortmund emerges as the club's primary target.

Well, it's potentially big news. There is no report of a bid yet, let alone one that has been accepted. But the contours of the story are eminently probable. First, it's been reported in the legitimate press, by the well-connected Matt Law of The Daily Telegraph:

Tottenham Hotspur are lining up an ambitious bid to try to sign Borussia Dortmund midfielder Sven Bender.

...

German international Bender was a regular in Jurgen Klopp’s successful Dortmund team, but was left on the substitutes’ bench for the club’s Europa League game against Wolfsberger on Thursday night. Tottenham now hope to take advantage of the fact Bender, who has two years remaining on his contract, may not be part of new manager Thomas Tuchel’s plans for the coming season.

This story was also reported by the Daily Mirror within an hour of the Telegraph story going live last night. Here's why it's probable beyond simply two papers drawing a link.

First, Dortmund have been extremely fortunate with their midfielders this summer, despite Sebastian Kehl's retirement. Ilkay Gundogan was linked away for two months, but then signed a new contract. Preparing for Gundogan's exit, Michael Zorc went out and bought as smartly as he usually does, lining up Gonzalo Castro from Bayer Leverkusen and wunderkind (you can say it because he's German) Julian Weigl from the 2. Bundesliga. With Nuri Sahin and Bender also returning, that gives Dortmund five midfielders.

Still, you'd expect Bender to be a big part of that squad. But it turns out he might not be. After Bender was dropped during early friendlies, Matthias Dersch reported that new manager Thomas Tuchel preferred the 19-year-old Weigl for his safer passing style over Bender.

Two days ago Raphael Honigstein confirmed the report that Tuchel really is going with the kid over the established veteran. With Bender as the odd man out from a five-man midfield and a contract running down to just two years remaining, it makes all the sense in the world that BVB would be ready to sell.

So if he's on the outs in Germany, is he good enough for Tottenham? First, there are no stats for this. Not in the public domain anyway. There is no evidence that a central midfielder with more tackles or interceptions or aerial duels or passes completed is better than one with fewer. So if someone starts dropping the Squawka Comparison Matrix on you, just ignore them. (If I am good, and I believe I am, there should be within the next month a public stat that will allow for useful comparisons among midfielders.)

But Bender has been, in my observation, an excellent defensive midfielder. Playing in a counter-pressing system, he has had to cover a lot of ground just to shield his back four, as the players in front of him are switching positions like maniacs to pressure the ball on every turnover of possession. For a DM, Bender has played an aggressive forward passing game, because everyone in a counter-pressing side has to be an aggressive forward passer. It appears that it is precisely this aggression which has lost Bender his position, as Tuchel prefers the lower-risk game of Weigl.

The big problem with Bender is his injury history. It covers several pages on transfermarkt, and over the last three years he has missed dozens of matches. There isn't any single injury that seems to recur, he just gets hurt a lot. Bender is only 26, so he should be around his athletic prime, but it is possible he will simply not be able to continue to compete at this level. That is the risk.

But the reward is a peak-aged Champions League quality defensive midfielder with years and years of experience in a high-pressing aggressive-passing system that should make it quite easy for him to adjust to Pochettino's tactics. Spurs would not be able to sign a player of those qualities if he did not have some other question marks.

We should wait for this story to get picked up in the German press and for reports of, you know, actual bids. Bender is starting today in a friendly against Real Betis, but alongside mostly second-teamers, So right now things are not exactly concrete. But it makes sense on many levels for both clubs, and it's being solidly reported. I am increasingly hopeful this is happening.