Most observers of Tottenham Hotspur expect Mauricio Pochettino to fully rotate his squad for tomorrow’s EFL Cup match against Liverpool. There’s precedent, after all – Spurs hammered Gillingham 5-0 while playing the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josh Onomah, Anton Wilkes, and Marcus Edwards. Also, Tottenham are in the midst of a brutal stretch of matches that includes another Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen and a North London Derby.
Going to Anfield isn’t the same thing as hosting Gillingham, but Pochettino is likely to give the fringe members of his first team squad another chance to impress him against what could be a very strong Liverpool side. One player that is likely to get significant minutes tomorrow is Harry Winks, whom Pochettino recently said could play as a lone holding midfielder in Spurs’ new 4-1-4-1 formation, i.e. Victor Wanyama’s position.
“He can play alone, like we play today. In the last games we played Victor like a holding midfielder. [Winks] can play there because he’s strong enough to play in that position alone.
“I am happy with Harry Winks. I think he’s doing well. The pre-season was good, he showed very good skills. For me he’s a trusted player and, like against Gillingham, he played very well and maybe in the next few weeks he will have the opportunity to play again. It’s always important.
“He’s very young, he’s coming through the academy and he will be a very important player for us in the future.”
So Winks in the pivot isn’t at all crazy. Poch clearly likes him, and he worked quite well playing alongside fellow future Ballon d’Or winner Tom Carroll against Gillingham. In the small sample size of matches in which we’ve seen Winksy, he’s shown strength on the ball and good composure, as well as a willingness to put in a good tackle when needed that belies his age.
However, playing him as a defensive midfield in a 4-1-4-1 against Liverpool? That feels a bit crazier to me, if only because we haven’t seen him in that role yet. I like Winks a great deal and think he could very well be a starter in midfield in the next few years, but I’m not sure we’ve seen him except alongside a midfield partner that takes more of a defensive role. Against Gillingham, he and Carroll played in a true double-pivot, with both taking turns to push forward as tactics demanded.
Winksy in as the 1 in the 4-1-4-1 would presumably be less of a midfield destroyer a la Wanyama and more a single pivot, operating as a deep lying playmaker, linking defense to attack with solid passing. He’d need protection in front of him, so hopefully there’s a destroyer-type midfielder playing in front.
Pochettino sees his players every day in training and presumably has a much better grasp on what they are and aren’t capable of doing. Winksy as a deep lying playmaker in a 4-1-4-1 would be a really interesting experiment, and I’d be curious to see if it’s at all effective. However, if Jurgen Klopp puts out a strong, or even a strongish slightly rotated team tomorrow afternoon, it’ll a bit like throwing Harry to the wolves. That said, if he impresses tomorrow, Winks could find himself eventually becoming one of Victor Wanyama’s backups. I’m anxious to see what he can do.