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Wilmar Barrios isn’t great, but he has what Spurs need in January

Spurs should welcome Barrios to the neighborhood because his ball winning skills are desperately needed.

Boca Juniors v River Plate - Superliga 2018/19 Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images

Spurs are rumored to be in for Wilmar Barrios again. El Kante Colombiano wasn’t terribly impressive in the World Cup this past summer, although that’s not a great place to do analysis. His numbers for Boca Juniors suggest that two things about Barrios are clear: he’s not a very good passer and he’s very good at winning the ball back. This season, Barrios has a laughable (and well below his career average) passing percentage of 68.6%, which rounds up to a not very nice passing percentage. On the other hand, he’s at 6 tackles and interceptions per 90, an absurdly good number. The guy covers tons of ground:

Why would Spurs want or need such a limited player? In the midfield, Spurs are struggling mightily. On the one hand, Spurs are truly struggling to progress the ball from midfield, with Moussa Dembele no longer the same at progressing the ball on the dribble or the pass and Eric Dier struggling to step up as a progressive player.

On the defensive side of the ball, nobody in Spurs’ midfield other than Eric Dier is able to do enough defensive work, leading to Spurs being a middle of the pack team at defending against counter attacks and looking exposed. Harry Winks either is not athletic enough or not athletic enough right now. Victor Wanyama is not the old Vic, and can’t win the ball back in the same way. And Mousa Dembele’s legs just won’t let him be his imperious old self.

Mauricio Pochettino, soberly looking at his squad right now likely sees the following: an amazing set of attackers in Kane, Lucas, Lamela, Son, Eriksen, and Dele who he cannot play all at once; a very talented set of center backs in Jan, Toby, and Davinson Sanchez; and fullbacks who are capable if flawed in their own special ways in Rose, Davies, Trippier, and Aurier. He also sees midfielders unable to do the work that would allow those players to be great. We have seen Poche try to play Dele and Eriksen in deeper roles this season, with limited success, as the midfield has been unable to do enough defensive work to allow them to play in the more hybrid “Free 8” role that Pep Guardiola defined for Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva last year.

Enter Wilmar Barrios. Perhaps sensing that the best way to win this season will be to get as many of Kane, Lucas, Lamela, Son, Eriksen, and Dele on the pitch at once, Pochettino recognizes that a ball winning, ground covering destroyer is his best bet. A 4-1-4-1 with Barrios at the base and some combination of Dele, Eriksen, Moura, or Lamela doing the ball progression work that Spurs are lacking in midfield right now may be the best chance the team has at maximizing its talents. Barrios also has the advantage of not being cup tied in Europe, which targets like Tanguy Ndombele unfortunately do not have.

Barrios isn’t perfect by any stretch. But we could use a guy like him.