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as: Spurs now favored to land Ceballos

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Tottenham’s next move may be adding a true deeplying playmaker in midfield.

Spain v Germany - 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship Final Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

According to reports from as in Spain, Spurs are now favored to beat Liverpool and Arsenal to the loan signing of Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos. Ceballos has told as that he wants to play 40 games per season and, reportedly, this is what Mauricio Pochettino has promised if he should move to Tottenham.

Does the deal even make sense?

Though the sources are still somewhat questionable on the story and the idea of Spurs loaning a player in under Pochettino might seem unlikely, that isn’t reason to completely dismiss the report.

Tottenham’s midfield struggles last season are well-documented and so it isn’t surprising that Pochettino would still want to add to his midfield options, even after the club-record signing of Tanguy Ndombele earlier this week.

Additionally, the move would, according to the Metro, include an option to buy—a deal similar to the one that just saw Chelsea sign Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid. Though Spurs under Pochettino don’t usually do loan deals, you can see why it might be advantageous in this case. Ceballos is still young and it’s reasonable to wonder how he would handle playing a 40-plus game season in the Premier League with Champions League football as well.

By loaning with a future option to buy Spurs can get time to see how the Spaniard performs without needing to spend big on him this summer. They can also potentially lock in a future price, which if Ceballos turns out to be good enough to start in midfield may well look like a bargain by next summer. It also keeps funds free this summer for the club to chase a right back signing or a new center back should Toby Alderweireld leave.

How would Ceballos fit in at Spurs?

Of the three midfielders most consistently linked with Spurs this summer—newly signed Ndombele, Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, and Ceballos—the Real Madrid man probably has the most defined role.

Ndombele can play any role in midfield. Lo Celso could play as an eight or ten or even on the wings. Ceballos, meanwhile, is a classic number six. He stays deep and distributes the ball to advanced attacking players while also putting in a fair amount of work defensively.

Here is the StatsBomb radar from his last season at Madrid:

dani ceballos real madrid radar

What this probably means is that Tottenham’s best XI would look like this, assuming Kieran Trippier is sold, Alderweireld stays, and that the club either keeps Christian Eriksen or sells him and replaces him with Lo Celso:

Lloris
Aurier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose
Ceballos, Ndombele
Dele, Eriksen/Lo Celso, Son
Kane

Given the flexibility of the players, the above could also easily become a 4-3-3 with Dele and Son as the wings and Ndombele and Eriksen/Lo Celso as the eights. Or it could even be a diamond with Son and Kane up top. One of the key developments in recent years at Spurs is Pochettino’s growing versatility as a tactician so we shouldn’t obsess too much over the formation.

The main idea is that Ceballos would fill the role that Harry Winks filled when fit last season—he’d be the deeper midfielder in a double pivot or the single pivot in a three man midfield.

How would this affect Tottenham’s depth?

Speaking of Winks, let’s look at the everyone-is-fit XI if this signing happened. The first XI is already above. But here is Tottenham’s bench if the club does not sign any other new players: Gazzaniga, Sanchez, Davies, Dier, Winks, Sissoko, Lucas. In addition to those seven players, the team could also call on Juan Foyth, Victor Wanyama, and Erik Lamela depending on the fitness of the latter two.

So what you’re looking at is a team that would have 19 players we can probably trust to play regular minutes in some system under Pochettino heading into next season. If you include the oft-injured Wanyama and Lamela, that number rises to 21.

Injuries and fitness have always been struggles for Pochettino teams. Last year was not the first time that we saw Spurs fade dramatically down the final stretch of the season. Part of this has always been because Spurs have genuinely lacked quality depth and one or two injuries can dramatically weaken the team. But Pochettino also plays an at-times demanding style and he tends to drive his key players into the ground over a full season.

With the addition of Ceballos and no other major signings or departures, that picture would flip dramatically. An Eriksen injury likely would simply mean a shift to a more straightforward diamond with Ceballos as the six and Winks and Ndombele as the eights behind Dele Alli as the ten. If Winks, Dier, and Sissoko are all squad players rather than locked-in starters when fit, then Spurs suddenly become a much deeper, more adaptable team.

Again, the sourcing is still questionable, but the reasons that Spurs would target Ceballos specifically and structure the deal in the ways being reported are obvious.