Lewis Holtby’s Tottenham Hotspur career has only amounted to two recent substitute appearances, but that hasn’t stopped the German international making quite the impression upon his new set of supporters.
The £1.25million bargain January signing from Schalke has only notched up 70 minutes of Premier League football during his two cameos against Norwich and West Bromwich Albion away from home, but it’s clear already that the travelling White Hart Lane support have enjoyed what they’ve seen so far.
Against both the Canaries and Steve Clarke’s 10-man Baggies side, Holtby’s neat one-touch passing and incisive movement made a considerable impact within Andre Villas-Boas’s side. Indeed, although the Lilywhites have been heavily indebted to Gareth Bale in both games, it’s no coincidence that the side turned one possible point into four over the two games in which Holtby has come on.
Yet although Jermain Defoe’s recent injury forced Villas-Boas into playing with a conglomeration of attacking midfielders during the second half at the Hawthorns, there are only so many attacking midfielders the Portuguese can fit into his side. And although the combination of both Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby worked reasonably effectively for 45 minutes over the weekend, Spurs’ poor man’s Spain impression is more a means to an end, than a long-term tactical innovation.
With Dempsey having been the chief occupant of the No.10 like role within Andre Villas-Boas’ system for much of the season, does Holtby’s arrival spell trouble for Spurs’ American midfielder?
Much will of course depend on how Villas-Boas seeks to set his side up for the season’s run in and although his hand will perhaps be forced by the club’s threadbare forward line, looking to find an adequate tactical fit will certainly give the Portuguese food for thought.
Because although Spurs sit only a point behind third-placed Chelsea in the Premier League, Villas-Boas has often struggled to find a set-up that’s offered an optimum fit for the players that he has at his disposal, especially when playing in front of the home support.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that was deployed for the majority of the first-half of the term was by no means a failure, but it was often hampered by a lack of real fluidity in the final third. While the issues in breaking down stubborn opposition has been a collective issue for the side, the bulk of critique seems to have been aimed at the troubles both Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson had found in playing the central role within the three behind the striker.
During the festive run of fixtures, a switch to 4-4-2 saw the contingent Spurs support calling for a more traditional set-up appeased, although even then, it wasn’t quite the instant remedy that many had predicted. Most importantly, Spurs were winning games – an impressive five out of six over Christmas and New Year – but the partnership between Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe generally flattered to deceive.
Yet with Defoe now sitting on the sidelines with suspected ankle ligament damage, Villas-Boas is left with only the returning Emmanuel Adebayor as a recognized centre-forward. For all the criticism that the Togolese striker has taken this season, rarely has the Togolese been deployed in a set-up suited to get the very best out of him. In Holtby, Villas-Boas now was a true No10 in which to play behind the ex-Arsenal man.
Although in placing Holtby just behind Adebayor, the omens don’t look particularly good for Clint Dempsey in such a side. But with the American second perhaps only to Bale as the side’s most effective player in recent weeks, can Andre Villas-Boas really drop the ex-Fulham man?
Because should Holtby play behind the striker, that’s the central attacking role Dempsey’s played for much of the season taken up. He may well have filled in for Gareth Bale when the Welshman suffered both injury and suspension over the festive period, but there’s no way he’s supplanting one of the league’s most in-form players on the left. Similarly, it’s hard to see Dempsey ousting Aaron Lennon on the adjacent flank, either.
With five goals in six games last month, Dempsey has finally began to look like showing the sort of form that saw him bury a devastating 23 goals for Fulham last season. The Texas-born star has spoken at lengths about the time it’s taken to adapt to the new role he’s been asked to play at Spurs, so when he’s finally began to look comfortable in this team, dropping him would be a very cold move indeed by Villas-Boas.
The line between showing loyalty to your players and dabbling in blind faith is a fine one and even then, sticking with a player that’s enjoyed such an impressive run of form can hardly pass for ignorance. Yet for all Dempsey’s tidy play and unflappable work ethic, with the return of Adebayor imminent, Lewis Holtby is surely the infinitely better choice to play in behind him.
Whether Adebayor is flavour of the month or not amongst supporters is irrelevant; as the side’s only fit striker, Villas-Boas has to look to do everything he can to eek the very best out of him. That might not sit well with all of the White Hart Lane support, but the lack of depth at centre forward leaves AVB little other options.
Should Andre Villas-Boas elect to drop Clint Dempsey, it would be an incredibly ruthless decision. But the talents of Lewis Holtby have the ability to reinvigorate the misfiring Emmanuel Adebayor and perhaps to a greater extent, breathe new life into their entire system.