What to do with Gylfi Sigurdsson?

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tottenham HotspurWhen Tottenham Hotspur managed to gazump Liverpool to the signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson during the summer, it was rendered as something of a coup for the men from White Hart Lane.

His £8million move from Hoffenheim, off the back of a superb loan spell under Brendan Rodgers’ tutelage at Swansea last season, seemed the perfect addition to the Andre Villas-Boas revolution. Intelligent on the ball, technically astute with a great understanding of the game, Sigurdsson seemed to have the credentials to become a key component in this new look Spurs team.

Yet the story so far hasn’t quite followed the script that many seemed to have already had written. Sigurdsson has looked like a somewhat awkward part of the Tottenham Hotspur jigsaw from what we’ve seen so far and although only nine Premier League games have been played, his influence has been consigned very much to the periphery.

The Icelander certainly isn’t the only one that’s had their troubles conforming to the long-winded process of adaptation in N17, although despite his eclectic skillset, it’s not quite gone to plan so far for the Icelander. How can Spurs get the best out of Gylfi Sigurdsson?

Pre-season remains a foolish barometer to make any form of defining judgments upon either a club’s or player’s forthcoming fortunes, but Sigurdsson certainly looked like one of Spurs’ better performers.

At this point, it was still of course anyone’s guess as to what the Spurs XI would look like come the end of August, but from Tottenham’s fleeting appearances under Andre Villas-Boas in July, you would have thought that Sigurdsson would be part of it. Fans saw plenty of neat link up play and glimpses of his fabled goal scoring prowess; it was a very tentative analysis, but he looked comfortable within the 4-2-3-1 set-up that the Portuguese sought to introduce.

But as Premier League proceedings began, the reality of developing the new set-up, was given a harsh reality check by the rigors of English football. It was never going to be easy and so it proved, with Spurs looking fragile at the back and toothless at the front as the Lilywhite’s stumbled to two points in their first three games.

A harsh evaluation it may be, but the nature of Sigurdsson’s performances seemed to represent a hallmark of the team’s early season performances.  We saw plenty of industry and nice ideas, but with little substance to back any of it up. Sigurdsson looked OK against Newcastle, but a lack of any meaningful contribution when brought on against West Brom, was followed by another relatively average 56 minutes against Norwich City.

The problem for Sigurdsson was that although he wasn’t particularly doing anything wrong, he wasn’t really cultivating anything of any real note, either.

Unfortunately for the Icelander, a good showing against Reading was confounded by a difficult 45 against QPR, in which he represented the sacrificial lamb as Villas-Boas looked to repair his Gareth Bale-sized tactical cock-up. As fate would unfortunately have it for Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey enjoyed a far more efficient second period. Since then, the American has enjoyed preferential status over Sigurdsson within Spurs’ XI. But even then, such has been the relative averageness of Dempsey’s performances; it’s hardly a position that can’t be reclaimed.

And it’s within the struggles of both the pair to negotiate much of an impact in the same position, which gives us an insight into one of the more prominent issues harming Spurs at the moment. Neither Sigurdsson nor Dempsey have profited particularly well in the central role of the attacking three behind the frontman. And maybe neither are suited to play there, either. Or not in it’s current guise.

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s best performance of the season came in the 3-1 win away to Reading and if you look at the role he played, maybe it’s no real surprise. In more of a 4-3-3 set-up, Sigurdsson, combined with Mousa Dembele and Sandro, formed a trio of real fluidity. Although he was tasked as the most attackingly minded of the three, Sigurdsson was at times the deepest lying midfielder.

Yet when he’s been played in the centre of the attacking three in the 4-2-3-1, he’s struggled to wield a similar influence, but the fielding of Jermain Defoe as the lone striker probably hasn’t helped Sigurdsson’s fate.

It’s hard to gauge quite how much difference a fully-fit Emmanuel Adebayor may make to proceedings, although the faulted credentials of Defoe’s hold-up play hardly helps the men playing behind him. Be it Dempsey or Sigurdsson, the Togolese’s efficiency at bringing others into play can only act as a positive catalyst for their performances.

It’s also worth noting that Sigurdsson hasn’t been afforded a real run of Premier League games to forge a sense of understanding, continuity and confidence within this Spurs team. The Icelander has been fit all season, yet only managed to play 90 minutes of league games once, in the 4-2 loss at home to Chelsea. He’s appeared as a sub in four of Spurs’ nine league games and his best run of three consecutive league starts were punctuated with being hauled off after 56 minutes against Norwich and 45 against QPR. A flow of real, solid game time would certainly help his cause.

Yet you get the feeling that Sigurdsson needs to really step things up a gear when he gets the chance to play behind Adebayor in the near future. His good showing against Chelsea when moved to the left was rendered somewhat redundant by the fact that he was stepping into Gareth Bale’s shoes. With the 4-2-3-1 continuing to be favoured by AVB, the monopoly of Sandro and Dembele on the deeper roles suggests Sigurdsson may find an opportunity to repeat the Reading trick a little more difficult. He has to try and make the central role his own.

You can’t help but feeling a little sympathy for Sigurdsson. His goal scoring exploits of last season ensured he carried a weight of expectations and the role he’s being asked to play simply isn’t the one that paid him such dividends during his time with Swansea. The question remains though, whether he does indeed have what it takes to play that role for Spurs. He’ll keep getting the chances to show that he does. He must ensure that he starts to take them.

What would you do with Gylfi Sigurdsson? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me where you fit him in within this Spurs side. 

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