This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Tottenham Hotspur have again been linked with Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos on Wednesday, with Sky Sports reporting that Spurs are in talks over the signing of the Spain Under-21 international.
The Real star could potentially move on loan to north London; Football FanCast understands that Spurs would like to take him on a short-term deal with the option to buy for £45m next summer.
It remains to be seen where he would play if he moved to north London, though.
Spurs have already signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon to replace Mousa Dembele, who departed in January, and they still have Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, both attacking midfielders, on the books.
One needs to look at Ceballos’ statistics to ascertain his best role, then.
Understat shows that the midfielder made 23 appearances in 2018/19, scoring three goals and failing to provide a single assist.
That is unusual for a midfielder playing for Real; but it may speak to the fact that he could potentially give the ball to Luka Modric, the Ballon d’Or winner, and watch the Croatia international pick the lock.
Indeed, Ceballos averaged 1.73 key passes per 90 – a pass that leads to a shot – with an expected assist rate of 1.25. His expected assist rate per 90 is a mere 0.09.
Perhaps the most direct comparison, then, is Harry Winks, the unfussy central midfielder who signed a new contract at Spurs earlier this week. He did not provide an assist in 2018/19, either, while his xA rate was a mere 0.24. His xA per 90 was just 0.01.
The pair are similar in terms of the way they play, then; they both look to pick the ball up in deep areas before recycling it.
Indeed, Winks is the water-carrier in the Spurs midfield, quietly efficient in possession, as he is often looking to offload it to the more powerful runners in the team.
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Ceballos’ numbers are slightly better than the England international and he could offer Pochettino an alternative to Winks, who may not be able to play every single game next season.
Ndombele is the game-changing midfield signing of the summer for Spurs but bringing in Ceballos would add both depth and flexibility tactically.
The Spaniard could sit at the base of a midfield built around the powerful running of Ndombele and the destructive tendencies of Moussa Sissoko, regularly rotating with Winks.
It is a position in which Spurs need more bodies and further bolstering a midfield that already looks exceptional could be just what the club need as they look to challenge in the Premier League again next season.
Ceballos would not be the marquee signing that Ndombele is, but he could end up being just as important.