Tottenham Hotspur: How Lewis Holtby Might Be Included in Spurs' Starting XI
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Lewis Holtby made his second appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in their 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Though not as immediately impressive as in his debut four days earlier, it was another promising showing from the German.
Having originally been set to arrive in the summer when his contract expired, a deal was agreed to sign Holtby from Schalke in January instead. It was a good call from Andre Villas-Boas, giving his squad some added quality that has already proven to be useful. The Portuguese coach now has some thinking to do over how he plans to involve Holtby from here on out.
Tottenham's main central midfield pairing is as good as set in stone.
With Sandro likely out for the rest of the season, Scott Parker is the next best defensively inclined midfielder. Mousa Dembele is the appropriately dynamic presence beside him. As a pairing they are still establishing an understanding, but together they offer Spurs' best chance of a solid and suitably intelligent midfield combination.
Holtby could come into Dembele's role if the Belgian were absent or lost form. More likely Holtby will compete for the advanced role in the team's 4-2-3-1 formation that has mostly been occupied by Clint Dempsey this season.
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Not unsurprisingly, Dempsey took some time to develop an on-field rapport with his new teammates after joining from Fulham just prior to the close of the summer transfer window.
Around the time Spurs' form started improving in late November, so too did the American's. Injury cost him a couple of games, and then he was left out for a short time too. When he's gotten his chances, though, Dempsey has contributed valuable goals and assists.
For all his commendable efforts, Dempsey has not made his position his own like his fellow former Fulham teammate Dembele has. Now he has some real competition on his hands.
Holtby's cameo against Norwich showed what a more energetic, fleet-footed player might provide in the de-facto attacking midfield position. He could be found all over the pitch and was looking to link up wherever he could (though this in part was probably down to the adrenaline that came with making his debut).
Dempsey is hardly a statuesque figure on the pitch, but in comparison his movement is more confined to spaces around and just inside of the penalty area.
The injury of Jermain Defoe has possibly been in Holtby's favor. Dempsey's height advantage (6'1'' compared to just over 5'9" for Holtby) may have been part of Villas-Boas' thinking in starting him ahead of his new teammate.
Defoe has a lot of attributes as a striker, but an aerial presence is not one of them. Ideally Tottenham want to keep the ball on the ground. But when circumstances dictate otherwise it is helpful to have someone like Dempsey who is capable of getting on crosses or maybe winning a flick on or two (as well as contribute at set-pieces).
With Defoe out for a few weeks, though, there is a good chance that Emmanuel Adebayor (whose Togo side were knocked out of the African Cup of Nations on Sunday) will be leading the Spurs front line for the Newcastle United match on Saturday.
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In this scenario it is not so imperative Dempsey plays. Adebayor provides the team with height in a central position, and in Villas-Boas could use Holtby as the more creative support between the wing pair of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon in his 4-2-3-1.
Whether Holtby starts does not depend on the height of the forward in front of him. Playing with Defoe against Norwich the two of them combined for Bale's equalizer to show how effectively two such quality players can combine.
Villas-Boas though will not change things (especially when Dempsey has been playing fairly well) without giving it some thought. This might be what brings Holtby into his starting XI, or it might work out in another way.
For Tottenham fans it is an exciting time when their team can call on such talented players. Holtby is the latest to try and win their affections, and this might be the week he gets his first starting opportunity to do so.
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