Tottenham Hotspur: Do Spurs Now Have the Best Midfield in the Premier League?
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To get straight to the point, no, Tottenham Hotspur do not have the best midfield in the Premier League.
Even with last week's addition of Paulinho, to claim as much would be to inappropriately discount those which have been more successful of late.
Manchester United's midfield is just coming off a title winning campaign, which saw one of its key personnel, former Spur Michael Carrick, enjoy one of his best years.
Manchester City's may not have been as imperious last season as in their own success of 2011-12, but were still a formidable unit.
Yet while it is too early to proclaim that what Andre Villas-Boas is assembling at Tottenham to be the best in the division, the potential of his group is nonetheless very exciting.
Actually, labeling the Spurs midfield as just having "potential" is overlooking what its individual components have already achieved, as well as the progress they have made together.
Sandro and Mousa Dembele's midfield partnership was becoming increasingly acclaimed over the first half of last season. The Brazilian provided a defensive foundation that the dynamic Belgian skilfully and effectively built upon.
At Man United in September, this was displayed in scintillating fashion for the visiting team's second goal. Sandro won the ball deep in the Spurs half and swiftly passed it to Dembele. The latter burst forward and fed it to Gareth Bale who proceeded to tear a hole through the Red Devils and score.
Spurs' midfield had the better of that first half, but their efforts left them fatigued after the interval.
United's greater know-how showed thereafter as they stifled Villas-Boas previously dominant side and created in equal measure. Sir Alex Ferguson's men would lose the game, but they exposed some of the limitations of their counterparts.
Experience was a notable one. Tottenham's first half blitz won them the game, but on another occasion their resulting exhaustion may have seen them caught out—as they so nearly were with Carrick and Paul Scholes pulling the strings expertly from around the centre circle.
Spurs' reliance on an all-rounder like Dembele to really make them tick was apparent too. Tiredness limited his involvement as the game wore on and his team struggled to break out of their own half. This would become an issue again when he was absent through injury for games against Manchester City and Arsenal a few weeks later.
Paulinho is not a replica by any means, but the signing from Corinthians was clearly one made to help relieve some of the responsibilities placed on Dembele. Perhaps in a way the aging Scott Parker could, and cannot.
A certain amount of expectation will be placed on the £17 million (source: BBC Sport) man. His performances at this summer's Confederations Cup suggest a talent capable of making an impact. Still, the settling in process for a foreign arrival can take time even for the best of players (Sandro needed a good few months to adjust to the pace of the English game before he truly introduced himself with some immense Champions League performances back in early 2011).
This is not to mention the natural uncertainty at this stage, as to Villas-Boas' exact plans for the make up of his midfield. Preseason will gradually give us more of an idea, but at this point we are in the dark as to his preferred personnel and formation.
Along with the initially mentioned players, younger teammates such as Tom Carroll and Lewis Holtby were among Spurs' brighter performers last season. Albeit coming from different footballing backgrounds, both showed an aptitude for the English top-flight that if nurtured well, could flourish.
That remains a big "if", considering that only so many can start. Attacking midfielders like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend are in a similar boat, one that may be rocked even further by any more new arrivals.
The success of these players is integral to any chances the Spurs midfield has of becoming the best in the Premier League. Older campaigners such as Clint Dempsey and Aaron Lennon could well be a part of that, but they have reached points in their respective careers that means that they are unlikely to be the catalyst for that improvement.
It will require Villas-Boas finding a way to bring the best out of Dembele without overworking him. Of establishing a solidity in midfield that is not solely dependent on Sandro. And of allowing others who might make a difference to contribute, and not be unfairly neglected.
Successful midfields that Ferguson and Roberto Mancini put together at the two Manchester clubs in recent seasons demonstrated there is no single formula.
Villas-Boas and his coaches will be working hard to create that which suits their players best. Getting the ingredients together is merely the first part of the experiment.
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