For all their promise, Tottenham's new midfield signings are lacking in the sort of playmaking creativity that's required to break down defenses week in and week out.
I mean, there is no doubt: They absolutely dominate midfield. Just look at how clear they kept their side of the pitch during the first half of the match with Swansea, courtesy of FourFourTwo's StatZone app:
Swansea can't really get anywhere near Etienne Capoue's area of the pitch, whereas Spurs are right there knocking on the door.
But look at all the red in the Spurs diagram. The final, incisive pass that would come from an instinctive No. 10 is just not there.
Paulinho and Capoue are dangerous when they make runs from deep, but there needs to be a player with keen positioning and a deft passing touch to play them in.
For the time being, they're settling on crosses from the wings. The crosses are coming in from close, which is a promising sign, but with only one tactical approach in attack, Tottenham will be easy to frustrate.
The final diagrams illustrate this. Spurs manager Andre Villas Boas sent his squad out at halftime with instructions to abandon the central route and force play down the flanks, but they met with increased resistance.
Swansea concentrated their defensive attention on the flanks and look to have been rather successful in shutting down the left flank in particular. They also left the center open, and you can see chances were created when passes were made into that area, but Spurs were dead-set on forcing the ball out wide.
A look back to the opening match with Crystal Palace shows an even greater focus on the wings:
Now imagine a player like Christian Eriksen orchestrating attacks from an advanced central position, not only a creative playmaker but a false nine with a great shooting touch.
He plays along with the emerging Spurs theme of positional versatility, exemplified by players like Capoue and Paulinho, while presenting a more attacking interpretation of it.
In reality, Spurs don't even need a player as talented as Eriksen. They just need a player who presents a threat and can put in incisive through balls.
Such a player will actively generate goals through his play by turning some of those red failed attempt lines into the sky blue representing chances created, but would also facilitate goals simply by being there, drawing defensive attention away from the wings.
Spurs can continue to look at the Willians and Hulks of the world, hoping to generate goals from out wide, but they really ought to look at another central player.
A creative playmaker will make the whole team more effective, while more power out wide will be unable to beat defenses on its own—certainly not with the regularity necessary to challenge for titles.
Tottenham's two wins with zero goals from open play is as clear an indication as any that attacks are being shut down. They can fix this but shouldn't look to a wide player to do so, despite being frustrated on the wings.
In short, the problem is that opposing defenses aren't being cut down through the middle.
The offense doesn't need to be restructured to force it down the middle all match, but the threat must be there, and a skilled playmaker will bring that threat. That threat will force defenses to open up and lead to better chances that are more likely to be converted.
Spurs may have strengthened, but something's not quite clicking. Is it a lack of creativity or a lack of a Bale-like force on the wing? Spurs look set to continue their shopping spree, but how should they proceed? Have your say in the comments!
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