Is Lewis Holtby the key to a successful balance in the Tottenham Hotspur midfield?
Tottenham Hotspur have midfield options in abundance. This despite the summer departures of Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker, Gareth Bale, Jake Livermore and Tom Carroll (the latter two just on loan).
A handy guide to whom is classed as a midfielder in the squad now is the official Tottenham website's first-team profiles page.
Of course nearly all of these are obvious. But with manager Andre Villas-Boas' tinkering of his formations, it is useful to know a player like Erik Lamela—who will likely be deployed further advanced up the pitch than others—is regarded as a midfielder by the club (albeit one who could function as a proper forward too).
Still with us? Good. Because selecting Tottenham's best midfield to take on Norwich City (and indeed going forward from here), is dependent on a couple of things.
Explored briefly in this writer's Thursday's piece predicting how Villas-Boas' side will line up against Norwich was a dilemma the Portuguese is facing in relation to his midfield.
Will an urge to see new signings Lamela and Christian Eriksen in the team see them utilized as part of a front three? Or will Eriksen be chosen to be the creative head of the three-man midfield?
This writer suggested Villas-Boas will opt for the former. Giving the aforementioned pair license to express themselves further forward while Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and Sandro form the main midfield three.
As harsh as it would be on the in-form Andros Townsend in particular, giving Eriksen and Lamela their first starts (at White Hart Lane too) allows the manager to see them properly in action. Work may need to be done, but establishing an understanding between these new players and their teammates should be attempted sooner rather than later.
With Etienne Capoue out, Sandro will likely be brought in. The Brazilian will offer extra protection to his defense from the advances of Norwich's dangerous attacking midfield pair Nathan Redmond and Robert Snodgrass.
The debate over who might become Spurs' chief defensive midfield has been shelved for the time being following Capoue's injury. Sandro has a chance to prove his dominant, almost no-nonsense approach is more conducive to Spurs' football than the Frenchman's more stylish leanings.
Despite not yet clicking together within the Tottenham midfield, Dembele and Paulinho being given another chance by Villas-Boas would not be surprising.
The former was positioned in a slightly more advanced role against Arsenal, and it did not suit him. His performance was in keeping with someone who prefers to have as much as the pitch in front of him, allowing him to influence rather than react.
Should Dembele be allowed to revert to the duty he performed so well last season, there is hope for him playing alongside Paulinho. The Brazil international is more comfortable in the final third anyway, something he has shown already when he has joined in attacks.
With that said, there is a strong argument for giving Lewis Holtby his Premier League bow for the season. A decision that, if made, would likely be at Dembele's expense.
Injury during the summer has meant Holtby playing catch-up as he has sought to get fit for the season. Albeit it against inferior opposition, his all-action display against Dinamo Tbilisi spoke of a player nearing readiness.
Should Lewis Holtby start for Tottenham against Norwich City?
Last season he was utilized where he was needed and largely fared well. The chance for Holtby to prove himself in his favoured position could be his making at Spurs.
Persevering with a Dembele/Paulinho combination has—as discussed—its merits. Neither though offer the level of energy combined with great movement that Holtby does.
With Carroll on loan at Queens Park Rangers, the German is also the one player remaining who adds to the aforementioned qualities both a standout aptitude for passing and a combative side.
In tempo and style, Holtby offers something a little different that could be key to giving Spurs the right balance in midfield.
The best teams are about putting people together who fit well, not just fitting in the best players.
Villas-Boas will be striving to figure these things out for himself. These efforts begin in earnest against Norwich on Saturday.