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Gylfi Sigurdsson Underlines Tottenham Central Midfield Dilemma for Tim Sherwood

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23:  Gylfi Sigurdsson of Tottenham Hotspur gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on March 23, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Thomas CooperFeatured Columnist IVNovember 21, 2016

Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood has been short of centre-back options in recent weeks. Making up the numbers in central midfield has not been so problematic.

Gylfi Sigurdsson's (or should that be Siluf Gudjersson's?) stoppage-time winner in Tottenham's 3-2 defeat of Southampton capped a fine performance in the position from the half-time substitute:

Unsurprisingly ecstatic about scoring the deciding goal in his team's comeback—describing it as the "the best feeling" to Spurs' official websiteSigurdsson should also be pleased about the general job he did after replacing Mousa Dembele.

Speaking too to, Sherwood pinpointed the Iceland international's contribution as giving Spurs "a real spark." It certainly did, with a determined, cross-field run early on in the half typifying the extra urgency he helped provoke.

Similarly to Nacer Chadli's bright showings in the previous seven days, Sigurdsson clearly relished being in the thick of things. Centrally deployed against Benfica too, his performance in Lisbon was restrained but efficient, mostly sitting deep and helping to keep things ticking over. Against Southampton, his more purposeful, threatening work culminated in the sweetly struck shot from the edge of the area which gave Spurs the lead.

These were unusual experiences for a midfielder who has mostly had to accommodate others since transferring to White Hart Lane in summer 2012. For Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey last season, see Christian Eriksen, Paulinho and more recently Nabil Bentaleb this campaign.

Sigurdsson's capable passing and attacking instincts have mostly been utilised coming in from left wing. He has done well there on several occasions—his brace in the 2-0 win over Norwich City in September and his terrific Capital One Cup goal cutting inside against Hull City a month later notably spring to mind.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Gylfi Sigurdsson of Tottenham Hotspur scores his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on March 23, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Ros
Clive Rose/Getty Images

There have been other occasions when he has been less effective, and Spurs poorer for the absence of pace on the left flank. Generally, Sigurdsson has been more influential out wide in games played in tighter confines than more expansive ones (e.g. March last year, he set up Gareth Bale's goal in the North London derby win in which Spurs effectively closed up on Arsenal. In the next game against Liverpool, he saw more of the ball but could not get close enough to link up with his team-mates to similarly damaging effect).

The 24-year-old did play in central attacking midfield in Spurs' season-opening 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. A little rusty in his touch and shooting, his eagerness and energy certainly impressed, and made it all the harsher when Andre Villas-Boas began favouring Eriksen and Lewis Holtby ahead of him in the position.

Eight months on, Sherwood is in a similar predicament to his predecessor as it relates to Sigurdsson and fitting him in a preferred role in which the manager already has myriad choices.

The Icelander has staked a decent claim to being one of the two or three to play there in a given week. But so too has Chadli, while many would argue Sunday's two-goal, one-assist hero Eriksen could wield even greater influence inside than out left.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - MARCH 19: The Tottenham Hotspur Manager Tim Sherwood (R) looks on during a training session ahead of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 match against Benfica at Estadio da Luz on March 19, 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Steve Ba
Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Sherwood has evidently shown an inclination to using these more skillful, creatively minded players centrally. Consequently it has meant others with more well-rounded midfield reputations missing out, and if it is a direction he persists in, will mean tough choices ahead—both for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Paulinho's status at Spurs appears to have taken the greatest hit in recent weeks after a clutch of underwhelming outings. Dembele and Sandro are on surer footing, but have faced greater competition since Bentaleb's promotion to senior duty. Etienne Capoue's ankle injury last month could not have come at a worse time after he started three games in a row.

Intriguingly, in a recent article looking at Spurs' potential plans for next season, the Daily Telegraph's Matt Law wrote, "should Sherwood remain in charge next season, which is by no means certain, then Jake Livermore could be offered the chance to return and 21-year-old Tom Carroll would become part of the first-team squad." With Lewis Holtby also set to return from a spell out on loan, whoever is managing Spurs comes August is likely to have to cut at least two or three from this crowded group.

Sigurdsson will be hoping he is not one of them. For that to happen (and for him not to have to toil on the wing anymore), he knows he has to continue to prove he has the character and all-round talent Sherwood demands from those playing his old position.

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