How Morgan Schneiderlin Would Fit into a Spurs Starting XI

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How Morgan Schneiderlin Would Fit into a Spurs Starting XI
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Could Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin reunite with his former manager Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham?

Morgan Schneiderlin to Tottenham Hotspur could be a transfer set to be completed imminently. Then again, it is perhaps not even in the offing.

Last week, the Daily Express' Ben Jefferson reported Tottenham had "surged ahead" of Arsenal in the race for the Southampton midfielder. Oppositely, The Times journalist Gary Jacob said on Twitter that new Saints boss Ronald Koeman had denied any bid had been received.

Koeman's predecessor, new Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, was described by Jefferson as "a massive fan" of Schneiderlin. It stands to reason the reliable mainstay of the Southampton midfield would be someone his former coach would at least consider wanting to sign for his Spurs starting XI.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Spurs play their first match under Pochettino this weekend. The friendly with Seattle Sounders will be our first evidence of what the Argentinian has in mind for his new team.

Pochettino's exact plans for Tottenham will become more clear this Saturday when they take on the Seattle Sounders in their first pre-season game. Only then will we get our first inkling of the style he has in mind for Spurs, and who he might favour in helping implement it.

The Argentinian has inherited a squad full of central midfielders with more than a couple of games experience—seven to 10, depending on whether or not you consider Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson potential options there.

Schneiderlin is not needed numbers-wise. But if Pochettino believes he is more suited to the way he wants his team to play than anyone else, a bid for him has its merits.

The Frenchman is a proven performer in the English game, having appeared 228 times, via ESPN FC, in all competitions for Southampton since 2008-09 (back when they were still in League One). His aptitude for the top-flight saw him rewarded with his international debut against Jamaica in May, while he played the whole of France's 0-0 draw with Ecuador in Group E during the World Cup.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Schneiderlin competes with Ecuador's Enner Valencia during France's 0-0 World Cup draw, the midfielder's only appearance of the tournament.

A player with a good chance of performing immediately certainly has its appeal after Spurs had difficulty integrating new signings like Chadli and Paulinho last season.

Beyond his familiarity with Pochettino's effort-fuelled, attack-minded way of thinking, Schneiderlin's chief quality is that he is not far off from being a genuine all-rounder.

He has a good range of passing—well-weighted over long distance, forward-oriented in closer proximity. As the below table demonstrates, via Squawka, his accuracy bares comparison with players he would potentially be competing with at Spurs.

Player 2013-14 Premier League Average Pass Accuracy Per Cent
Mousa Dembele 92%
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton) 89%
Nabil Bentaleb 88%
Etienne Capoue 84%
Paulinho 84%
Tom Carroll (on loan at Queens Park Rangers) 84%
Sandro 84%
Lewis Holtby (Spurs and on loan at Fulham) 75%

Schneiderlin's passing is notably enhanced by his composure and skill on the ball. It is a common sight at Southampton to see him receive or make a pass under pressure, using his balance and nimble footwork to keep hold of possession.

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Having made his way up from League One with Southampton, Schneiderlin has held his own with the Premier League's best.

In one instance away at Manchester City last season he flicked the ball over two players hassling him in the centre circle and then calmly completed a pass. At home against Tottenham, there was a similar moment when he nonchalantly knocked the ball over a charging Roberto Soldado before finding his team-mate.

There is a purposeful quality to the Saints man's dribbling. Always skillful, he can also shift up a gear or two beyond his languid style.

Schneiderlin is refreshingly not shy in getting stuck in when needed to, either. He has good anticipation in these moments, and can win the ball on his feet or on the ground. In the aforementioned Spurs loss there were two occasions when he raced back to dispossess Emmanuel Adebayor and Kyle Walker, moments in keeping with his understanding of the need to get back and defend.

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It has not been an urgent issue at Southampton, but perhaps the only real slight against Schneiderlin is a lack of goals in his game. His tally of five in 2012-13 is the highest of his young career.

The latter is a flaw he shares with Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. In fact, much of the above detailed about Schneiderlin could be applied to the Belgian (with a little tweaking).

Dembele's versatility has long been known. Last season it came to the fore even more as his transformation from an attacking midfielder into an all-rounder continued apace. The debatable success of that development—as evidence by his mixed form in 2013-14—is such that Dembele's position might be most under threat in the event of Schneiderlin joining Spurs.

Dembele's quality is such that he could still be used elsewhere. But based on what we saw over the last 18 months, he might find it difficult to carry on in a pivot role, and Pochettino might trust Schneiderlin more to perform.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
Schneiderlin is a similar player to Mousa Dembele in many respects.

Depending on whether Pochettino uses a three- or four-man midfield in that scenario, you would be looking at Schneiderlin being joined by a more attack-minded midfielder. Dembele, Lewis Holtby or Paulinho perhaps, maybe Eriksen if he is not used further forward.

If it is the three-man version, one of Etienne Capoue or Sandro would likely then operate a little further back in defensive midfield. Then again, it is not out of the question either that Schneiderlin might be used in that position himself, both to make the most of the deeper vantage point and to accommodate Spurs' attacking options in midfield.

The arrival of the 24-year-old Frenchman would probably be bad news for two of Spurs' own youth products in midfield, Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll—at least as far as their immediate prospects.

Speaking to the Tottenham & Wood Green Journal's Ben Pearce in April, Bentaleb was described by then-Spurs manager Tim Sherwood as having "a bit of everything." There were signs of that last season from the 19-year-old, be it in his strong defensive work away at Benfica or in his most adventurous outing at home to Crystal Palace.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
What would Schneiderlin signing mean for current Spurs midfielders such as Nabil Bentaleb?

With the similar but more experienced Schneiderlin around, Bentaleb might be looking at less match time or a possible loan move away. Having played at the World Cup with Algeria, though, he might now believe his development is sufficiently advanced and want a fair crack at first-team play.

Carroll is less defensively minded than Schneiderlin, but he is capable of performing as a midfield pivot. Proving that would be even harder if more competition comes in.

Southampton will understandably want to keep such a talented player, but either way, Schneiderlin's future should become apparent in the next month. Regardless of whether it is with Tottenham or not, just contemplating his involvement is evidence of the exciting possibilities of what a Pochettino-styled midfield in North London might look like.

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