The departure of Harry Redknapp and eventual appointment of André Villas-Boas in 2012 led to a change from 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, a formation that Villas-Boas’ successor Tim Sherwood settled on after trialling 4-4-2 - and then Mauricio Pochettino from 2014. The formation was a further variation on the 4-5-1 that Redknapp flirted with at Spurs when Rafael van der Vaart joined in 2010.
Now, after a year of a fairly rigid 4-2-3-1 under Pochettino, it might just be time to switch to a 4-3-3. The formation is one that is much more popular on the continent than in Britain, with Pep Guardiola’s famous Barcelona team using it to great effect, albeit aided by an incredible midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
At Tottenham, the midfield may not contain world-class names but there are players in the midfield who can form a trio that can allow for great balance. By adding an extra central midfielder, the likelihood is that there are more bodies in the middle to sure up what was a leaky defence last season – whilst also allowing for an extra man in the middle to press, win the ball and distribute for the wide men to break and create, with the player or players at the front of the midfield three also supporting attacks.
Due to the sales of Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli to Watford and PSG respectively, Spurs are in the market for a defensive midfielder to fill the gap left by the outgoing Frenchmen. James McCarthy, Ignacio Camacho and Christoph Kramer have been linked to the role and it is an area Spurs will be looking to fill with either an out-and-out ball winner or someone who can win the ball but also be a threat going forward. If the former is brought in, it may be a sign of a shift to 4-3-3, with a holding midfielder tidying up behind the front five – like Francis Coquelin at Arsenal. A ball winner in front of the defence gives the front five license to attack with less responsibility going back, although the remaining two in the centre will have to cover serious ground. Nabil Bentaleb has already shown his great passing ability and tenacity when not on the ball, as well as excellent positioning, meaning he would be the more defensive of the two remaining midfielders.
The third would be either Christian Eriksen, moving back from the number 10 role, or Ryan Mason. Mason is great at getting up and down the field and has more goals and assists in his locker if he is relieved of some of his defensive duties, as shown when he scored 29 goals for the U21 side in 2009/10 when playing in the number 10 role. Another dark horse for the position is Dele Alli, someone I feel could be tried in this position during pre-season and in the early rounds of the Europa League and League Cup. Alli scored 16 goals for MK Dons in 2014/15 and his former manager, Karl Robinson, believes the 19 year old can replicate his performances at White Hart Lane because “he plays without pressure.”
Spurs have several midfielders on the books to play in the forward two positions within the trio; Bentaleb, Mason, Alli, Mousa Dembélé, Milos Veljkovic, Harry Winks and Tom Carroll can all play in these positions. Veljkovic is a holding midfielder, and centre back, by trade and could well be used as a second choice in this position but Spurs need someone experienced to protect the back four and as someone for Veljkovic to learn from. Even if the 19 year old’s – an integral part of Serbia’s U20 World Cup winning side – future lies at centre back, he may be used in the holding midfield position until he is further up the pecking order in defence. The future at the heart of defence with Kevin Wimmer, Eric Dier, Milos Veljkovic, Dominic Ball and Cameron Carter-Vickers all showing promising signs – Wimmer being the oldest at 22 years old.
Finally, the front three is an area that – despite the lack of numbers – succeeded overall last season, with Spurs scoring 58 Premier League goals. Harry Kane, Nacer Chadli and Eriksen scored 42 goals between them and the club were the only side in the top flight to have three goalscorers reaching double figures. However, as Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor are continuously linked with moves away, the club must bring in at least one striker to share the goalscoring responsibility. Timo Werner, Javier Hernandez and Saido Berahino are just three strikers being linked to Spurs in the hope that Kane can be rested for games without the worry of an out-of-form striker being brought in to score the goals. Werner would be the cheapest at a rumoured £7.5 million, Hernandez brings Premier League and Champions League experienced and will cost between £8-10 million whilst Berahino is only 21 and English but will cost close to £20 million. Whoever comes in will be aware they will more than likely play second fiddle to Kane, but the Chingford born striker will have his work cut out in 2015/16, with defenders keeping a closer eye on the 21 year old – who scored 31 goals in all competitions last season.
|Goals Inside Area||19||6||2||13|
Statistics from 2014/15
The majority of Kane’s Premier League goals came from inside the area and with a 4-3-3, he may be allowed more time in the box to get on the end of passes and crosses due to the extra attacking man. He also created 27 opportunities for team mates, many whilst playing in the number 10 role, showing he would be able to get outside the box and create chances for the two inverted wide men. If Spurs do pursue two strikers this summer, one may be brought in to be third choice up front and play on either wing for periods of the season. This would mean Spurs would add more goals to the front three without taking Kane out of the equation and would also allow for someone with knowhow in the 18 yard box if Kane was to drop deep to collect the ball from the midfield.
Spurs pursued Anthony Martial for this position before he signed a new deal at Monaco and Sky Sports are now reporting Spurs bid for Lyon's Clinton N'Jie - a player who can play on the left wing and up front with good finishing ability and plenty of pace.
The current wide men available to Pochettino are Chadli and Alex Pritchard on the left, with Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend on the right. Nathan Oduwa of the youth setup could also provide competition on the left after some impressive performances in pre-season so far.
The switch to 4-3-3 depends on the type of midfielder Spurs choose to – or not to – bring in. It is a formation that allows for balance but also fluid possession and great on the counter-attack. If Pochettino does see 4-3-3 as the formation for Spurs, it’ll be interesting to see who he signs and also deploys in each of the midfield places. It’s an option, Mauricio, give it a go.