As Spurs look to sign two of Saido Berahino, Clinton N’Jie, Javier Hernandez or Timo Werner, the club’s transfer focus will shift to shoring up the middle of the pitch. The remaining central midfielders have a combined international cap total of 81, 67 of which come from Mousa Dembele, making experience a one key issue. Another is the fact that Spurs’ defensive frailties from last year could well be attributed to the lack of protection in front of the back four. The need is for a player that has experience, can play the ball forward, can shield the back four and as well as play Pochettino’s pressing game. Typically we should compare the targets to Pochettino’s original target Morgan Schneiderlin whose strengths are Tackling, Passing, Aerial Duels, Ball Interception and Concentration according to WhoScored.
Sven Bender has his strengths listed as Tackling, Aerial Duels and Ball Interception. He plays, when fit, for a Borussia Dortmund side whose characteristics involved Stealing the Ball from the Opposition (a key aspect of Pochettino’s pressing game), Defending Set Pieces and Attacking Down the Wings.
The German international is supposedly the favoured target. He is listed as having Passing, Concentration and Ball Interception as his strengths, with no weaknesses. He has also spent the past two years under Lucien Favre who has Borussia Monchengladbach playing possession based football with a two central midfielders sparking quick counter attacks down the wings, something that Spurs were famed for under Harry Redknapp, and has been lacking since on a regular basis. This dimension will be attractive to Pochettino as he is clearly seeking to add pace on the flanks. They themselves were not caught by counter attacks, and this will be down to Kramer’s positional and tactical ability.
With listed strengths on WhoScored as Aerial Duels, Blocking the Ball, Ball Interception and Tackling, Krychowiak is an overtly typical defensive midfield player. Importantly he has no listed weaknesses. He has, like Kramer, played in a counter attacking side that uses the wings as a major attacking outlet.
The club has targeted players who are adept at defence as well as being part of a team who is comfortable sparking a quick counter attack, which illustrates Pochettino’s desire for quick transitions in play, occasionally a problem last season as opposing teams were able to restructure themselves before Spurs had made it into the final third.
I have included Nemanja Matic as he fulfils a number of requirements needed for this kind of midfielder, and should act as a benchmark alongside Schneiderlin for an elite player in this position, despite his incredibly low defence score.
From the Squawka grid, we can see the following:
- In terms of instigating attacking processes, Krychowiak and Kramer are the most proficient, something that Schneiderlin is the best on average from the selection. Kramer’s pass completion is the closest to Schneiderlin.
- In pure defensive terms, again Krychowiak and Kramer are closest to Schneiderlin in tackles won, interceptions and blocks. Krychowiak’s number of fouls could be an indicator to his reading of the game, and willingness to break up play.
- As an aerial presence, Krychowiak is far out in front. For a player who is over six foot, Kramer should be able to impose himself more.
It is clear why Pochettino wanted Schneiderlin, but I would argue that Christoph Kramer and Grzegorz Krychowiak provide comparable alternatives. In a side where youth abounds, a bit of big game knowledge (World Cup Final and Europa League Final) wouldn’t go amiss, alongside games in top leagues (63 Bundesliga appearances and 102 appearances in Ligue 1 and La Liga).
Whether either of these two prove to be viable options is another story altogether.