Squad Assessment: Defensive Midfield

To continue the squad assessment series we'll take a look at the defensive midfield area which caused a lot of consternation during the summer transfer window.

Squad Assessment: Defensive Midfield


First we have to remember it's not what we want but what Mauricio Pochettino wants that determines the make-up of our squad. He has a style he wants us to play and the defensive midfield position has different requirements now than before.

We needed a second goalkeeper to take over from Brad Friedel, who is taking longer to hit the deck these days than he used to. We can't stop ageing, if only we could. That issue has been addressed.

Left-back was a weak area and that issue has been addressed. We have addressed the right-back position long-term but have a problem short-term. The restructuring of the centre-back positions has begun and is a work in progress, but that is being hampered by Walker's injury.

In front of them are two defensive midfielders. In the Pochettino system they are not just defensive midfielders though, they have to be creative passers as well. If you think Andrea Pirlo you won't be far off the mark.

The issue that Pochettino highlighted hasn't been wholly addressed yet and that is that the team takes too long to get the ball from the back to the front. The defensive midfielders have to know what is going on around them and be able to pick out a pass to turn defence into attack quickly.

Watching England last night, they had the same problem with Jordan Henderson dropping so deep he was getting in the way of the centre-backs and actually blocking off their forward passing options. He was dragging an opponent into a covering area so that when a centre-back had the ball his diagonal pass along the floor option was severely restricted.

The Tottenham defensive midfielders fortunately do not drop that deep, they obviously have more faith in our central defenders to be able to pass a ball. The three players who have played the position in the Premier League this season are Etienne Capoue, Nabil Bentaleb and Mousa Dembele. We have brought in Benjamin Stambouli to add to that and have Paulibho who can play in a variety of midfield roles.

Sandro wanted to leave back in March, his agent made that clear while the Brazilian backtracked in comments later so as not to upset the fans. He had been poor for the majority of the season and his attitude off the field was brought into question. His performances under Mauricio Pochettino back that up a poor approach. It was only in the last game against AEL Limassol after Napoli, his planned destination, had failed to secure UEFA Champions League football did he put in a performance like the Sandro of old. Clearly the ability has been there, the mental approach has not.

First if we are too slow moving the ball forward let's have a look at how successful our passes have been this season.

Pass Success
Etienne Capoue 89.12%
Nabil Bentaleb 87.70%
Mousa Dembele 86.44%

All are much of a muchness so nothing to be gleaned there so how about forward passes, can they shed any light on why we are slow moving the ball forward.

Forward Passes
Etienne Capoue 63.61%
Nabil Bentaleb 59.36%
Mousa Dembele 49.15%

The first thing that strikes me there is that Dembele has played less than half his passes forward in his two substitute appearances, not surprising when you consider against Liverpool his most frequent pass was to Capoue. He is a full 10% below Bentaleb who created a chance for Adebayor and who was above Capoue for forward passes prior to that game.

Early days yet but a statistic to keep an eye on, I'll keep you updated as the season goes on. The backward passing statistic is naturally going to be reversed but here it is for you anyway.

Backwards Passes
Mousa Dembele 50.85%
Nabil Bentaleb 40.64%
Etienne Capoue 35.71%

Now in case you are thinking Dembele hasn't played much so the figures are distorted I have produced the figures from last season which show he consistently passes backwards more than any other defensive midfielder (Sandro and Paulinho also had better stats).

Backward Passes 2013/14 Season
Mousa Dembele 42.59%
Nabil Bentaleb 40.69%
Etienne Capoue 34.97%

So where do we stand in defensive central midfield? Well we tried to buy Morgan Schneiderlin the whole summer transfer window and will probably be going back in January. We went back in for him on th final day after the Liverpool defeat so it's clear Pochettino is still not entirely satisfied with our options. The system these players are being asked to play is not an unfamiliar one, but they are being asked to perform their role quicker.

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When Capoue arrived last summer he looked like the next Patrick Vieira but so far this season he has been very defensive. Jamie Redknapp told us that he likes to play at his own pace and it was too slow a pace to play against Liverpool, so it proved.

Nabil Bentaleb doesn't even have a seasons experience yet and is lambasted by a section simply because he was picked by Tim Sherwood and isn't Sandro. Against West Ham he had to run defensive midfield on his own and he has created 2 chances in the two games since. Had Adebayor taken the one he lobbed over the keeper onto the roof of the net, who knows what may have happened. He is a work in progress but is young enough to learn. He will make mistakes but he isn't going to improve if he doesn't.

Mousa Dembele is a frustrating figure. He slows our game by dribbling when we are now trying to speed it up, he passes forward less than the others but is very hard to shake off the ball. He doesn't give it away a lot but if truth be told he doesn't do a lot with it either. He will have to adapt his game with Paulinho also waiting to come back. He makes us solid but he doesn't make us any more threatening.

Where Paulinho will be deployed we don't yet know, defensively or in a more attacking role. He is no doubt a decent player, but he had an ordinary first season and will have to improve significantly on that. He has not convinced the Spurs faithful that he is worth £17 million ($27.92m - €21.47m) yet. In his defence he has played football non stop for 2 years so could do with recharging his batteries.

Benjamin Stambouli I know nothing about, yes I have watched You Tube videos of his best bits, but that really doesn't tell us much apart from the fact he has skill and can pick out a pass. On there he looks good but we'll have to wait to see him play before any judgements can be made.

In theory we have good players available but it's a question of can they adapt their game to the requirements of he Head Coach, can they play at a quicker tempo. It's an important area of the team but extremely hard to judge when the parts around them are not functioning correctly.

Once the team is used to the system then we'll know more where we are in midfield.



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