Spurs are potentially about to have a very welcome selection dilemma. With Son Heung-min poised to return from his suspension, Lucas Moura coming off the bench to secure a point in the last game, Dele returning from injury and Giovani Lo Celso building fitness, Spurs are about to inject their attacking midfield with real talent. Whether that is offset by the sale of Christian Eriksen remains to be seen, but irrespective of that, Mauricio Pochettino has some choices to make.
Spurs fans dubbed the preferred front four DESK (Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane) last year, though the number of games that they actually all appeared in together was disappointingly low. It will be fascinating to see come the end of the year whether Pochettino decides, once again, on a ‘clutch’ foursome or whether with more choice, comes more flexibility.
For example, this weekend Spurs play Newcastle, who had below 40% possession in each of their first two matches, at home to Arsenal and away at Norwich. They tended to sit relatively deep, attempt to be compact, and use Almirón’s ball-carrying ability and Joelinton’s hold-up play to counter. With the space behind the defence restricted, some of the qualities of Lucas and Son in particular may be negated.
Lucas has mostly been used as a forward, often the most advanced, with Harry Kane (or another) dropping deeper. This can stretch a defence and create more space for schemers to work in. But if a defence is already filling the space he would run into he can become reliant on other abilities – trying to run at players and commit them – and potentially a bit one-dimensional. Meanwhile, while some of Son’s skillset can be negated by a defence sitting deep, he does offer lethal shooting ability from range from either foot, so can be useful against teams that park the bus. It could be ‘either/or’ with Son and Lucas for much of the season once again.
With Dele, Spurs have a player who has a well-rounded skillset, particularly after a year of playing a different role, as described by Nathan A Clark for StatsBomb. He can hold it up, he can attack from wide, he can play deeper. This flexibility means that he has something to offer against most styles of play the Premier League can offer.
The same may be said about new boy Giovani Lo Celso, who played in a double pivot for Paris Saint-Germain and showed considerable defensive abilities, before playing a far, far more advanced role for Real Betis, a season in which he returned 14 goals and six assists. He offers nice flexibility to Pochettino, but one would think that initially he may play a more advanced role, with less defensive responsibility, in order to ease him in.
Erik Lamela has starred the season with a goal, an assist and plenty of running. He covered the most ground for Spurs in their opening match against Aston Villa, and ran further than that and also clocked the top speed of 33.75km/h against Manchester City. Lamela is a curiosity; he has a wonderful attitude, and clearly possesses plenty of talent, but has never found the consistency to go with it. He does most of his best work between the defensive and midfield lines: buzzing around, elbows flailing, chaos ensuing.
And then we come to Christian Eriksen, perhaps the most unique of Spurs’ attacking midfielders. Eriksen is the composer, the maestro. Like most of Spurs’ players, he offers versatility. I wrote back in July that I hoped Tanguy Ndombele’s introduction could allow Eriksen to re-find his truly elite productivity from a more advanced role. I still feel as though that is ideal, and yet Eriksen does a bit of everything. He’s often the one lingering outside the box to pick up the pieces when a cross or shot is cleared. He keeps things moving, finds a new space, demands the ball again, and then tries to play a creative pass. He dictates the tempo, the shape, he chooses when the killer ball is played, and he also has the ability to be on the end of a killer ball.
Whether Eriksen is still at Spurs come the end of the window, we have a fascinating collection of skillsets to squeeze into the team, and I for one look forward to Mauricio Pochettino to find the right blend.