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Tottenham Focus – Modric departure leaves gap in Spurs midfield

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By Alan Robins

Friday 31 August 2012

Luka Modric has left for Spain, and with his departure Tottenham have lost their midfield general. The Croatian dynamo may have left a sour taste in the manner of his departure, but as many Spurs fans may acknowledge, Modric was integral to Spurs, controlling and dictating the team’s tempo as a deep lying creative midfielder.

Arguably this season, Spurs have looked to André Villas-Boas’ high pressing, high defensive line tactic, with the intent to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible. Allied to this, when the ball has been won is possession football, - keeping hold of the ball, waiting for the opportunity to open the opposition up. Spurs have at times played well, but in this area they have missed Modric.

One of Modric’s strengths was to keep hold of the ball; either with agility to twist and turn away from opposition or via a series of short passes, continually looking to play and receive the ball. Another strength was his depth of passing; comfortable in short pass or the long ball as well the through ball, Modric was also key to maximising Gareth Bale performances, either feeding him or being open to receive the ball from him.

This season, whilst Bale has intermittently shone, as have Tottenham, without Modric, the team has lost momentum and that creative spark and Bale has noticeably faded in the two games. To get the best from Bale and the team, Spurs may need to replace the Croatian, but who can fill the role? Jake Livermore is still on a learning curve and perhaps does not have the passing range or the ball retention ability yet.

Spurs wasted little time after the Modric sale in bringing in Moussa Dembélé from Fulham. This has given the team strength in depth for players who have excellent passing accuracy. Dembélé, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Rafael van der Vaart all have a passing accuracy comparable to Modric. However, all three have been termed as attacking midfielders. Playing that much further forward is crucial.

They are taking the positions to receive the ball from where Modric would be rather than taking that position themselves. Playing the ball out wide, for example to Bale, they play the ball higher up the pitch – Bale has less room to run at the full back and tends to receive the ball in a static position rather than being played forward from deep to run on to. Dropping Sigurdsson or Van der Vaart [if he stays] deeper, negates genuine goal threats and players who make assists.

Villas-Boas may love to bring in João Moutinho who could genuinely fill the Modric role, but there seem to be doubts he will be signed. If he is not, the role should probably fall to Dembélé. Strong in possession, with a high passing accuracy, the Belgian may have a tendency to dribble with the ball where Modric would play the long ball. However, his dribbling ability should allow him to get away from the opposition to keep the ball, though this does tend to playing less key passes in the final third. However, Dembélé is stronger and better in the tackle than Modric.

Dembélé would bring a different emphasis to the deep lying playmaker role, but his all-round abilities should mean he is more than capable of filling the role. It would be no surprise to see him start there against Norwich this weekend.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Tottenham v Norwich

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