Sherwood may need re-think on defensive midfielders

Posted by Dan Fitch

I'm sure I wasn't the only Spurs fan to greet the news of Tim Sherwood's team selection for the match against Newcastle with suspicion.

A midfield five that included the likes of Nabil Bentaleb, Etienne Capoue, Mousa Dembele and Paulino, looked narrow. Aaron Lennon was the only player likely to bring width, and with Christian Eriksen on the bench, the jury was out on who was likely to supply the creativity.

Yet when it comes to Tottenham winning, I'm always very happy to be proven wrong and his team did that emphatically. Newcastle were swept aside 4-0 in what was one of Spurs' best performances of the season.

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The fact that Hugo Lloris was Tottenham's best player makes it obvious that the performance wasn't perfect, but after the abject displays against Everton and Hull it was a relief to see the team click into gear.

Lloris may have been Spurs' most impressive performer, but the most important member of Sherwood's team last night was a player that in truth didn't even play that well.

Capoue looked rusty and not particularly fit, yet his presence freed the rest of Tottenham's midfield to express themselves. In particular, we really got to see what Bentaleb could do. A lot of Spurs fans have been questioning why the youngster has been picked so regularly by Sherwood. This display showed why he's so highly rated.

With Capoue holding his position at the base of the midfield, Bentaleb was given license to attack. Unshackled, his pace and running ability were evident. He caused Newcastle all sorts of problems and was the best midfield performer.

To a lesser extent Dembele and Paulinho also benefitted from Capoue's presence, with both giving solid performances. It poses an interesting dilemma for Sherwood and his coaching staff.

Sherwood has been vocal in his belief that a holding midfielder isn't necessary, instead preferring his central midfielders to share the defensive responsibilities. The theory is that when one midfielder goes forward, his partner tucks in and vice-versa. In practice it never seems to work that easily.

As an Englishman, I had to put up with many years of failed experiments in which Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were supposed to take it in turns to roam forwards. Instead they would both get caught in attacking positions and the opposition were able to break into acres of space.

At Spurs the problem is pretty much the opposite. When the team doesn't have a Capoue or Sandro to handle the defensive work, they often end up with two midfielders that play conservatively and fail to support the attack.

Sherwood has been painted as a tactical dullard for his views on holding players, but Sir Alex Ferguson was also known to bristle at the suggestion that his Manchester United team ever played with one. That said, when Roy Keane was paired with Paul Scholes, it was pretty obvious as to which one was better going forward and which was better equipped to stop the opposition. When you have players as defensively capable as Capoue and Sandro, Sherwood would be foolish not to utilise them.

It doesn't have to be rigid system with the defensive player not straying further than the half-way line, just a way to get the best out of the players available. Sherwood previously seemed tied to a 4-4-2 and he's ditched that in favour of greater numbers in midfield. There's no reason to think that he won't prove equally adaptable on this matter.

This is an inexperienced manager who's learning on the job. It seems that he has a survival instinct and unlike his predecessor, he won't let stubbornness lead to his dismissal.

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