Lewis Holtby: Luka Modric’s Apprentice

With his first touch of the ball against Norwich the swoon-o’-metre had gone into overdrive, hearts fluttered, and 1000s of man-crushes across North London were readily admitted, screamed in excitement even, for this young German international.

His introduction immediately changed the game: Tottenham started playing at a higher tempo, harrying the opposition and finding space in amongst Norwich, and finally got the goal they were looking for. He was like an elegant concert pianist playing Chopin on speed such was his panache and energy, which dovetailed beautifully with Gareth Bale’s exquisite violin solo-like performance.

Tottenham earned the draw in the end from Gareth Bale’s wonderful solo effort but it was 22 year old, Lewis Holtby’s introduction – in which for many it was the first time seeing him – that left the fans salivating.

As they welcomed the blonde-haired, blue-eyed German with his boyish good looks, Tottenham also welcomed back intelligence, guile, and creativity. Everything that lacked from their game this season – the ability to unlock defences and up the tempo to try change the game.

His cameo drew teary reminders of Rafael Van der Vaart who’s passion and intelligence encapsulated Tottenham’s attacking play these last two years. The hole left by him and Luka Modric was a huge blow to Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas had to reshape the team’s attacking philosophy – bringing in Mousa Dembélé to partner the seemingly omnipresent Brazilian, Sandro, led to a more physical and stronger midfield.

This, however, was at the detriment of someone who could pass the ball in the middle, pull the strings and set the tempo.

A failed attempt to bring in AVB’s main transfer target, Joao Moutinho, in the summer, led to the January transfer window capture of Holtby. Originally signed as a Summer transfer to come at the end of his season when his contract expired, the injury to Sandro led to Levy parting with £1.5 million to bring him in now from Schalke.

And it was a brilliant bit of business: a young German international, captain of the Under 21s who has been playing top flight Bundesliga football and Champions League football for more than two years, a player who is versatile and has the potential to be a top class player, all for a measly £1.5 million. Andre Villas-Boas was equally impressed, telling the Daily Star:

“Is he bargain of the century? I think so because it is difficult to find a young player who is running his contract down and we faced tough competition.”

“He’s recognised as an exceptional young talent and we have high expectations of the player.”

As well as being able to play all across midfield and able to interchange with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, it’s tactically that makes this move the most interesting. Tottenham started the season at Newcastle playing last seasons 4-2-3-1 formation with Jermain Defoe playing upfront on his own.

When Emmanuel Adebayor regained fitness, he joined Defoe upfront and the formation changed into a conventional 4-4-2: Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon the wingers with a strong center in Mousa Dembélé and Sandro.

The addition of Lewis Holtby meant that against Newcastle at the weekend, with Adebayor on the bench having been at the African Cup of Nations, Holtby was deployed in the ‘Van der Vaart role’ playing in the hole of a 4-2-3-1.

With Gareth Bale able to operate on either wing and becoming a bigger force through the middle, Holtby has the ability to pull out wide to keep the balance of the team. An interchanging Bale, Holtby, and Lennon would be a nightmare for any opposition defence.

Next season, with Sandro back from injury, expect to see AVB gradually implementing his favoured 4-3-3 formation – a fluid midfield full of power, strength, work rate and technique.

Lewis Holtby will provide the intelligence and craft – the Moutinho that Villas-Boas so desperately wanted; Sandro, the tough-tackling athleticism; and Dembélé, an athletic almost box-to-box player able to open the field up through the elegant way he glides past players as if they weren’t there.

The tough competition for the signing of Holtby was rumoured to be from Arsenal, but in Jack Wilshere and Santi Carzorla, they have their own midfield pass-masters. It’s nice, though, if you ask any Tottenham fan, to get one over Arsenal, obviously: first the signing of Jan Vertonghen and now Lewis Holtby.

Tottenham will hope, with the addition of Holtby, this can transpose into something more than just signings.


Written by William Hold

Follow William on Twitter @liam17oi

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