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A case for Gylfi Sigurdsson to be starting for Spurs?

Gylfi Sigurdsson has had a slow start in a Spurs shirt since his arrival at the club. The Icelandic international hasn’t really impressed, with some fans wondering if his fantastic form last season at Swansea was merely a flash in the pan?

To be fair to Sigurdsson, he hasn’t been given a true chance in a system that suits his game at Spurs yet. He struggled out of the gate with two defensive midfielders behind him in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Then, just as Andre Villas-Boas switch to his preferred 4-3-3 with the arrival of Moussa Dembele, the Icelander found himself on the subs bench.

Clint Dempsey came in to the side and his work rate and bustling style have seen him maintain the role behind Jermain Defoe. Although the American brings his hard work and an eye for goal, is he what we need in the advanced midfielder role?

Mind the gap Gylfi

Gylfi Sigurdsson struggled in his first few games for Spurs, but he wasn’t helped by the use of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Playing with two defensive midfielders in Sandro and Jake Livermore meant that there was a gap between them and the Icelander trying to support Jermain Defoe.

In both his starts against Newcastle and Norwich, the gap between the three players was sizeable and this meant that the Icelander was largely ineffective.

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There was a gap between the Sandro (30) and Jake Livermore (29) at the base of the 4-2-3-1 and Gylfi Sigurdsson (22).

Gylfi Sigurdsson was used to playing as part of a midfield three at Swansea. Leon Britton was the defensive player, Joe Allen operated as the passer just in front of him, getting the ball to the Icelander in the inside right channel to pull the strings behind Danny Graham.

The arrival of Moussa Dembele at Spurs changed all that, as he allowed us to switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3. The Belgian acted as a bridge between Sandro at the base of the midfield and Gylfi Sigurdsson as the advanced player, demonstrated perfectly at Reading.

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Moussa Dembele bridges the gap to Gylfi Sigurdsson.

In Dembele’s first start away at the Madejski, it was noticeable how this was Gylfi’s best game. The Icelander was heavily involved in the first goal, finding Aaron Lennon with a peach of a pass; the nippy winger then cut the ball back to Jermain Defoe to open the scoring. Sigurdsson then should have notched one himself with the goal gaping after Defoe’s cutback following a Reading defensive error; but he saw his shot blocked on the line.

This was to be the high point for Gylfi Sigurdsson though. Just as it looked as if he was finding his feet in the new formation, he was hauled off at half time against QPR and has been reduced to a substitute since.

The case for Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey made his Spurs debut in a brief cameo in the match at Reading, but got his first start a week later on the left at home to QPR. Gylfi Sigurdsson was in the advanced midfield role for that game, but was substituted off at half time. Dempsey moved in to his position for the second 45 and Spurs looked a lot more balanced with the American here and Gareth Bale restored to his left-sided role.

Clint Dempsey provided two things that Gylfi Sigurdsson did not. Firstly, he drops off of the play a lot more than the Icelander to receive the ball deeper; secondly, he is an aerial threat. Dempsey has won 10 of 22 aerial duels this season, Sigurdsson just 1 of 11.

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Gylfi Sigurdsson in the first half, then Clint Dempsey in the second, played in the advanced midfielder role.

The Icelander operates between the lines like the number ten he is, whereas Dempsey demonstrates his hard work to cover more ground and get on the end of crosses in the box.

Jermain Defoe is not the archetypal striker to meet crossed balls, so having an aerial threat like Clint Dempsey is a good move for the team.

Gylfi Sigurdsson vs Clint Dempsey

The two players may represent different styles, but several things jump out when we compare them statistically. First of all we’ll look at them from an attacking and shooting perspective in the Premier League.

Clint DempseyGylfi Sigurdsson
Mins on pitch256 mins301 mins
Mins per pass received2.6 mins3 mins
Mins per pass received in final 3rd11.1 mins6.5 mins
Mins per pass received in penalty area23 mins21 mins
Mins per shot32 mins25 mins
Shooting accuracy37%25%
Premier League Goals10

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The first thing of note is that with Clint Dempsey dropping off deeper, he receives the ball more often. The American gets the ball every 2.6 minutes to the Icelander’s 3 minutes, which equates to an extra 5 touches of the ball per full match.

However, with Gylfi Sigurdsson playing in between the lines, he receives passes more frequently in the final third and also in the penalty area. This allows him to get a greater number of shots away, although Dempsey is more accurate.

If we take a look at their chance creation, we also get some good insight in to the way that each player operates in the advanced midfield role.

Clint DempseyGylfi Sigurdsson
Mins on pitch256 mins301 mins
Passing accuracy80%78%
Passing accuracy final 3rd62.5%84%
Mins per chance created85 mins 60 mins
Assists10

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Clint Dempsey is able to complete passes at 80%, which on the surface is better than Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 78%. However, when we look at the final third, the American’s passing accuracy nosedives to only 62.5%, whereas the Icelander’s increases to 84%.

This also has a knock-on effect to chance creation, with Gylfi Sigurdsson creating a goal-scoring opportunity every 60 minutes, to Dempsey’s 85 minutes.

Should Gylfi Sigurdsson be getting the start?

Right now, Clint Dempsey offers an aerial threat the Gylfi Sigurdsson does not. With Jermain Defoe up front, the American is a good foil to win headers from crosses and also clearances out of defence. Dempsey is quite often the target for Hugo Lloris or Brad Friedel in their kicked clearances downfield.

However, if Emmanuel Adebayor is installed in the team, then he provides this aerial presence we are lacking with Jermain Defoe. This means the role of the advanced midfielder changes to one who is working between the lines looking to not only score goals, but also create them. Gylfi Sigurdsson would be better at this seeing as he receives the ball more often higher up the pitch, gets shots away more frequently and creates a greater number of chances.

That doesn’t mean that Clint Dempsey would find himself out of the team. The American could be utilised on the right of the front three, cutting inside to support the central striker. This would leave Gareth Bale playing as the winger on the left, rather than his current role of coming inside to support Jermain Defoe.

Spurs in this 4-3-3 system would line-up like this:

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Where Gylfi Sigurdsson would fit in Spurs’ 4-3-3 formation.

Gylfi Sigurdsson would be able to operate in the role behind Emmanuel Adebayor and can move out in to the area vacated by Clint Dempsey when he comes inside.

When looking at ‘What Gylfi Sigurdsson brings to Spurs’ we saw how he liked to patrol the inside right channel whilst at Swansea, taking shots and creating chances. In a 4-3-3 formation with Clint Dempsey coming inside from the right, it allows him to do just that.

Gylfi Sigurdsson hasn’t hit the ground running like he did at Swansea, but the Icelandic international hasn’t been as bad as some people think.

He wasn’t able to settle in a 4-2-3-1 system with two defensive holding players, but did show promise when given the chance in a 4-3-3 at Reading.

He may have lost his role to Clint Dempsey in recent matches, but there is more than a case that in the right line-up, Gylfi Sigurdsson can excel.



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