We’d already agreed to bring in Lewis Holtby on a free transfer in the summer, but Daniel Levy made the move to pay £1.5 million for his services now. Injury to Sandro and the continued struggles of Gylfi Sigurdsson, combined with a continued push for Champions League football, forced the Chairman’s hand.
So what will Lewis Holtby bring to Spurs and how does he fit in to the plans of Andre Villas-Boas?
Lewis Holtby the vertical passer
Lewis Holtby is more of a natural number 10 than either Gylfi Sigurdsson or Clint Dempsey.
Sigurdsson prefers to play down the inside right channel, rather than being stretched across the width of pitch in a pure playmaker role. He worked the right-hand channel at Swansea and that was the reason for his success in South Wales. If you want to check out more about that, then you can read my post on “What Gylfi Sigurdsson brings to Spurs.”
Clint Dempsey has grown in to the role of playing off a number 9. He has weighed in with a number of goals recently, as he is starting to prove his worth. However, he still struggles with his passing, especially when playing vertical, attacking balls. I looked at this in the post “One thing Clint Dempsey still needs to work on.”
Lewis Holtby on the other hand is a highly talented, vertical passer. He has the ability to play through balls and also quite often looks for a give-and-go pass, then darts towards the penalty area.
If we look at a couple of his recent games from Schalke, we can see the nature of his aggressive vertical passing, which is present across the width of the pitch. Even the passes he fails to complete are still played forward toward the area with purpose.
Against Hannover, the game turned out to be a shootout, as Schalke won 5-4, but Lewis Holtby created three chances, all from diagonal passes in to the area. This is what Andre Villas-Boas is looking for; someone that can play passes through a defence to create chances for runners on the other side.
The week before, Schalke played Freiburg and once again, we can see the vertical nature of the passing of Lewis Holtby.
He created three chances this time as well, but once more his passing in the final third is forward and with purpose. Even the passes that didn’t find their intended target are aggressive in nature, which is what Andre Villas-Boas wants.
Lewis Holtby the goalscorer
Lewis Holtby is not just a passing threat, defences have to respect his ability to shoot as well.
He has four goals so far this season in the Bundesliga, as he takes on average 1.6 shots per game, but he is accurate, hitting the target with just under half.
He is both a threat to get in to the area to shoot; as he likes to play give-and-go passes, starting outside the box, then looking for a return inside. He is equally dangerous to fire a strike from outside the area, which is usually a driven or curling effort towards the left side of the goal.
Lewis Holtby the dribbler
Lewis Holtby is also able to slip past defenders with quick shuffles of his body and feet. He has a low centre of gravity that helps him slalom in and out of challenges and appear on the other side with the ball.
His dribbling ability allows him to get free of defenders, but when combined with Moussa Dembele, who is more of a vertical slasher with his dribbles i.e. goes forward with purpose rather than just to evade challenges, it gives AVB a fluid midfield.
The combination of the two means that Dembele can drive the ball forward with his purposeful runs and then deliver to Holtby who can evade tacklers and provide through balls.
What’s more, they can also interchange positions, which is an integral part of AVB’s midfield triangle in order to catch the opposition off guard. Runners and dribblers can hit the opposition from all areas, a key component in his use of Fernando, Belluschi and Moutinho at Porto.
When we’re not in possession the inter-changeability of the pair means that the team is not “off balance and caught in transition with players out of position.”
This rotation is key to the midfield, as Andre Villas-Boas describes in the book ” Special Too” as both players are adept defensively.
Lewis Holtby makes tackles, but does foul
Lewis Holtby is not just a passer and will bring an added defensive presence to the number 10 position.
He is able to make tackles and also intercept the ball by getting in to opposition passing lanes. Although he is able to win the ball back for his side, his over-zealousness can see him foul quite often.
In the Bundesliga this season, he has made 47 tackles, but he has also committed 33 fouls due to his sometimes-impetuous nature to regain possession.
The fact that he can be counted on defensively and plays with energy though, means that he is able to help press from the front, which is what Andre Villas-Boas is looking for. He can also switch positions with the other midfielders, so we’re not caught off-guard without the ball.
Lewis Holtby – the answer?
Lewis Holtby is creative, can pass and shoot, but he is also versatile and that is the key to his signing for Spurs.
He can be used as a trequartista behind a central striker, or can play in a central midfield role, as he is able to make tackles and intercept the ball.
The most important part of his game is his ability to make vertical, defence-splitting passes. However, he can also be relied upon to drop in and rotate with the other midfielders, so we are not caught off balance if we loose the ball.
It will take time for him to settle in, get used to his new team mates and Andre Villas-Boas’ style of play.
“As soon as I saw the facilities, the crowd and spoke to Andre, I just knew I wanted to be here”
If Lewis Holtby can settle in to the team and quickly adjust to the Premier League between now and the end of the season, £1.5 million may be a small price to pay for Champions League football.