Lewis Holtby going on loan to Fulham was our only piece of business in the January transfer window.
The German arrived from Schalke as the creative piece of the puzzle that we were lacking at the time for the number ten position. Andre Villas-Boas had used scoring players behind the striker in Clint Dempsey and Gareth Bale, but now had the passer that he wanted. So much so, that we moved to bring him in 5 months early for £1.5 million rather than on a free transfer in the summer.
Coming in to a new league, in a new country, with a new team mid-season, naturally saw Holtby take time to settle. We have had some fleeting glimpses of what his game is all about though; incisive vertical passes.
These can be played along the floor or lobbed over the top, but are designed to move the ball through levels of a defence to catch them off guard and create scoring chances.
This is something we’ve seen him do in sporadic starts for Spurs, but with regular game time in South West London, he is now highlighting for Fulham.
Lewis Holtby vertical passing for Spurs
Lewis Holtby has struggled for game time other than in the Europa League and Capital One Cup this season. In these competitions, he has shown his ability to create for others by moving the ball vertically up the pitch through the defence.
In the Capital One Cup tie with Aston Villa, he pulled off arguably our pass of the season so far, as he lobbed the ball beautifully in to the path of Jermain Defoe.
This took out the Villa midfield, which was left stationery in front of him, whilst the defence was completely flat-footed.
He’s also done it in the Europa League.
Away at Anzhi, he found Defoe once again with an excellently weighted pass from in front of the midfield that pierced the defensive line.
Whilst Tromso’s midfield and defence were also left helpless by a north-south pass in their 3-0 defeat at the Lane.
Lewis Holtby seemed to have struck up a relationship with Jermain Defoe. However, he never really got the chance to foster a partnership with Roberto Soldado or now Emmanuel Adebayor.
Lewis Holtby vertical passing for Fulham
Lewis Holtby going on loan to Fulham has already seen him carve open opposition defences with his ability to pass vertically.
In his first match against Southampton, he was deployed on the right of a 4-3-3. His intent to get the ball through the inside channels to Darren Bent was clear, even though largely unsuccessful.
His second game for the Cottagers saw a tough trip to Old Trafford, but it allowed Lewis Holtby to fashion a goal with another decisive vertical pass.
His target this time was Steve Sidwell, but the lobbed ball to take the midfield and defence out of the game was remarkably similar to his pass at Aston Villa.
His third start for Fulham saw him try a similar pass as the Cottagers tried to get an early goal against Liverpool. Holtby’s short, chipped ball over the top in to Darren Bent’s path saw them earn a corner. However, his intent to move the ball vertically and take two levels of defence out of the game was clear.
Moments later he was heavily involved in Fulham’s opening goal. He received the ball out on the left and then played an incisive vertical pass that left four Liverpool players flat-footed, putting Kieran Richardson in.
Richardson’s cut back saw Kolo Toure shank the ball in his own net, but the move was largely created by Lewis Holtby moving the ball north-south.
Lewis Holtby highlighting his game
Whilst Lewis Holtby hasn’t made the impact we’d hoped for so far at Spurs, he did highlight his ability to move the ball through defences to create scoring chances. The fact that he didn’t get more game time this season in the Premier League when the team was constantly passing sideways remains a bit of a mystery.
This is now something he is showing he can do in his brief spell on loan with Fulham and an asset that more secure game time will see develop.
Holtby is clearly behind Christian Eriksen when it comes to the pecking order of lock pickers in the team, but he offers something slightly different to the Dane.
Eriksen is more of a direct dribbling player who has an eye for a pass, but he also has a much better shot. Whereas Holtby has more of a feel for playing these incisive vertical passes through defences. The proposition of the pair combining against teams that sit deep looking to deny any space is an enticing one.
Loaning out Lewis Holtby may well be with a view to putting him in the shop window. It could also see him make strides to finally get used to the Premier League with some regular game time, before coming back to the Lane and competing for a place. What it is doing is highlighting his natural game to play incisive vertical passes that open teams up and leave defenders flat-footed.
Very interesting. The lack of incisive through balls has been a feature of our play since Harry left. Hopefully Holtby will be back. Isn’t part of our problem a lack of movement? If you don’t have players making the runs it’s hard to make these sort of passes.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
It is a two-way street, but Soldado particularly, and also Adebayor, do make the kind of runs that would profit.
More great work Mark. I don’t think Soldado has the pace to give the movement Holtby needs to play those lofted passes, nor as the earlier poster intimated do we have the players who make runs beyond the striker like Nasri used to against us when Fabregas was playing those similar passes for La Arsena.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good points Shubes. For me, it’s not about pace, it’s about starting position and movement. If you watch Soldado when the ball enters the final third, his initial movement is always towards the goal and he’s looking for something to be played early. When that quick pass doesn’t come (which has been for much of the season), then he comes back towards the ball and you get to see his link play which actually has been quite good.
Watch Chadli’s goal to make it 4-0 against Newcastle, how Soldado is involved in the initial build up and then after he gives the ball to Bentaleb how he goes straight towards the area and signals that he wants it.
Mark, this is a good point regarding Soldado. He often makes the movement, but the ball through is just not there. On occasion in the Europa, through balls have been played and he has taken the chances – but these I thnk were balls from Lamela rather than Holtby.
For me Holtby has always showed that he will work hard for the team. We haven’t seen him play enough or in the right position to see if he could play such incisive balls for us. Is there a spot in the team for him? I’m not sure. Erikkson didn’t play in midweek (injured) so he isn’t guaranteed a position either. I think if either is to play they need to be through the middle so someone else out of Dembele or Paulinho has to drop out. Or a change in formation is needed, perhaps off of Adebayor?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Good questions Vimjonk. I don’t think he plays every game as i see him mostly being Eriksen’s back-up. However, you never have a full squad available, so with injuries, rest and rotation i see him getting a decent chance, especially if we are competing in 4 competions. He benefits the side as he can play as a number ten, but also deeper. In some games we may want to get two creative passing players on to play against teams that defend deep, so he is also a tactical sub as well.