Are we seeing another tactical revolution at Spurs with the introduction of the central winger?
We’ve seen a lot of tactical looks since Tim Sherwood took over, but the latest involves the number ten position.
Many fans, myself included, believe the role is perfect for a player like Christian Eriksen, but Tim Sherwood has used it recently as one for a central winger.
This player doesn’t operate like a normal number ten, floating between the lines, looking to get in to the holes off a central striker and play incisive passes.
Instead, he picks up the opposition’s deepest midfielder in the defensive phase; when possession is regained, he drifts out to each wing. From here he is looking to create overloads with the wide player and full back on each side as we seek to cross the ball.
This has become a trend with both Aaron Lennon and Nacer Chadli given the role in recent matches in the Premier League and Europa League.
Aaron Lennon against Chelsea
Chelsea 4 Spurs 0 at Stamford Bridge was one of Sherwood’s most tinkering tactical set ups.
He used Kyle Walker as a right-sided midfielder, as two full backs were deployed on that side against Eden Hazard. Gylfi Sigurdsson started on the left with a brief to drift inside, whereas Aaron Lennon was handed the number ten role off Emmanuel Adebayor.
Lennon is a classic winger in every sense, loving the ball to feet so that he can gain speed and dribble past his opponent before crossing or cutting it back.
This is exactly what he did from his central starting position against Chelsea. He drifted out to both flanks in order to receive the ball, rarely taking any passes in the centre of the field as a classic number ten would.
This was done so that he would drag around or lose his marker, as he tried to get in to crossing positions from wide areas. Against a stubborn Chelsea defence, he only managed to attempt three crosses, all of which were unsuccessful.
On the right, Lennon was creating overloads with both Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton who held their width. On the left, as Lennon moved out, Gylfi Sigurdsson would move inside in the hope that this dovetailing would also confuse the defence and free the Icelander up.
Nacer Chadli against Arsenal
After the experiment at Chelsea, Nacer Chadli got the nod to play as a central winger against Arsenal. The Belgian is bigger physically and also possesses more strength to hold opponents off, whilst being an excellent dribbler.
Chadli did see more of the ball than Lennon, but still played the same role to move out in to wide areas to create overloads and cross in the final third.
He did receive the ball centrally around the halfway line, but rarely further forward in the classic number ten position floating between the lines.
This saw Nacer Chadli attempt a number of crosses and pull backs across the Arsenal penalty area from both sides.
Just as Lennon and Sigurdsson had dovetailed at Chelsea, Chadli’s outside movement saw Christian Eriksen try to drift inside from his starting position on the left.
Nacer Chadli against Benfica
Against Benfica, Nacer Chadli again started in the role, this time behind central striker Roberto Soldado.
Just as against Arsenal, he once more played as a central winger, as he moved out to each flank seeking to get either himself or others in a position to cross. Just as before, none of his passes were in the classic number ten position, where their is a huge patch of green space.
His opening goal came from being out on the left, as he cut inside to fire in at the near post.
Later he would pop up on the right, as he got in-behind down the flank and chipped a cross back for Harry Kane.
Nacer Chadli against Southampton
After his excellent performance in the Europa League match at Benfica, Nacer Chadli once more started in this role against Southampton.
Just as he had done against both Arsenal and Benfica, Chadli played as a central winger, drifting out to both flanks.
Again, he rarely received the ball between the lines in central areas, as he looked to get in-behind the full backs.
This allowed him to get in to crossing situations, especially from the right as he combined well with Aaron Lennon to get beyond Luke Shaw.
He played a major role in crossing the ball for our first goal. His movement out to the right overloaded this area and pulled centre back Dejan Lovren out of his position in the middle.
Nathaniel Clyne’s miscontrol of Chadli’s cross skewed the ball in to the path of Christian Eriksen who slotted home.
Chadli then drifted out to the right again to combine well with Lennon once more. This time he crossed for Soldado to lay the ball off perfectly in to Eriksen’s path. The Dane Skipped between two defenders but couldn’t beat Artur Boruc.
The movement of Chadli to drift out to either flank from his central starting position created numerous problems for Southampton, as he dragged their defenders around.
Is Tim Sherwood moving to a central winger?
With all his tinkering and moving various payers to different positions, Tim Sherwood seems to be favouring a central winger recently.
He’s used either Aaron Lennon or Nacer Chadli in the role in four of our last five matches in the Premier League and Europa League. When he has done so, Sherwood usually uses a passing player to drift inside as the central winger moves out, such as Eriksen or Sigurdsson, to fill the void created.
It’s an interesting tactic and one that is infrequently used.
Both Chadli and Lennon are not comfortable playing with their backs to goal, so are not a natural fit for playing centrally as a proper number ten.
As a central winger though, they can drift out to both flanks, rather than remaining on one side. This not only drags any markers or defenders out of position, but also overloads and creates chances to get behind the opposition in wide areas. It should also theoretically make a drifting playmaker from one side of midfield, such as the role Christian Eriksen has been playing, more difficult to mark.
Whether this is just more tinkering or a tactic that Tim Sherwood keeps faith with will remain to be seen.