Lewis Holtby arrived at White Hart Lane and was expected to fill the creative void behind a central striker. After making his debut only days later at Norwich, the German international has had to be content with a place on the bench recently.
If one thing was highlighted in our loss to Fulham at the Lane on Sunday, it was the need for a passing number ten to unlock a stubborn defence. The Cottagers sat back, condensing the space between the lines, packing the middle of the park and were difficult to break down.
We’ve had difficulty opening up teams who have backed off at the Lane, so could Lewis Holtby be the answer?
Lewis Holtby for Schalke
Lewis Holtby started this season in the blue of Schalke. He was deployed as a number ten behind Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in their 4-2-3-1 formation and led the team in assists in both the Bundesliga and Champions League.
He was very much a vertical passer, who looked to get his striker in through the channels. If we take a look at two games just before he left, we can see just that.
Against Hannover he moves across the width of the pitch, but most of his passes are forwards. He plays in several balls down the channels in to the penalty area, with the inside left being particularly prosperous with two chance-creating key passes. These turned in to goals for Julian Draxler and Marco Hoger.
A couple of matches earlier against Freiburg, he was at it once more, but creating through the inside right channel this time. The vertical nature of his passing was again prevalent as he created a goal for Jefferson Farfan, who was cutting inside from his position on the right.
Overall, Lewis Holtby had 7 assists in 19 Bundesliga matches for Schalke this season, whilst also scoring 4 goals.
Lewis Holtby for Spurs
After signing Lewis Holtby for Spurs, Andre Villas-Boas hailed him as “the bargain of the century,” lofty praise indeed. He also said that he would “fill the No.10 position, although he can play on the right or the left and he has also played in a holding role.”
Since his arrival at the Lane, Lewis Holtby has been used across the midfield on both the right and left sides, but very infrequently as a number ten.
It’s had a major effect on his game, making him less creative and also less adept at winning the ball back, one of his strengths in Germany.
|Shots per game
|Key passes per game
|Dribbles per game
|Tackles per game
|Interceptions per game
Whilst he is still averaging 1.6 shots per game in his brief time at Spurs, Lewis Holtby is only half as creative.
For Schalke he was creating 1.5 chances per game, whereas for us he is only making 0.8 opportunities per match.
Being played wide more often than not, his ability to win the ball back is also not being utilised to the fullest. For Schalke, he was making 2.5 successful tackles per game and 0.8 interceptions, whereas his numbers for Spurs are half of these figures.
The biggest fall off though is in successful dribbles per game.
Lewis Holtby is not a vertical driving dribbler like Moussa Dembele. The German uses his skills on the ball to evade defenders as he buzzes around the pitch, creating time and space for himself to pick a pass. It is this skill which is probbaly being utilised the least by playing him in wider areas.
Time for Lewis Holtby to get a chance as a number ten?
When he was signed in January, Lewis Holtby was supposed to be the creative spark that would set our strikers alight. Instead he’s been shifted around the midfield and he’s looked half the player he was in Germany.
Gareth Bale has been playing as the number ten in recent matches and whilst he is a more of a direct dribbler, Lewis Holtby is able to open up defences with his passing.
It is this that we were missing on Sunday for much of the match against Fulham. Someone who could create time and space in congested areas, then pick a pass to unlock the opposition.
He’s proved that he could do it in the Bundesliga and after having his transfer brought forward, should be given the chance to prove himself here.