Positional versatility, strength, power, ball recapture and a sprinkle of passing, Victor Wanyama will give Spurs increased options.
Victor Wanyama became the first summer signing for Mauricio Pochettino. Signing a 5-year deal, he is reunited with the manager that brought him to the Premier League. So, just what are we getting and what will he add to Spurs?
Dynamic defensive midfielder
Defensive midfield was a problem position last summer. Eric Dier was moved in to the role and the rest is history. Dier played in all but one Premier League games last season and he only missed that due to suspension. Help was needed. Victor Wanyama knows Pochettino’s system inside out, so can hit the ground running.
Mauricio Pochettino requires five things from his defensive midfield player.
1. Drop between the wide splitting centre backs.
2. Be a release valve for pass backwards to navigate any press.
3. Move the ball to the more attacking players, especially the full backs.
4. Screen the centre backs to regain possession.
5. Cover the full back zones when they have gone forward.
Victor Wanyama did all of this for Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton. When Ronald Koeman took over, he also needed a player with these characteristics.
Splitting the centre backs
Mauricio Pochettino requires his defensive midfielder to be a third centre back at times. This can be to bring the ball out to navigate pressure.
It can also be to help the defence to cover the centre backs if they are caught out of position. We regularly see Eric Dier dropping in to aid either centre back that has been caught up the field or out in a wider area.
It’s a simple enough part of the role to do, but requires a player who is savvy enough to recognise danger. This can be either from a defensive standpoint to read the game and what is happening. It is also a case when on the ball to know when the press is closing in and where the out pass is to navigate it.
Victor Wanyama has great experience of doing this. He has not only played as a defensive midfielder, but also operated as a centre back. This aids his awareness and decision-making to identify and snuff out danger. It also gives us the option of using him in the back line as a rotation option or during an injury crisis.
Players with positional flexibility seem to be something Mauricio Pochettino is looking at more this season. Victor Wanyama definitely fits this mould. He is at his most natural in the defensive midfield position, but he also occasionally played as a centre back when at Celtic. Not just limited to these positions, Wanyama played further forward when alongside Oriol Romeu at Southampton, indicating that he could also provide cover for Mousa Dembele.
The defensive midfielder is also a release valve in Mauricio Pochettino’s system. The ball will often go backwards to him in order for it to go forwards or to be circulated out to the full backs.
Take one of Victor Wanyama’s games for Mauricio Pochettino against Fulham. We can see how he drops in to receive possession from the goalkeeper and centre backs, but then the ball is often passed backwards in to him.
This allows him to move the ball to the more attacking players, especially the full backs.
Wanyama moving the ball
Known for his strength and ball recovery, passing is a very underrated part of Victor Wanyama’s game. He has the ability to move the ball quickly from side to side to get it out to the flanks. This is where the full backs are often motoring forward, a large part of Mauricio Pochettino’s offensive strategy.
Wanyama was tasked with keeping the ball moving, often over distance, for both Pochettino and Ronald Koeman when at Southampton.
Take his introduction at half time against Liverpool. Entering the fold down 2-0, Wanyama swung the game with his ball recovery and distribution to get it wide quickly. He trawled the middle third of the pitch, shifting play, often over distance, out to both flanks.
Playing the full 90 minutes at Old Trafford, he was also a large factor in Southampton’s 1-0 win. Again Wanyama moved the ball out wide, most notably down the right. This is where their winner would come from as James Ward-Prowse crossed for Charlie Austin.
He also looked for a couple of quick vertical passes forward. This is notable as we often see Eric Dier looking for a chipped pass over the top for a runner cutting in from the flank.
Victor Wanyama will need to continue to keep moving the ball like this. Mauricio Pochettino likes to create chances through the inside channels, but it starts with the ball often going out and through the full backs before returning inside.
The accurate vertical chip pass is something that will have to become an increasing part of his game. He can execute it, but it will require work on the practice field.
Screen and cover
Victor Wanyama’s biggest asset is his ability to recover possession. His size, strength and power see him force others off the ball and regain it. He doesn’t have great pace over distance, but does have a good scamper speed that sees him anticipate well across short areas.
Mauricio Pochettino requires his defensive midfielder to not only screen his centre backs, but to also be comfortable covering the zones the full backs vacate. Victor Wanyama did this for our manager when they were at Southampton, but also for Ronald Koeman when he was in charge. Ryan Bertrand and Cuco Martina/Cedric Soares were highly attack-minded for the Dutch coach and Wanyama had to cover them.
In Southampton’s 1-0 win over Man Utd at Old Trafford, we can see how Wanyama tackles and intercepts through the middle of the pitch. He also covered Cuco Martina well out on the right.
Ball recovery and being comfortable when dragged out towards the sidelines is the main reason why Victor Wanyama was a target. He should step right in nicely.
Victor Wanyama concerns
There are a couple of concerns with Victor Wanyama coming in.
The first is his leaping ability. Wanyama doesn’t have the greatest hops in the business and this sees him struggle to get height.
It hurts him at set pieces. This is a situation where we often see Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld attacking the ball, out-leaping their markers and scoring goals.
It also hurts him in defensive situations. He is strong and doesn’t get out-muscled, but he can be out-jumped. Wanyama won just 49% of his aerial duels last season. This is down on Eric Dier with a 57% win percentage, Jan Vertonghen (59%) and Toby Alderweireld (60%). Maybe increasing vertical explosiveness should be in Wanyama’s gym routine?
The other concern is that Wanyama was sometimes sloppy and out of position at times last season. Three red cards, when his previous one was when he was at Celtic, highlighted some of his reckless play.
Maybe his head was out of the door having wanted a move and been linked with us last summer? But Wanyama cannot carry that over here. We do foul a lot with Mauricio Pochettino’s aggressive form of ball recapture and we have to keep all eleven men on the field. His initial comments about being motivated and wanting to win trophies was encouraging, allaying the fears that these were just glitches confined to last season.
What Victor Wanyama adds to Spurs
Victor Wanyama knows the Premier League and Mauricio Pochettino’s system, so he will fit right in.
Defensive midfield is an area we need more options for and Wanyama will supply that. His ability to drop into the back line to bring the ball out is excellent. Being able to help cover his centre backs will be invaluable. His passing of the ball to move it quickly out wide is an underrated part of his game that often goes unnoticed.
His positional versatility is also a big factor in his recruitment. Able to play centre back, defensive midfield or even as a number eight, will see him offer cover in times of need.
If we get the Victor Wanyama that Mauricio Pochettino previously coached, and cuts last season’s red cards out, then we have another excellent option in midfield.