Tom Huddlestone is set to go on loan to Stoke and it prompted a lot of reaction from Spurs fans across the web. Many Supporters weren’t happy that one of our best passers was being allowed to go to another team for the season without significant cover.
The move however, allows Huddlestone to gain some much needed game-time after just 184 minutes on pitch last season. It also puts him in the shop window for potential buyers, as Andre Villas-Boas clears out the players who don’t fit in with his system and his style of play.
Tom Huddlestone does not fit in with AVB’s style of play for Spurs for one reason. The manager’s central midfield playmaker, whether a deep lying ‘Regista’ in a 4-2-3-1, or the midfield hub in his 4-3-3, has to be a short, quick passer, who keeps the rhythm ticking over. Tom Huddlestone has an eye for a pass, but he pings the ball around over distances and this is not the Villas-Boas way.
The new boss likes to play possession football, whereby we probe the opposition looking to wear them down and find ways to expose them. Whilst in charge at Chelsea, Villas-Boas had them as the top possession side in the Premier League last season. His brand of keep ball, then forcing the opposition to turn it over by pressing them high up the park is coming to White Hart Lane.
What AVB wants from Tom Huddlestone?
If we take a look at Tom Huddlestone passing the ball, we can see why he doesn’t fit in to Andre Villas-Boas’s plans. If we compare him in a minute to a player like Luka Modric, whom AVB he tried to sign to be his playmaker at Chelsea, we can see the kind of player the manager is looking for.
At Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas signed Raul Meireles after failing to land Luka, but his role was still the same. Meireles was tasked with taking the ball from the goalkeeper and defenders, then to distribute it around the attacking players with short, quick passing.
If we look at one of Meireles’ first games at Chelsea under Villas-Boas, we can see the mobility he had to show through the formation from where he receives the ball.
The Portuguese international then distributes the ball through the midfield with short, quick, incisive passes to give and go with the attacking players. Meireles played 60 passes in the game against Bolton, of which 59 were classified by Stats Zone as short and just one long.
If we compare that to how Tom Huddlestone plays at Spurs, we can see what Andre Villas-Boas is looking for.
If we go back to his last good run in the side in 2010 and compare it to Meireles and how Luka Modric, AVB’s preferred choice when at Chelsea, we can see what the manager wants.
Tom Huddlestone mobility
As we saw from the example with Raul Meireles, Andre Villas-Boas requires a player who can move through the formation distributing the ball with short passes.
If we look at the game between Spurs and Fulham in 2010 where Spurs won 2-1, we can see that Tom Huddlestone operates in a smaller area on the pitch. He receives the ball within 20 yards of the centre circle, being more a hub for passes back from the advanced players, rather than forward from the defensive ones.
Harry Redknapp played a 4-2-3-1 system on the day, not too dissimilar to AVB’s current set up at Spurs. Playing alongside a more defensive player in Sandro at the base of the midfield, he should be covering more ground. If, or even when, Andre Villas-Boas has the players to switch to his 4-3-3, then Tom Huddlestone would have to be more mobile.
Luka Modric started out on the left of the formation in that match, but he covers a greater area of the pitch, receiving much shorter, give and go style passes.
If we also look at the game with Sunderland a few weeks later, we can see similar things happening.
Luka Modric is again playing from the left in a 4-2-3-1, but covers more ground than Huddlestone, who operates 20 yards either side of the halfway line again.
Tom Huddlestone passing
Andre Villas-Boas requires a short, quick passing, incisive midfielder to operate from the base of his current 4-2-3-1, or to be the hub of his 4-3-3.
If we look at the passing of Tom Huddlestone, compared to the above example of Meireles and also to Modric, we can see why AVB doesn’t have him in his plans.
Raul Meireles played a very high percentage of his passes short and that is what Villas-Boas is looking for.
If we go back to the Fulham match in 2010 again, we can see that Tom Huddlestone attempts 49 passes in the match, of which 10 are long balls. That’s 20% of his total passes in the game or 1 in 5.
The lines of his short passes are still quite long, highlighting Huddlestone’s propensity to ping the ball around rather than play shorter tiki-taka style passes.
Compare that to Luka Modric’s passing from the same game. The Croatian plays just one long ball, but the lines of his shorter passes are much more in keeping with the quick, incisive passing that Andre Villas-Boas wants.
If we also look at the Sunderland game, we can see the same trend happening.
Tom Huddlestone plays 44 passes in the match, but again the lines on his short ones are quite long, highlighting his nature to ping the ball around over distance.
He also attempts 9 long balls (20% of total passes), of which seven are successful, but this is not what Andre Villas-Boas wants.
Luka Modric on the other hand plays an even greater 56 passes from his position on the left of the midfield. His passes are a lot shorter in nature and cover more of the field.
He does attempt 5 long balls (11%), which is a high number for him, but three of these came in the second half as Spurs were chasing a winning goal. His overall percentage of long balls in the game is still half of Huddlestone’s 20% average.
The manager wants a player who can cover the ground to take it from the goalkeeper and defenders through to the advanced players.
He wants someone who can play short, quick, incisive passes to move the ball and retain possession in order to probe and tire the opposition.
Andre Villas-Boas tried to get Luka Modric to play this role for him whilst in charge at Chelsea. If he could somehow retain the services of the Croatian this season, we would have the perfect player for this role.
Unfortunately for Tom Huddlestone, while he is able to pass the ball, his style of pinging it over greater distances is not what Andre Villas-Boas is after for this position.