Interview with Les Ferdinand by Ben Pearce covering the topic of holding midfielders. Read the full article here if you've not seen it yet. Some key quotes:
“I don’t like holding midfield players. I like players to understand that if one goes forward, the other one tucks in for them. I don’t want someone who just sits in front of the back four and doesn’t go anywhere, but that’s just my own personal view"
"....what we’ve done is produce a crop of players who don’t want to go over the halfway line, who don’t want to pass over the halfway line and are happy to just sit in front of the back four"
“Having played the game, I know that if you’re a right winger and you come back and sit on the toes of the full-back, he won’t push you on. He’s happy to have that protection"
“It’s the same all around the field. If you’ve got a player who defends - a player that will come and sit in front of you and make the centre forward’s life difficult - he’s happy to have that, rather than defend on his own.”
Easy to knee-jerk with this so I won't. Les along with Tim Sherwood and Chris Ramsey unlikely to be dismissing the defensive responsibilities midfielders retain during the course of the game. This is simply about the positional role and their movement and that having someone simply sit back and not move away from the space directly in front of the backline isn't a system that we seek to entertain.
The logic is for players to protect each other and their movement, 'tucking in' to make sure no gaps are left say when a move breaks down. The key is that we have players capable of interchanging if they're going to swap around.
We've seen it successfully achieved this season. Dembele can sit deep and defend and we all know we've not seen enough of him in the final third where he can glide effortlessly pass players (but probably isn't incisive enough his a killer ball). Sandro is obviously our quiesseiotnal classic holding midfielder, marshalling the depths of midfield and making sure nothing gets past him. That's not to say he's incapable of getting forward, bringing the ball out of midfield. He might not be as tidy as others with the execution but he's more than capable. Will probably score more goals if he's allowed to swap and sit back when appropriate.
Paulinho is box to box. So he fits the same template of this more dynamic midfield role our coaching staff want (as opposed to the static one that some have been given in the past).
So the crux of it is; Spurs are not seeking to retire defensive duties within any given system. We're just looking to be more robust, flexible. Depending on the opposing side and the pressure pushed into the midfield area, we need players than can adapt and complement each other. Having a player always holding back can be perceived as a waste of productivity if he's anchored into a defensive role.
Sir Les has hardly said anything controversial. The question you might want to ask is which of our midfielders will struggle covering box to box. Add Capoue and Holtby and also Bentaleb to the ones mentioned and all are more than capable - as all have displayed creative qualities along with being able to get stuck in - with varying degrees of success. Some are better with the defending than they are attacking.
Which begs the question - are we going to seek to change the midfield landscape to only have players that are excellent both in attack and defence rather than simply capable?
Still, would be naive to think that there will not be occasions when a deep defensive midfielder shouldn't stay deep to combat a major threat. Talking of which...Man City anyone?