Palacios answers the question: 'Yes he can'
The Panther Strikes
Fingers still pointed towards us with the suggestion that Wilson is yet another in-form player Spurs have signed on a knee-jerk reaction. Then he dominated Arsenals midfield in the NLD and any doubters shut their mouths and moved back into the shadows.
Wilson Palacios is nothing like Michael Carrick or Didier Zokora or Jermaine Jenas. There’s a bit of Davids in there with regards to intensity. There’s a bit of a lot of what’s been missing from our midfield.
He grafts, he gets the tackles in and hassles and bullies the opposition giving them little time to stick their foot on the ball and dictate play. He also knows when and where to commit fouls. Naughty but necessary at times when our backs are up against it. What type of midfielder is he? Why is it so important to tag him with a label? He’s a panther not a pussycat. That’s all that should matter.
Too many times we are left wanting in the centre of the park. Jenas is maligned because he runs forward with the ball and loses it and suddenly we are under pressure at the other end of the park. But it’s usually because the opposition stroll down the middle with impunity. Having Palacios – a player of his ilk – anchored in the area between defence and attack, waiting to pounce, gives balance and structure to the side. Which breeds confidence. Never happened with Zokora in the middle because he isn’t of the same assured standard. As discussed in Part I, Didier lacks discipline and a footballing brain. Wilson marshals his area which allows the likes of Modric to express himself creatively in the full knowledge that if the ball is lost, they still have to get through Wilson.
His best performance for us thus far was against Arsenal and also arguably against Chelsea's might (Ballack, Essien, Lampard). His distribution is not perfect by a long-shot. But his reliability is. And he’ll get better as the team improves. It’s simplicity really. He knows what his responsibility is and he does exactly what he has to do. Modric isn’t the only one to blossom. Jenas also looks better for it. There is absolutely no doubt that the money spent on him was worth it. We’ve actually signed a player that we required to help remove the deficiencies of the side.
As mentioned, he is not a Carrick type of player. But times have changed and our creative outlet comes from Luka and at the moment that’s from the left-hand side which means Jenas role is one of ambiguity as he can support Wilson in midfield and also make the most of his box-to-box traits by supporting both Luka and the forwards. For the first time this season, there is actual fluidity through the team as you’ll see Robbie Keane drop deep if need be to support the midfield and link-up play.
Players playing for each other. Its still early days still. And it's obvious the evolution has only just began. We've stuck our heads out from beneath the water and crawled out of the ocean and onto the beach.
Palacios in the middle and Lennon on the right are the only certainties (IMO), which means the midfield is yet to be set in stone. Modric, out on the left, might find himself central alongside Wilson – with a new left-winger (Downing?) taking over on the wing. Personally I’d stay clear of Downing. He’s a decent enough player but faith has to be placed on Gareth Bale who I think might have a future on the left side of midfield. It’s a risk, but no bigger than signing Stewart Downing. We’ve been burnt by the Bentley signing, and just don’t see how the Boro boy is worth the same amount of money, considering Bentley is only worth half of the price tag we paid for him (and he still hasn’t repaid a quarter of it out on the pitch).
Bentley can’t beat a man, neither can Downing. Their strengths are in their ability to cross a ball, and land it on the foot or head of a forward. But Downing is not that good (he's not right?) to warrant a massive fee and the usual dollop of over-whelming pressure that goes hand-in-hand with signing for Spurs. Bentley’s problems are more in his head than his feet at the moment, and although some would like to see him sold on, he should be given the chance next season to prove his worth. £16M for a bench-warmer (if that's as good as it gets for him) is oh so typical of us, and if that ends up being the case, then we may as well sell him. If he rediscovers his form then we have a player who can cross the ball. The problem is, if Lennon is fit, David won’t get near the team. But this is altogether another discussion for another article.
If Modric stays slotted into the left-hand side with the freedom to drift in-wards, then that means a possible target in the summer will be another brand spanking new central midfielder. If Modric and Lennon are the creative sparks then signing another imposing DM might be the answer. Again, I say ‘DM’ in the broadest sense. There are players who can tackle and play-make. Having someone alongside Wilson who is as strong mentally and physically, but with the added bonus of possessing a decent passing range, then we’ll be laughing.
Or maybe a Carrickesque type player who can provide defensive support, but also Hoddlesque passes. Palacios and Carrick, hmm. Try it out in FM2009 and let me know how it works out. I guess this would be a good time to mention the name of Huddlestone again. Shame oh shame the mobility is lacking for Tom.
So am I asking for the moon on a stick with regards to having two big, strong central midfield players bossing the centre-mid? Yes. Yes I am. Two brick walls are better than one. By having a midfield that's hard to break down and one that can own that part of the pitch is the basis for dominating matches.
That will mean that Zokora, Huddlestone and O’Hara will be nervously waiting on whether they have a future or not. Adel and Bostock are both potentially future first-teamers – so it’s obvious that another signing would open the exit door for two players at the very least.
In Part V I’ll look at the young pretenders to the midfield conundrum and a concluding analysis on who should play where and who needs to go.
What is certain is that Wilson Palacios is one of the pieces of the jigsaw. The piece right in the middle.