The Magnificent Moddle: The little man on the left
So here we are, at journeys end. Although it's more of a beginning than a conclusion as the Spurs midfield is bound to go through another change or two cometh the summer months and the usual giddy transfer shenanigans that we never seem to go without. No knee-jerking please Mr Levy.
From Part 1 through to Part V - I looked at the current set of central midfielders at the club and attempted to dissect the conundrum: Who should sit in the middle?
Palacios is the only 100% certainty. Jenas the current preferred choice alongside him. Which leaves Zokora, Huddlestone and O'Hara on the bench. Taarabt, on loan at Q.P.R., is a player who I would like to see ahead of all the three just mentioned in a creative capacity from next season.
So Palacios remains the anchor in midfield. The player tasked to do the dirty work, get the tackles in, protect the back four and allow other players the freedom of expression. He gives us some much needed breathing space and confidence in that other players don't have to worry too much if they happen to lose the ball in an offensive position as Wilson will be there to fix it. A defensive/holding midfielder is one that's been lacking for a while. Zokora simply doesn't excel in the acquired abilities needed to boss the midfield. Great athlete, limp footballing brain. Wilson does not have the passing range of a Carrick, but although both have similar responsibilities - both go about their business with completely different methods. In fact, they are nothing alike. But either system works. I will try to avoid going over old ground, so feel free to read up on the previous parts for a more detailed analysis on specific players and their attributes.
What has to be asked is who gets paired up with Wilson in central midfield? It's a simple answer to the final question of this series, but one with some minor complications. Here's why the conundrum isn't quite solved just yet:
We haven't had one for an age. Ironic that we've struggled to sign players for these two key positions (DM being the other) or simply got it wrong with the players we did sign. We've failed to find the right player for the left. And then we go out and buy a right player (David Bentley for £15M ) when we've already got Aaron Lennon - plain ridiculous - more so when Aaron retained his right-wing place and Bentley was slotted out on the left - which didn't help his already fragile confidence. Only Spurs, eh?
So with Wilson in the middle, with the players available, the best option (which Harry finds agreeable) is to have Jermaine Jenas partner him and play Luka Modric on the left.
I've not discussed Modric in detail yet during the course of this series. Best to leave the jewel of the crown till the end, and as we're at the end, here goes...
Modric, ideally, would prefer to play in the middle of the park with Palacios. It's a more natural position for him to be central. Add to the mix a defensive/offensive combination with Lennon out on the right and XXXXX (please God, not Downing) on the left and the balance would be unquestionable in comparison to some of the sides we've put out over the past couple of seasons. But as we do not have a left-winger, and we can't say for sure if we will be purchasing one (although if Boro go down, expect IT to happen) the logical option would be to have Modric out on the left-hand side. He is more than capable there.
What this does is change is the dynamic of the midfield in comparison to how it would work if Modric was in the middle of the park with Wilson - which is what most want to see. Having Jenas out on the left as an alternative? Hush. So the dynamics? Let me explain...
Palacios remains the anchor, but having Jenas in the middle gives us a player with an abundance of energy who can run box to box and defend and attack. It's almost a ying to a yang. One player inhales (Wilson) the other exhales (JJ). The role of Jenas is adaptable depending on the tempo of the game. In an ideal world its perfect, but we know that Jenas is erratic and lacks self-belief to turn potential to product. But for now - out of all the options we have for that position, its best to have JJ there.
The other options, you'd shrug at in a second.
Zokora in the middle with Palacios? That would be like having a litter-bug following a road-sweeper around.
Huddlestone? Wilson would need to clone himself to help compensate for Toms weaknesses.
O'Hara? Nope. Decent late sub for a couple of positions, but not an option alongside Wilson.
So, Jenas it is. Which means Modric - who isn't a natural left-winger - can (still) play on the left but with the twist of drifting in and dictating play. Jenas, adapting to the game at hand, will work with Palacios to make sure the midfield is protected and the opposition hassled while Modric drifts in and does what he does best. Play incisive balls, create and orchestrate. At times this requires JJ to be instinctive in his responsibility for the team. Allow me to place my fantasy-hat on my head. Now, take JJ out of the equation and imagine Essien alongside Palacios. Or Gerrard. Imagine the difference and impact this would have? Fantasy-hat off, the reality is somewhat rooted to the ground rather than floating up in the sky. JJ is neither one or the other but on form, he has enough about him to cover the ground and participate rather than be a passenger. He has a chance to really shine now, before the summer arrives and decisions are made. For now he is the best player we have who can support Wilson in the current midfield set-up.
What does this mean for the team, and in particular Luka? In essence, Palacios and Jenas are there to make sure Modric has the freedom to play football. It's a pretty simplistic viewpoint I know. A generalisation based on the fact that Luka is out on the left and has far too much talent to be stuck there - and the emphasis has to be to get the little Croatian involved as much as possible, on his terms. If the middle two do their job well, then it will snow rainbows. If it doesn't, expect a heavy downpour of misery. Which is why Jenas is perceived as the weak link. Stronger player, and we wouldn't worry so much,
If Jenas excels, maybe we won't look to change the system and purchase a left-winger. Maybe drifting in from the left will suit Luka in the long run. But its doubtful. The little man can handle himself just fine so sitting in the middle of the park and getting stuck in won't be too much of an issue for him. He took time to adjust to the English game, not helped by our woeful form and lack of structure. And he'll improve further in a consistent winning side (something Harry has began to flirt with in recent games). A base of operations is far more prominent from the centre than out on the wing. Although it's in no way a disadvantage. It's not quite a free-role in the purest sense of the term, but it's tricky for the opposition to mark a player who darts and dinks inwards.
Modric is showing glimpses of form that warms the cockles. A little bit of Ossie, a little bit of Hoddle. In truth its just a little bit of flair and creative output we love down at the Lane. It's an imperative ingredient for any team that displays comfort when unlocking the oppositions defence. Luka has a skeleton key.
Berbatov gave us that something special before he moved to pastures new to look after orphaned squirrels, and Keane can provide sparks - but we have needed a constant pipeline of passing for some time and in Luka we have that. Whether its down the middle or on the left-hand side - he can provide the magic.
Luka has vision, great touch, superb passing ability and can score the odd goal (not enough, but I expect him to hit the back of the net more often from next season). All the 'he's too weak for the Prem' nonsense was exactly that. He has fight in him. Might not look like he does, but he does.
Obviously the problem we might have is when Modric or Palacios or the both of them do not play. Which is why it's important that Adel Taarabt's development is made a priority. Harry called him a genius, and I'm holding out he was talking about football and not a reference to comedy. Zokora and O'Hara will have to do in any possible absence of Wilson from the starting line-up. Bostock is a couple of seasons away from the first team (at a guess).
So as things stand - Wilson and Luka are dead certs for the starting eleven. Jenas third in line. Three 'central' midfielders then. And Lennon guaranteed the freedom of the right-side of midfield (where this leaves Bentley, other than sitting on the bench, is up for debate).
The Fab Four. Modric Palacios Jenas Lennon.
Might seem unbalanced but its far from being so. It's not perfect, but it works. It works because the players play for each other. Everyone has a responsibility. It's a unit.
What happens next is dependent on who slaps in a transfer request in the summer and what we do to replace them? We have some useful kids in the academy and reserves. Do some of them get promoted early? Or do we look for more experienced players to come in to play back-up? We'd need to, if say Huddlestone and Zokora go. Jenas might walk if we draft in another central midfielder. And if that happens, then Luka and leftism will have to rule supreme.
Whatever Harry decides it has to be strategic, tactical. It has to either provide depth to the squad or improve the midfield. We have a tradition of just buying players without a thought-process behind what that player will do to the equilibrium of the side. Just to reiterate, the only two positions that should be considered for evaluation is where Modric and Jenas play.
Either both stay where they are and we sign squad players or we shift Modric into the middle and purchase ourselves a left-winger. Or we keep Luka on the left and buy us a more complete and established all-round central midfielder to partner Palacios.
So the conundrum has evolved a little, but remains with us. The question that now requires answering is simply.............Do we need a left-winger?