Midfielder’s inclusion central to Tottenham’s success

Tottenham have won four of the five matches in which Oliver Skipp has started, a promising theme for a team in search of consistency. 

Skipp was at his industrious best against Villa on Sunday. The Englishman plays a no nonsense, tenacious and relentless brand of football. While his personal stats (just two tackles, two clearances and an interception) in the win over Villa were by no means awe inspiring, Skipp took care of the intangibles and was positionally sound.

His reliability on the defensive side of the ball allowed Pierre Hojberg, who scored Spurs opener and was a candidate for man of the match, the ability to advance into an offensive role more freely.

Critics of starting both defensive minded players in the same team will say it sets Tottenham up too negatively. They’ll say there’s no need for two holding defensive midfielders in the starting 11, especially at home against sides perceived to be of an inferior quality.

But Spurs recent poor defensive record, in which they conceded nine goals in three matches, forced Nuno’s hand, making his decision to play both Skipp and Hojberg an incredibly easy one.

Skipp cracked the starting 11 in the first four matches of the campaign, which saw Spurs win the first three without conceding a goal. The wheels fell off for Skipp and Spurs against Crystal Palace, a match that was particularly harsh on Nuno’s side, who were hit hard by the injury bug in the lead up to the derby.

That lopsided loss — in which Japhet Tanganga was sent off in the 58th minute — was close up until the final six minutes. Tottenham trailed by just a goal before Palace debutant Odsonne Édouard bagged a brace after his late introduction.

Nuno, devoid of an abundance of options, decided to go with Skipp as the lone holding midfielder. Harry Winks and Hojberg lined up just in front of the 21-year-old Englishman. Skipp held his own protecting the back four but is immeasurably more comfortable playing alongside Hojberg as a defensive midfield tandem.

The Palace result was an unjust reflection on how effective Skpp has been. Tottenham allowed six goals in the two subsequent matches in which Skipp didn’t play, showing just how influential the young Englishman is to Nuno’s side.

His return against Villa marked the end of a three-match losing skid. Skipp has now won 80 percent of the matches in which he has started, a stat that Nuno will be acutely aware of.

Tottenham have scored five and conceded four when Skipp plays. Other than the Palace aberration, Spurs have allowed just one goal in four matches with Skipp patrolling the centre of the park.

The Lilywhites have been outscored six to one when Skipp was excluded from the starting 11. Expect Nuno to recognize that Spurs chances of winning increase markedly when Skipp lines up beside Hojberg in the heart of midfield.