The competition for places in the middle of the park at Tottenham has stiffened with the arrival of Rodrigo Bentancur.
The best sides in world football have an abundance of depth, so much so that if a starter is missing, the backup can enter the scene and not miss a beat. Antonio Conte identified Tottenham’s need to have two accomplished players at each position.
While a number of positions are still without an adept backup, central midfield is not one of them. Four players — based on Conte’s current preferred 3-4-3 formation — are now vying for two starting spots.
Pierre Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp, Harry Winks and newbie Bentancur are poised to compete fiercely for the two coveted first-team roles. It’s always advantageous to have stiff competition within a squad. It’s one of the best ways to elicit the best out of every player, as a battle for positioning ensues daily in training, never really ceasing.
Bentancur, particularly after setting the tone in his first 14 minutes of action, has every intention of staking his claim on one of the two starting roles.
Tottenham’s current pecking order in the middle of the park
Hojbjerg’s position, barring any unforeseen regression, is all-but set in stone. His name is permanently inscribed on Conte’s Premier League team sheet. An iron man and dogged beast, Hojbjerg is too important for Spurs not to have on the pitch. Period.
However, it’s nice to know that if his level drops or he shows signs of fatigue — which has happened recently — there’s two, even three players who can step up and show their dependability.
So who does the second starting role go to?
The answer…. Oliver Skipp. The young Englishman has enjoyed a breakout season and has, for the most part, complemented Hojbjerg brilliantly in the centre of the park. Prior to the season, I stated my case as to why the 20-year-old deserved his chance in Tottenham’s first team.
The young lad took his opportunity and hasn’t looked back. Sure, he’s gone through a few teething pains, but what 20-year-old doesn’t? Even with Bentancur’s arrival, it’s still Skipp’s spot to lose. The Uruguayan’s arrival will invariably serve Skipp well, as he’s the type of dedicated youngster who thrives most against formidable competition.
Bentancur, based on his consistently high performance level at Juventus earlier in the campaign, comes in as No. 3 on Spurs’ central midfield pecking order. There are too many unknowns to think he’ll replace Skipp as Hojbjerg’s partner in crime. But rest assured, Skipp is now afforded even less breathing room with the Uruguayan hot on his heels.
Winks is showing signs of returning to the form that earned him a consistent spot in the Three Lions’ midfield a few years ago, but is still No. 4 on the depth chart. Mauricio Pochettino found a way to get the best out of Winks, whose stock, thanks to an extended period of subpar play, dropped precipitously for the better part of two years.
Conte has found a way to revitalize Winks in recent months, with the Englishman, at least recently, pushing Skipp to maintain his high level of play.
It will be interesting to see how the tug-of-war in the centre of the park develops under Conte’s stewardship.
Regardless of whether the pecking order remains the same or shuffles more than a deck of cards at a blackjack table, Tottenham supporters will be delighted at the prospect of being able to field two proficient midfield partnerships.