LONDON, United Kingdom, March 15 -Tottenham’s key man? Victor Wanyama has been so important to Spurs’ success, argues Adam Bate…
The loss of Harry Kane to injury is sure to be a challenge for Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. While Spurs have sought to improve their squad depth, there are certain key players without whom they still cannot hope to maintain the same high standards.
“Without Mousa Dembele, we do not exist,” joked Pochettino in August. But it’s Dembele’s midfield partner, the man his manager calls the “perfect player” for Tottenham, who is the one figure that the team have not yet had to face functioning without so far this season.
Wanyama is Tottenham’s only ever-present player in this year’s Premier League. He has displaced Eric Dier in the middle and ahead of the visit of Southampton, the club from which he joined Spurs in the summer, he has yet to taste Premier League defeat at White Hart Lane.
Wanyama’s home record is extraordinary. Spurs have won 12 and drawn two of their 14 league games this season and are currently on a run of nine victories in a row. But Wanyama’s personal unbeaten record extends back further than that.
The 25-year-old midfielder also won his last seven home games for Southampton. Only one of those appearances was off the bench – introduced with the Saints 2-0 down to Liverpool at St Mary’s in March of last year. They went on to win the game 3-2.
It was a game in which Wanyama made his presence felt. There have been plenty for Spurs too. “He set the tone right through the 90 minutes,” said Gary Neville of his man-of-the-match display against Manchester City in October. “He picked up every single loose pass.”
Wanyama does that more than most. He ranks among the top 10 players in the Premier League for recoveries of the ball, already surpassing Dier’s total from last season. He is also in the top 10 for both tackles and passes.
But mainly the Kenyan is the facilitator for those ahead of him; the man who gives Tottenham their platform – the one whose formidable presence in the middle of the pitch allows them to play with attacking full-backs in the knowledge that he is there to cover.
Christian Eriksen is free to conjure and Dele Alli has been encouraged to play as a forward in all but name because 4-4-2 just works with Wanyama. More than that, it’s the partnership with Dembele that has really been crucial.
“Always they provide very good balance to the team – in possession and out of possession,” said Pochettino after the 4-0 win over West Brom in January. “It was a great performance from both. I think it was key – with the ball and without the ball – to have that balance.
“It’s always important in transition when you play a team that always tries to play counter attack. They’re always in a very good possession without the ball but in position and knowing what they need to do. They were key in that dynamic.”
Opposition coaches have spotted it. They know Wanyama is the one who stops them. West Brom head coach Tony Pulis described him as the best holding midfielder around and Antonio Conte appreciates him too. His Chelsea had won 13 in a row before facing Wanyama.
Tottenham’s 2-0 win in January was a game in which Wanyama not only made more passes, tackles and recoveries than any of his team-mates, but also covered more ground than anyone in a Chelsea shirt. Conte knew who’d be the problem but couldn’t stop him.
The Italian coach had explained: “There is a player who is very important for them now, Wanyama. He is a really good player. He has quality during the game, stamina, work rate and shows great commitment for the team. I like these things about him.”
With five further home wins since then, Wanyama is now aiming to extend his winning sequence to 10 in a row at the weekend in a match that takes place 15 months to the day since his last home defeat. Coincidentally, that came against Tottenham for Southampton.
He is a better player now. His passing range has increased and there is a greater maturity to his game too – much needed given that he was sent off three times for Southampton last season. Wanyama wants to improve and he’s working with a man who helps him do so.
So while the roles are reversed since his last home defeat, do not be surprised if the result is still in Spurs’ favour. In part, that’s because Pochettino has got Wanyama. His perfect player, a man who makes others better, and someone who is still getting better himself.
-By Sky Sports-