Chris Miller: Here’s what the best midfield pairing at Tottenham should be

Free Tanguy Ndombele!

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When Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko foolishly got themselves booked against Brighton on Boxing Day and were, therefore, suspended for the match away at Norwich on the 28th, many Spurs fans were not overly disappointed.

In fact, with Tanguy Ndombele apparently fit to start, there was some excitement to see him paired with Eric Dier.

That Jose Mourinho chose not to partner Ndombele with Dier or, indeed, another natural central midfielder, is possibly something that he will regret.

It is not unreasonable, after all, to suggest that both of Norwich’s goals came from positions on the pitch where one might have expected Eric Dier to be stood.

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But there’s more to it than that simplistic assumption. Ndombele was fluid and fervent, his imagination knowing no bounds but his positioning requiring them.

Had Dier been alongside him, perhaps his rolling of his man, charging forward into space and then delivering a crisp, incisive pass might have been more frequent and might also have been ten yards higher up the pitch; the player attracted towards his run (and thus leaving space behind) might have been a centre-back rather than an attacking midfielder.

Much has been written about the ineffectiveness of the midfield combination of Winks and Sissoko over the past year, and it seems that this combination will finally be broken.

Mourinho said at the beginning of the month that he didn’t see Sissoko as a number 6 or as part of a ‘double six’.

In fact, he was quite specific about how he wants to use Sissoko, saying “I think the best position for Moussa is when the team plays with a positional midfielder and he has the freedom to go, or from the right like he did against Bournemouth”.

Eric-Dier-v-Arsenal

The truth is that all of Spurs’ midfield options are flawed in some way (bar perhaps Ndombele), but each has their niche, their strengths and it is now up to Mourinho to find the right blend of skills.

In my view, Dier would make the best partner for Ndombele in the majority of matches, because of the way that he naturally plays. He holds position when appropriate, he shuttles attacks into blind alleys and he drops smoothly into the backline.

All of which would allow Ndombele to have more creative freedom, knowing that should he lose the ball, Dier will be an extra body in the Spurs half to help put fires out.

And Winks would suit those matches where Spurs expect to dominate the ball – where quick recycling of play is necessary to attempt to move a low block out of its shape, and where we would expect to start waves of attack to break through a team’s defence via means of attrition.

This is where Winks’ strengths lay, taking the ball from the defence and helping to move it on quickly to develop new angles of attack – or shuttling forward to back-up a counter-press, picking up the pieces and shifting the ball un-fussily to a more creative player in the final third.

What he lacks is the ability to track runs from opposing midfield players and being switched onto danger like a natural defensive-minded player might be, so he needs not to be used in games where midfield runners are an identified strength of the opponent.

Mourinho has always had the ability to treat a one-off game as a cup final, using the right tactics for the occasion.

This skill will be necessary when picking the right midfield players, like choosing the most appropriate red wine for lamb and rosemary or a flank steak.

Spurs fans hope he might even re-stock the cellar in the January transfer window but, for now, the safest bet to me seems to be to rely on the heady flavours of Châteauneuf-du-Dier-Ndombele.

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