Harry Winks isn’t the most heralded British talent at Tottenham, but his recent play has shown that he has the potential to be one of the best English center midfielders and could potentially play a major role for the Three Lions in Russia this summer. He’s added variation to Spurs’ midfield and while he still as much to improve, England and Spurs fans should be excited about this wonderful little midfield talent.
Between Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival in May 2014 and Spurs’ 2nd place finish in May 2017, it is fair to say that Pochettino has taken the North London club into a different dimension. By coming 5th, 3rd, and then 2nd in the league whilst enforcing his brand of attacking football and a hungry squad to do so, has seen his stock rise on the managerial market. Furthermore Spurs have used intelligent spending to create a squad capable of challenging for the title. Smart buys such as Dele Alli for £5 million, Toby Alderweireld for £11.5 million & the acquisition of Ben Davies in a part-exchange all prove testament to this. However, Spurs haven’t just made strides thanks to their activity in the transfer window. They’ve also made use of their promising youth set up. Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker-Peters and now Harry Winks have been given a platform to shine on for the Lillywhites as Pochettino sees youth development as one of his core values.
For the past year or so, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko have all been fairly regular names in Pochettino’s midfield with the common denominator being that all are physically gifted players. This has allowed Spurs to dominate many games through sheer physicality and endurance, but occasionally they tend to become undone by more technical and nimble minds.
Enter, Mister Harry Billy Winks.
While it’s true that injuries have helped Winks get game time, (Wanyama, Dembele, and Sissoko have had injury issues and Dier’s often moved to CB when Alderweireld or Vertonghen get hurt) he has shown Pochettino that he is very viable midfield option and allows Spurs to play a different kind of game. His style is a major contrast to his fellow midfield partners, which means Pochettino has been able to integrate new tactical dynamics that he could not with the likes of Dier, Wanyama, Sissoko, and Dembele. And ever since his remarkable performance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Winks hasn’t looked back. The things makes him so different from Spurs’ other midfielders are three particular traits and I’ll show you what they are and why they’re so important.
Receiving the ball from the center backs
Tottenham’s central midfield lacked a player who was confident to receive the ball from his center backs while being under pressure. Vertonghen, Dier and Alderweireld are all adept at distributing the ball from defense but could only do it effectively against a low block (since a high press wouldn’t afford them a lot of space). This largely impacted Spurs’ build up play as they took longer to access the 2nd phase against the higher pressing teams due to their midfielders being mediocre in transitions. Having Winks as an option enables smoother transitions and better security should the centre backs want to push up. Moreover it decreases the need for Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli to drop deep to receive the ball as Winks is confident enough to proceed in possession.
In the modern game, being press resistant is an incredibly important and somehow overlooked trait. If you receive the ball incorrectly you can find yourself under pressure from an opponent or with a lack of viable passing options. In a period where pressing has become more aggressive and meticulous than ever before, it has helped Winks a great deal that he has the ability to resist a press in his skill set. Victor Wanyama and Moussa Sissoko aren’t the best at resisting a press while Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier can resist a press although they favor shielding the ball then making a safe pass as opposed to receiving the ball in front of a pressing opponent and playing a forward pass. Poor press resistance from Spurs’ midfielders last season saw them tend to move sideways and backwards most of the time which allowed the opposition to push higher with every non-penetrative pass. Winks’ press resistance stopped Spurs from recycling the ball uselessly and aid more positive ball movement. This isn’t only a benefit to Winks as his midfield partner is usually more physical than he is, which provides a more balanced duo in the middle of the park.
The only Tottenham midfielder who has the confidence to break lines bar Winks is Moussa Dembele although he prefers to do this by dribbling rather than by passing. Spurs’ inability to routinely break lines in midfield has cost them against teams who try to ‘nick a point’ by sitting deep at the end of games. Without this ability, Spurs have been forced to become more frantic in attack, which leaves them exposed on the counter. With Winks in the team, Spurs have become much more sensible and effective when facing deep blocks. The consequence of starting the Englishman is that Spurs lose some physicality, but they replace this with more technique and guile. Line breaking passes removes players from play which acts as a trigger to engage in their traditional high-energy attacking moves. This shows that Winks is likely to develop into the profile of the ‘deep lying playmaker’ when taking all three of these traits into account.
Weakness? Long range passing
Although it isn’t a huge issue at this stage of his career his passing does lack variation in distance. Granted, he may well be under instruction by Pochettino to keep things simple it would be another progress indicator if he could switch play or play long diagonal passes more often. Doing so would lighten the load on his center backs and Eriksen to do so. IF he does go deep into the Champions League with Spurs or deep into the World Cup with England then it may become a problem, but at this moment in time he’s developing well and this will improve with experience.
His quick rise has seen him make his England debut already this season which has seen him touted as a possible option on the plane to Russia this summer. He has slotted into Spurs’ midfield with ease, but he must work with his coach to ensure he doesn’t stagnate like many other English midfielders before him. He doesn’t receive as much attention as his teammates but he’s still as valuable nonetheless.