Victor Wanyama has been nothing short of a revelation at Tottenham in the first 7 Premier League matches of 2016/17.
At the time of his purchase, the general consensus was the Nigerian enforcer would be a useful back-up and rotation option to give Eric Dier a break. And that his quality was perhaps not up to Champions League standard. Or that whilst strong and hulking in a defensive midfield role, he was limited in his ball movement and could potentially even disrupt the transition and flow from defence to attack.
Nothing could be further from the truth, well at least not in terms of the negatives. For Wanyama has completely changed the Tottenham dynamic in midfield. At just 11 million pounds, in the current market Wanyama was nothing short of a steal. He has started each of Spurs’ league games, only withdrawn in the 4-0 belting of Stoke (in perhaps his only indifferent performance). Apart from the last half hour in that clash, he has played every minute of the league campaign thus far.
He has started one of two Champions League matches. That he missed Spurs’ only loss of the season, the 2-1 Wembley defeat to Monaco, can surely not be brushed off as coincidental. Wanyama has quickly become critical to the structure of Mauricio Pochettino’s side and in doing so has opened up several new, previously unseen dynamics. So well and fluently does he fit the Pochettino system that it’s as if their partnership continued from the time at Southampton and was never broken.
Son Heung-Min and Wanyama have without doubt opened up the options to Tottenham. Pochettino has spoken openly about a desire to see his team progress to the point that only one holding midfielder is required, and they have already shown this at various stages throughout the last several weeks.
Previously Spurs relied so heavily on Dier and Mousa Dembele as the defensive midfielders that the thought of either missing any football was almost unthinkable. Or would at least have resulted in the chance of a victory being greatly diminished. That Dembele has been absent for much of the first portion of the season through his held-over suspension and now a foot injury would have caused havoc just 12 months ago. So good has Wanyama been that he has not only covered Dembele in a lot of ways (no one can ever completely cover his dribbling ability), but potentially he has also relegated an England international in Dier to the bench in a full-strength side.
There can be no doubt that Wanyama is a first-choice starter for Pochettino. Pochettino needs players he trusts and believes in, and in Wanyama he clearly has both aspects in spades. It is displayed openly. Through the strength of his performances, both physically and on merit, Wanyama has opened up possibilities and given the freedom to his manager to explore a new system.
So powerful and influential is the Nigerian in the heart of midfield that he seems to simply force the ball forward through the strength of not only his body, but also sheer will. He intimidates opponents into mistakes; the thought of Big Vic staring you down must set the heart racing of all but (and even some of) the most experienced and statuesque players in the Premier League.
This intimidatory power surely remains the key to his advantage. He gives himself more time on the ball than most in his position for he can simply brush off the majority of opponents. He can run at them and force a passage through, gifting him the required time to find a teammate. Opponents cannot compare to his physical prowess, and he knows how to use this to advantage. It seems an area that Wanyama has developed this season, or perhaps one that he was not given as much of a chance or license to explore in a squad at Southampton with more limitations.
Wanyama has proven equally adept at dropping back to become the third central defender as required, or pushing forward to send his teammates into attack. It is this aspect that means Pochettino can pursue a fluent, four-pronged attacking midfield region. Where Dier last season amazed all with his ability to transition from central defender and occasional right back to defensive midfielder, Wanyama has shown what a true and experienced defensive midfielder can do to a Pochettino philosophy.
That is not to denigrate Dier at all, just to say that Wanyama is simply the player Pochettino wanted and needed to allow his plan develop. He covers somewhere between 1.5 and 2 positions, it’s almost as if Spurs have 11.5 players on the pitch with him in the side. Against stronger opposition, especially away from home, there will still be a need to include both Dier and Wanyama as defensive midfielders. But Dier can now decide to either develop further as an understudy to Wanyama, someone he could potentially overtake as a defensive midfielder, and/or as next in line behind the equally impressive Belgian centre-half duo.
It really is a luxury. It is hardly surprising that Spurs have the meanest defence in the Premier League with such options at their disposal. And with the added influence and presence of Wanyama, this should also result in greater productivity going forward. Simply since his midfield teammates can move forward without fear of reprisal. A luxury that Spurs will be all too happy to take advantage of.