If you speak to Tottenham fans at the moment, they want just one thing above any other, to be entertained. Results, for the most part, were steady under Antonio Conte. But the Italian’s attritional style is predicated on short-term success, and when that inevitably became an unrealistic expectation for a club who haven’t won a trophy since 2008, the manner of the team’s performances came under scrutiny.
However, with the enigmatic attacking stylings of new manager Ange Postecoglu and the jewel in his crown James Maddison, Tottenham’s supporters are hopeful they’ll see a return to the free-flowing football that made them so revered under Mauricio Pochettino. After joining on the back of a treble with Celtic, Postecoglu wasted no time in bringing in Maddison on a five-year deal from relegated Leicester City, and at £40 million, Tottenham could have the answer to a multitude of their problems going forward.
Maddison’s ability to make things happen in and around the 18-yard box is well-documented – only Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne have contributed to more goals and assists since he arrived in the Premier League five seasons ago. So, with Kane almost single-handedly carrying Tottenham’s goal threat last year, Maddison will not only be able to shoulder some of the responsibility going forward, but also bring the best out of those who began to struggle under the weight of Conte’s relentless approach.
Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski endured torrid campaigns by their own typically high standards, and Postecoglu’s arrival wouldn’t appear to suit either player, with the Australian having deployed his wingers high and wide during his time at Celtic, but Maddison’s arrival changes all that. His versatility means that whilst he normally operates in and around the half-spaces, he can also drift wide and interchange with either Son or Kulusevski to allow them to play closer to a central striker.
For the most part, though, Maddison will likely play as an eight, drifting into space and laying on passes for willing runners. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was the only Tottenham player to produce more progressive passes than the England international last season, and this must also be caveated by the fact Hojbjerg saw significantly more of the ball. Not since Christian Eriksen have Tottenham had such a creative force in their side.
Maddison, aside from being one of the league’s most potent creators, also has that bit of magic in him that can decide games there and then. Lethal from distance, his ability from dead balls will spare Kane the indignity of trying to do it all for Tottenham. The return of Rodrigo Bentancur will be timely for both Maddison and Tottenham, as on paper, the pair seem to complement each other perfectly. Bentancur’s strong running and anticipation of space will give Maddison the freedom to roam, whilst the 26-year-old is not afraid to drop deep and help his team transition the ball.
For a lot of last season, there felt like there was a clear separation between defence and attack for Tottenham, with Kane, Hojbjerg and Bentancur often filling in a lot of the gaps. Maddison bridges those gaps with his ability to progress the ball, not only through his range of passing but also his dribbling. Tottenham are a team in transition, and Maddison is only a part of the solution. But, whilst he may not guarantee Champions League qualification next season, he will get fans off their seats, and for many, that’s as good a start as any.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: Juan Castro – Stephen White – CameraSport – Getty Images