Victor Wanyama’s influence at White Hart Lane since his £11 million arrival cannot be overstated, his presence a pivotal part of Spurs dominant high press.
Victor Wanyama has started every Premier League game for Tottenham this season, helping Spurs to 16 wins and sole position of second place.
Pochettino’s system change favors Wanyama
Mauricio Pochettino’s system provides his team with the platform to press high as a unit while playing a high defensive line. This physically demanding system is predicated on having the personnel to pull it off.
Wanyama is a pivotal piece of that personnel.
Pochettino, for the first three months of the season, employed a system with four at the back in which Tottenham struggled to score. Prior to their Nov. 6 encounter with Arsenal, Spurs hadn’t managed a goal in open play for five matches.
Tottenham scored 14 goals in 10 matches, 1.4 per game, to open the season, four of which came in a 4-0 drubbing away against Stoke.
Pochettino, for the second time since taking charge at Spurs, changed to a back three before the Arsenal match, a system conducive to Wanyama’s skill set.
Spurs have scored 39 goals in 17 games, 2.29 per game, since the formation change. Harry Kane and Dele Alli deserve most of the credit for Spurs’ increased goal production, but Wanyama’s significant contribution cannot be overstated. His hard graft often facilitates their offensive success.
Pochettino hasn’t looked back since altering the formation over four months ago, though he tinkers with it ever so slightly, either employing a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-2-1.
Wanyama protects Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld with aplomb in both formations, his physicality and ability to cover the pitch almost unrivaled in the Premier League.
Usually partnered by Mousa Dembele in the defensive heart of Spurs’ midfield, the two pillars of strength complement each other superbly.
Dembele, who has missed eight matches through injury and suspension, plays in a slightly more advanced role. Knowing Wanyama offers perpetual cover, Dembele has more freedom to roam, often making advanced, slaloming runs into the opposing half.
Dembele returns the favor on the rare occasion Wanyama decides to venture forward. But Wanyama’s success doesn’t depend on Dembele’s presence. Wanyama hasn’t lost a game in his partner’s absence.
All three Spurs losses this season have come with the partnership intact.
It’s Wanyama’s omnipresent presence in front of the back three that allows Spurs to relentlessly press so high. Opposing teams must either knock it long or try play out of the back under duress. Either way, Wanyama is poised and perfectly positioned to anticipate and cover as required.
Switching to three at the back has affected Spurs stingy defense, albeit marginally. Tottenham, before the adjustment, conceded 0.5 goals per game. They have since allowed 0.88 goals per game in the subsequent 17 contests.
The significant offensive production increase, however, far outweighs the ever so slightly more porous defense.
Wanayama’s statistical contribution
Wanyama has 72 tackles so far this season, the sixth most in the top flight. He wins almost seven duels each game and has played more minutes than all but 10 players in the top flight.
Wanyama is the complete package. He’s indefatigable and seemingly immune to injury, and is as strong in the air as he is on the ground.
The Kenyan international rarely takes more than two touches and almost never concedes possession. Even more encouragingly for Spurs, he’s only 25 years old. Defensive midfielders don’t peak until their late 20s. That’s a scary proposition for everyone but Tottenham.
Wanyama is the best signing this season, especially in financial terms. He only cost Spurs £11 million, a drop in the ocean in today’s exorbitant transfer market. Everton paid £7.1 million for Idrissa Gana, while Southampton bought Manolo Gabbiadini for £14.6 million, the only other recent, bang-for-buck comparable signings.
Spurs spent what is tantamount to pocket money on a player who’s had an unmatched influence on his new team. Not a bad bit of business.