There seems to be some sort of a negative sense around Tottenham Hotspur’s links with Hoffenheim midfielder Florian Grillitsch. Many, funnily enough, are claiming that they are getting the wrong Grillitsch and not Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish – the man they were strongly linked with this past summer but a move failed. While the humour is certainly not a bad one at all, the Hoffenheim man is probably the sort of midfielder Spurs need.
With Mousa Dembele moving away to China this month, Eric Dier recovering from surgery and Victor Wanyama out for the long term, there is an obvious need for midfield signings this month. Although Wanyama and Dier will be available next season, Dembele’s need will be felt strongly when the next season starts and when he leaves. And that is probably the idea behind Spurs going after the Austrian midfielder.
It is tough to put into words the influence Dembele has at Spurs. He is like a Rolls Royce moving smoothly across the road, penetrating the midfield and spreading play across with threaded passes around him. He has won many games for Spurs, with some of his best performances coming in the big games in Europe and in the Premier League. And although the Belgian’s contributions are very much unique, Grillitsch is someone who can replace him and offer more than what he does, despite it being a demanding task.
A more box to box midfielder than what Dembele or Winks are, Grillitsch can either play number six or as a number eight. He’s very versatile in central midfield and was even used as a right midfielder or a left midfielder during his Werder Bremen days by Viktor Skrypnyk and then by Alexander Nouri. It was under the tutelage of the latter though, that Grillitsch found his best position in central midfield and defensive midfield. And ever since he joined Hoffenheim, Julian Nagelsmann hasn’t used him as a right midfielder or a left midfielder, he’s always played in the heart of the park – conducting play from around the halfway line, making penetrating runs into the final third consistently.
But he plays a slightly deeper role for the Austrian national team, often doing exactly what Mousa Dembele has been doing for Spurs. His ability to use his body to shield ball from the opposition stands out and his composure on the ball is very similar to Dembele. It’s unfair to compare him to Dembele, comparisons will inevitably be made. He’s got a witty footballing brain on a blessed pair of legs, but when his position is freed up at Hoffenheim, Grillitsch enjoys being a tackler and likes playing slightly further forward.
The former Bremen player was also a striker during his time with the Werder Under 19s side. His position has certainly changed from what it once was, but he still possesses the traits he once did. He likes to attack more than liking how to defend. But he has improved the defensive side of his game over the last three seasons. His usage of the body and work-rate has improved, from being a man who played out wide with little responsibility to drop in to do the dirty work.
A promising stat from Whoscored defines what sort of player Grillitsch thrives on being – Only Thiago Alcantara has attempted more dribbles than the Austrian this season. It goes to show that Grillistch thrives on playing slightly deeper and making runs into the final third, using his stature of 6 foot 1 inches to near perfection. What proves it further that he makes intense use of his body are his tackling and interception stats. He’s made 2.3 tackles per game this season, making 2.1 interceptions per game too.
Although, Grillitsch doesn’t score too often, he is the man responsible for starting many key attacks and plays from deeper areas. He certainly won’t shy away from playing as a number ten to attacks, but he won’t feature too further forward.
What Spurs have lacked a lot of times in the absence of Christian Eriksen is creativity in the tight spaces, especially when there’s no Dembele in the side. It makes Spurs look like that is short of ideas and forces them to rely too much on the wide areas to create openings and opportunities. That’s where a player like Grillitsch comes in handy.
When defences have tightened themselves up by piling on numbers in the heart of the park to keep Spurs silent, Grillitsch can make a big impact. Using his body and versatility in midfield, he can make penetrating runs to catch the opposition defence off-guard. He can swivel past them when they least expect them to, carving their defensive open.
It isn’t to say that the Austrian can only be a bench player- someone who can come off the bench and make an impact. He is a starter material for the system Mauricio Pochettino plays since its fundamentally similar to what Julian Nagelsmann plays at Hoffenheim. The basic is to press high and keep the work rate high. The reason why Grillitsch is really liked by Nagelsmann is because of his impressive work-ethic: something Pochettino always looks for in a player.
The midfield pairing of him and Eric Dier makes tremendous sense, presuming Victor Wanyama isn’t as regular as Dier. Grillitsch and Harry Winks are similar sort of players, barring the fact that Winks can play as a sitting midfielder to allow Grillitsch to move slightly further forward. But considering the sort of player he’s played alongside at Hoffenheim: Kerem Demirbay, playing Winks in a box-to-box role will not trouble Grillitsch.
All in all, Grillitsch might be a player that Danny Rose will have to Google to know more about, the midfielder is certainly worth Googling. He won’t be a superstar signing that the other teams in the top six like to make, but Grillitsch will fit into a side that has players who are household names in England but have been taught the values of being hard-working and down-to-earth.
By Kaustubh Pandey.