Spurs boss turns to Sandro as Palacios faces the axe

PUBLISHED: 21:15 30 September 2010 | UPDATED: 08:53 01 October 2010

WINNING the midfield battle is so often the key in Premier League games and, in that context, Tottenham’s loss to West Ham highlighted the potential impact of a player who wasn’t even on the pitch.

The arrival of Sandro Ranieri Guimaraes Cordeiro – Sandro for short – at White Hart Lane has been a quiet one, yet he may prove one of Harry Redknapp’s most valuable purchases of the season.

The Brazilian international’s move finally materialised more than a year after Tottenham opened negotiations for the defensive midfielder. His debut, against Arsenal in the Carling Cup, was similarly low key.

Yet plunging his new signing straight into the heat of the north London derby spoke volumes about Redknapp’s faith in the player, and in signing the Brazilian international for £14million from Internacional, the boss will be hoping he has finally found a solution to the midfield conundrum plaguing his side’s season.

The alarming dip in form of Wilson Palacios has exposed Tottenham as having a soft centre, lacking the crucial asset of a player who can both win the ball and provide a defensive shield in front of the back four.

Palacios has featured seven times for Spurs this season, including the defeats to Wigan and Arsenal, and the draws with Werder Bremen during which Redknapp opted for a defensive 4-5-1 formation, and yet demoted Palacios to the bench using him only as a late substitute to be deployed on the right wing.

Redknapp omitted Palacios again from the line-up at Upton Park, a move which in itself had repercussions, as the Hammers’ pairing of Scott Parker and Mark Noble out-fought Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas in the middle of the pitch.

Spurs desperately need to plug the gap between midfield and defence and, in Sandro, Redknapp believes he may have found the answer.

“He [Sandro] is not a Robinho or a player like that. He’s a big lad, he gets around the pitch, he can tackle, he can pass it and he can play,” said the Spurs boss.

“He’s a good all-round holding player. In all the videos we’ve watched he has played as a holding player but he’s got more than that.

“He can run and when he opens his legs he’s a big long-striding lad. He’s a box-to-box midfield player, maybe a Diaby type from Arsenal.

“A big rangy type of player, a Vieira type perhaps, that big tall, midfield kind of player.”

The comparison to Vieira is telling. Redknapp tried desperately last season to bring the former Arsenal man to White Hart Lane, without success.

His attempts to lure Lassana Diarra to Tottenham from Real Madrid also failed, but both were symbolic of his desire to add steel to a midfield which at times appears big on style but short on substance, steel which Palacios looks increasingly incapable of providing.

With the exception of Palacios, whose chronic loss of form may soon leave him facing the exit door, Tottenham lack a player capable of breaking up opposition attacks.

Huddlestone excels in possession but is most effective playing further forward, sweeping balls to either flank and threading passes through to the front man. Jenas is a useful attacking weapon, but is rarely to be found rolling up his sleeves at the heart of the battle.

Redknapp has instead been left to cast an envious eye at his rivals at the top end of the table. Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick excel at such a role, and at Arsenal Alex Song and Abou Diaby have gradually adapted to the holding duties.

Chelsea have the invaluable Michael Essien, Manchester City’s first move in building a title-challenging side was to splash out £24m on Yaya Toure, while it was no coincidence that Roy Hodgson’s opening act as Liverpool boss was to replace the excellent Javier Mascherano with Christian Poulsen.

Premier League history is littered with players who have made their name in that unglamorous role. Vieira won the league three times while running Arsenal’s midfield, just as Roy Keane was a key to Manchester United’s unbrideled success of the 1990s and Claude Makelele a pivotal part of Chelsea’s title-winning seasons in 2005 and 2006.

The defensive midfield position is arguably the most important for a successful side, and yet it is a position Spurs have struggled to fill successfully for far too long.

Sandro’s physical build and tackling abilty saw him develop into a defensive midfielder who was equally adept at breaking forward in support of attacks.

He was called into the Brazil Under-20 team which he then captained to the South American Under-20 championsip in Venezuala in 2009.

Success continued in the Internacional first team, delaying his move to the Lane as he helped his side win the Copa Libertadores, which is South America’s equivalent of the Champions League.

It all bodes well for Tottenham. Premier League football will prove a far different proposition for Sandro but, in Redknapp’s eyes at least, Spurs have finally aquired a player in the same mould as Vieira, Makelele, Keane and the rest.

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