Tottenham’s player of the season and midfield lynchpin during their challenge for fourth place last year is on the verge of returning to the first team.
Scott Parker picked up an Achilles injury during Euro 2012 in the summer, and has not played since. As he prepares to make his first appearance of the season, Andre Villas-Boas is faced with a dilemma.
Already struggling to keep Emmanuel Adebayor content with his role as back-up to Jermain Defoe, he must now manage yet another central midfielder. Spurs already have Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Huddlestone, Sandro, and Moussa Dembélé, plus the emerging talent that is Tom Carroll.
How AVB plans to keep all these midfielders happy with their status at the club is unclear, as new summer signings Dempsey, Sigurdsson and Dembélé will all expect to start. With Spurs playing two holding midfielders and a playmaker behind Defoe, there doesn't seem to be a problem on the surface.
However, there are already issues as Sandro’s defensive presence in the midfield has made him one of the first names on the team-sheet this season. This has invariably led to Sigurdsson or Dempsey starting on the bench - a role that they have not complained about publicly, but are sure to be far from happy about.
When you consider that Parker was player of the season last year and is such a fan favourite, it seems difficult to leave him out. So where will he fit in?
With the January transfer window approaching there has been speculation that Harry Redknapp, who signed Parker for Spurs and is now leading QPR’s fight against relegation, will make a move to bring his midfield enforcer to Loftus Road.
He would be a great addition to QPR’s side, but AVB is not willing to let him leave.
“It is very unfair that you put a player who was voted best player at Tottenham last year into the transfer market just like that,” said Villas-Boas at the start of December, according to The Guardian.
This surely indicates that Parker will not be leaving, opening the door for a possible loan move for Carroll. The youngster has been given a chance in the Europa League this season, impressing out wide. He has also made several cameo appearances in the league this season, and has the look of a player who is benefit greatly from the regular games a loan move would offer.
With many of the younger squad players already out on loan, it would be no surprise if Carroll moved to an Npower Championship side until the end of the season.
While this would lessen the burden on Villas-Boas, there is still the problem of five top-quality midfielders and only three spaces in the team. And that is without considering Huddlestone, who will surely be relegated to the bench where he has spent a large proportion of his Spurs career already.
This leaves the manager with having to pick two from Dembélé, Sandro and Parker to play as the holding midfielders, with Sigurdsson and Dempsey having to rotate as the team’s playmaker. Sigurdsson has the ability to play out wide, but with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon doing so well at the current time, that move would prove unpopular with the fans who have long supported having two skilful wingers.
Sigurðsson has the issue of clearly being second choice to Dempsey, and will have to settle for a bit-part role at this stage. AVB is in the situation where he has too many good midfielders to fit into too few positions.
By playing only one striker, he maximises the number of midfielders he can play, but someone will always have to be left on the bench as there simply is not a solution. He is helped by the fact that Tottenham are into the knockout stages of the Europa League, which gives every player the opportunity at some point or another.
With the strong squad that Spurs have, they will no doubt challenge for the Europa League title, and the extra quality provided by the return of Parker could fuel a surge up the Premier League table as a healthy competition for places arises.
His return creates a problem for AVB, but it is a problem he would much rather have than not.
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