Harry Winks was kept to under 800 Premier League minutes last season due to injury. The 22-year-old midfielder had impressed in his brief career, but an absence of that length impacts any footballer, particularly at a key age for development.
Winks had become an integral cog for Tottenham and was edging towards an England starting berth. His return from injury was capped by an impressive display in England’s historic 3-2 win away to Spain during the international break. Gareth Southgate’s decision to call up Winks might be seen as premature – he has started just four matches this season – but it is a reflection of how valued the youngster is by the England manager.
Mauricio Pochettino will be delighted to see Winks back to his best. He brought Winks into the first team at Spurs, but more importantly, Winks has a skillset that Tottenham are desperate for.
When Christian Eriksen is absent, Spurs’ midfield does not have a natural passer. Mousa Dembele is in decline and Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama are often too slow on the ball in the initial build-up. Winks is not just quick to see a pass, he is able to pick gaps in the opposition defence.
Without Winks last season, Eriksen was forced to drop deeper to influence the game. Eriksen became a more conventional midfielder to compensate for his teammates. The Dane is capable of doing this and has the skillset to ping passes from deeper positions, but it restricts his impact in the final third.
England’s biggest flaw at the World Cup was a lack of midfield creativity. Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson and Jesse Lingard exceed in many areas, but none are capable of picking a pass like Winks. Southgate switched to a 4-3-3 for the recent fixtures, which saw Winks and Ross Barkley given the advanced midfield roles.
Winks could be the key for England. Southgate has plenty of players who can make third man runs from midfield, but few (if any) with the passing range of Winks. Eric Dier occupied the deepest midfield role against Spain – we may see Winks given an opportunity to play as the number six in the near future. That might be where his career lies, similar to the role Michael Carrick played so well in Alex Ferguson’s latter Manchester United sides.
The future is bright for Winks at a club and national level. His skillset is perfectly suited to the modern game and, as we saw in Spain, he is versatile enough to operate in different midfield roles.
If he can make the deepest-lying midfield spot his own, though, his ceiling is incredibly high. Providing incisive passing from deep without being a defensive liability is what so many teams crave. Winks can be that guy for Spurs and England.
He might just be the missing piece of the jigsaw for Southgate. He could save Tottenham tens of millions. It’s rarely flashy, but his work is invaluable. Let’s hope he gets the chance to reach his potential and injuries do not derail his chances.
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