When the team sheets were released for Saturday’s Premier League meeting between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, the omission of Victor Wanyama was hardly a surprise.
The Kenya international was neither in the starting lineup nor on the bench, missing out completely at the Etihad Stadium as both sides played out to a 2-2 draw.
Given he was confined to the bench for the entirety of their opening fixture against Aston Villa, leaving the midfield powerhouse out speaks volumes about how badly he has fallen down the pecking order at Spurs.
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After joining from Southampton in the summer of 2016, Big Vic made 36 appearances from 38 for the Lilywhites in his maiden campaign at the club, with 35 being starts.
The blue-collar midfield man’s current situation can be traced to the start of 2017/18 when a serious knee injury struck, ruling him out for over four months till January 2018. He made just 18 appearances in that campaign, and when yet another knee issue, as well as other niggling problems, got the better of him for another couple of months last season, his club manager couldn’t afford to wait.
Pochettino has preferred utilizing Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Eric Dier and, recently, Oliver Skipp at the heart of the midfield, at Wanyama’s expense. The summer acquisition of Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyonnais for a record fee has pushed the former trusted lieutenant further down the pecking order at the club, as has the arrival of Giovani Lo Celso.
Indeed, the former Southampton man may have an even more reduced role this year owing to the number of options at his manager’s disposal.
Wanyama’s injury problems in recent seasons haven’t in any way helped his standing in Pochettino’s mind as it’s hard to put someone in your plans when chances of him staying healthy are limited. While coaches tend to have player preferences for positions on the pitch, that idea is defeated when said player is a regular absentee.
Furthermore, the Argentine boss’ tactical evolution in recent years has contributed to the Kenyan’s lack of appearances. Early on in his time in England, Pochettino favored a 4-2-3-1 formation which employed two sitting midfielders, but has slowly moved away from that lately and constantly utilizes a 4-4-2 diamond, which makes use of one midfield pivot.
When the former Southampton boss has his full array of options to pick from, Winks occupies the role in front of the defence, with Eric Dier (who’s equally adept at centre-back) acting as his direct replacement, while Wanyama comes in at third.
On occasions where the Spurs boss chooses to play two in central midfield, either in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3, those two as well as Sissoko and, sometimes, Christen Eriksen are called upon.
With the addition of Ndombele, and emergence of 18-year-old Skipp, Wanyama’s chances of featuring when his coach tweaks his tactic may be at a premium.
This leaves the player probably having to rely on injuries, suspensions and the odd cup fixtures to get games under his belt. It played out at the backend of last season when Wanyama got a couple of games under his belt, with Dier and Winks struggling for fitness. He featured – and scored – in the 4-0 thrashing of Huddersfield Town and was trusted with anchoring the midfield in their dramatic Champions League encounter against City the following week with the aforementioned duo absent.
However, Dier’s return a few days after their mid-week continental triumph meant the Kenyan returned to the bench for the third installment of their City slugfest.
With Galatasaray’s recent interest in Wanyama, it makes sense to move if he desires to satisfy the need for more gametime.
The Super Lig champions have reportedly sent club representative Sukru Haznedar to London to help the Yellow-Reds broker a deal before the August 31 deadline as they aim to strengthen their side for their title defence, as well as continental football.
While a transfer to Turkey takes Wanyama away from the spotlight, he cannot, at this stage of his career, accept such a limited playing time. Circumstances haven’t been in the Kenyan’s favour, but with his value at Spurs on the wane, perhaps a move to different surroundings would do him the world of good.