Player Watch Player Watch: Harry Winks

nicdic

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Will never cease to be amazed at the lengths people will go to in order to slag off our players, or the amount of joy they seem to take in it.
 

donny1013

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When Jose Mourinho was appointed Tottenham Hotspur head coach in November, Harry Winks was seen as one of the players who had particular reason to be fearful.

Given Mourinho had generally favoured central midfielders in the mould of imposing physical specimens such as Nemanja Matic, there were concerns for Winks. A relative flyweight at 5ft 8in and slight of build, Winks’ nimble pass-and-move approach was a long way from this Matic-style paradigm.

And for the first month or so of Mourinho’s reign, Winks was as peripheral as expected. After starting the first two matches of the new head coach’s reign, an ankle injury, coupled with the emergence of Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko as Mourinho’s preferred central-midfield pairing, meant he started just two of the following nine.

By the time of his next start, in the 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, Winks suffered another knock to his troublesome ankle and was substituted after 56 minutes. The Athletic reported after the game that he had been left in the dark by his new head coach as to why he was struggling for game time, and was considering his future amid interest from Manchester City and Manchester United. It appeared the under-used Winks — like Spurs at that point — was in a state of drift.

Less than six weeks on, Winks has quietly, but impressively, re-established himself.

Partly down to the injury suffered by Sissoko, Winks has started all of Tottenham’s last eight games (Lucas Moura is the only other player to have done so), and has been a major factor in them winning four and drawing two of their last six matches. The term “unsung hero” is so overused in football so as to be almost meaningless (NB: James Milner has not been unsung for about a decade) but perhaps Winks fits that description. The fact he’s been at the club since the age of five means he lacks the sparkle of some of the newer arrivals, while stylistically his metronomic passing accuracy doesn’t always stand out. But the numbers suggest he has been key for Spurs over the last few weeks — as he often was under Mauricio Pochettino.

Derided by his critics as being too conservative, it was his charge from his own box against Manchester City that led to the match-changing red card for Oleksandr Zinchenko. In the same game, he won the ball back seven times (only Giovani Lo Celso posted a higher figure for Spurs), while against Liverpool he made more tackles than any of his team-mates — including a rousing, sliding challenge in the third minute to dispossess Georginio Wijnaldum and instantly whip up the home crowd. His distribution figures have been typically impressive, with Winks frequently completing more passes and/or posting a higher percentage of completed passes than anyone on the pitch.

One source offers the analogy that Winks is the equivalent of a drummer in a band in the way he sets the tempo but often goes unnoticed. If the team wants to go a bit faster, or a bit slower — or indeed go to the chorus line — it comes from them. He is the beat in the team, and it’s always the beat that gets forgotten about, says the source; nobody’s looking at the drummer, they are all looking at the lead singer. You could say he’s the Ringo Starr to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min’s John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

This type of pace-setting midfielder has not always been to Mourinho’s taste. Yes, he played Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid, but Alonso was so supremely gifted that he could not be ignored. And he was often balanced out by having two more physical midfielders alongside him — sometimes even the hulking centre-back Pepe — in what was described dismissively in Madrid as a “trivote” (a bastardisation of the two-man “doble-pivote” used by Barcelona and Spain).

As for his preferred approach at Tottenham, Mourinho explained after his first game in charge at West Ham United that he wanted his central midfield two to be made up of a passer and a “positional” (i.e, defensive) midfielder. Instead, for the last month he has partnered Winks with the similarly progressive Lo Celso.

Dier was initially Mourinho’s preferred choice for the “positional” role but has since been supplanted by Winks. This was partly down to Dier’s loss of form, though mainly a result of Winks’ own dedication and impressive performances. From a defensive perspective, Winks has proven he is just as effective as Dier — indeed, he averages more tackles, interceptions and possession wins per 90 minutes than his team-mate this season.

What then has been behind the turnaround?

As well as proving he can do a job defensively, Winks has also been given more freedom by Mourinho to get forward and try things — with effectively a three-man defence behind him when Spurs are in possession and Lo Celso dropping in when necessary.

The run that ended with Zinchenko being sent off was foreshadowed by a similar dart against Southampton a week earlier that saw Winks burst into the opposition half and release Son.

He will never be a big risk-taker in possession, but has been encouraged to try ambitious passes — as he demonstrated against Watford with a chipped through ball that presented Son with a glorious chance on the volley. Winks may, in fact, end up viewing that match at Vicarage Road as something of a turning point — in a low-quality game he was the stand-out player, making more passes and winning the ball back more than anyone else on the pitch. He was similarly effective in the home win over Norwich City four days later.

Feeling physically fit has also been crucial. Having been intermittently laid low by ankle injuries for almost three years, The Athletic understands he is now optimistic the issue has been resolved. Winks feels sharper and fitter as a result — and the psychological effect on an athlete of not having an injury concern in the back of your mind cannot be underestimated.

He also feels a lot more appreciated than he did in December and early January, which is naturally building his confidence and allowing him to be more expressive on the pitch. His assuredness now is in stark contrast to his wild performance against Brighton on Boxing Day when he looked as though he was trying too hard to impress. In the end, he had to be substituted in the 68th minute, having been lucky to avoid a second booking moments earlier.

The departure of Pochettino has been another contributing factor. As with so many of the Spurs squad, a change was needed — especially as with the players wary of standing up to the former manager, many of their gripes about his methods were left to fester rather than being resolved. Bringing in Mourinho did not instantly revitalise Winks, but, as with all footballers, he feels much more contented now he is being picked.

Winks has also been helped get through what could have been a difficult period by the fact he is exceptionally dedicated.

He is by no means one-dimensional — a smart guy, he has outside business interests to occupy him as well as football — but his job will always come first. Nothing gets in the way of his preparation, according to one source.

Thankfully at the moment, Winks has a lot to prepare for. And having just turned 24, he can look forward to an exciting few months. He is back in a Spurs team still fighting on three fronts and will likely start for England at Euro 2020 this summer.

Winks, like Tottenham, still has plenty of room for improvement — but his resurgence has come at a timely moment for club and country.
 

Primativ

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Why? Modric and Carrick (i'm not saying he is on the same level as either before you get your knickers in a twist) were hardly prolific scorers/assisters while with us but it didn't stop them being good players.

That doesn't make any sense. Carrick and modric were both incredible players so it didn't matter that they didn't score many, because they ran the midfield. Winks doesn't score either but he's not incredible at running a midfield, can't you see the issue?

It's like saying Andros Townsend doesn't track back but that's ok because he plays the same position as Cristiano Ronaldo and he doesn't track back either.
 

bomberH

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I don’t get the people saying he wasn’t all that today, even in the first half I thought he was one of our better players. But second half he was brilliant. He made more forward runs and passes in this game than I’ve ever seen him do in any other game for us. And almost all of them were spot on too. Even had a decent shot too!

I really fucking love Harry Winks. He got lost amongst our fans when celebrating the winner with us. He stuck his whole hand in Gedson’s mouth for no real reason except he was happy with our winner. He’s improving all the time and it’s vital he plays with the right players in order to bring the best out of him. I genuinely can’t get my head around the negativity from some of you.
 

DCSPUR

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I don’t get the people saying he wasn’t all that today, even in the first half I thought he was one of our better players. But second half he was brilliant. He made more forward runs and passes in this game than I’ve ever seen him do in any other game for us. And almost all of them were spot on too. Even had a decent shot too!

I really fucking love Harry Winks. He got lost amongst our fans when celebrating the winner with us. He stuck his whole hand in Gedson’s mouth for no real reason except he was happy with our winner. He’s improving all the time and it’s vital he plays with the right players in order to bring the best out of him. I genuinely can’t get my head around the negativity from some of you.
if he was henry l'winks and cost a 100 million the same lot would be saying he was dijon mate
 

ardiles

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Winks tends to be worked overtime when playing next to Dier. But when Winks is playing next to a better midfielder (like GLC ), you can see the improvement in Winks’ play.
 

morris25

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He's getting stronger but still needs to be more positive and aggressive with his passing. You can see the difference when GLC plays as he's always looking to pass forwards where as winks seems to go for the safer option
 

chrissivad

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Winks needs movement in front of him.
Lo Celso and Gedson both provided that second half when they look for the ball.

Too many other players wait for the ball.

I also think Jose has given him more freedom at time to break the line.
 

Tom Read

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Always does better when he's playing with GLC i.e an actual footballer.
Completely agree. The spell we saw today when Lo Celso came on you could see his quick passing, little one-twos around their midfield an breaking into space over the half way line. Think he's been great recently and hope him and Lo Celso start more together.
 

Danny1

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My dad & I were saying the same thing when watching the game yesterday. Winks is very much a short pass and move footballer, and will always play better with players who can do the same. A midfield 3 of him, Lo Celso & eventually Ndombele has all the attributes to be a very good trio.
 

spursfan77

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Or when he's left alone in the middle by Sissoko.
It's no surprise to me that we've gone on a good run since he's been out of the team. The Winks/Sissoko central midfield used to send shivers down my spine. Winks was always so isolated. Dier and GLC are cleverer footballers and help their midfield partner out.

I suspect he will play next to GLC against Leipzig on Wednesday.
 
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