For those of you who know me to be an Arsenal supporter, let me get this out of the way from the start, I have nothing against Holtby as a player even though he will be playing for Spurs. I am looking at this move purely on it's merits as measured by potential fantasy production and value and I have to say, I'm not sure about it. From all accounts Holtby looks to be a good and versatile player which should help him in the real world. That the cost to acquire him was next to nothing due to the fact that he will be out of contract in the Summer makes the move look even better for Spurs. The big questions that fantasy managers should be asking, however, are all about where he will play and how frequently he will do so this season.
First, here are some bullet points on what is known of Holtby:
- He's fairly young (22 years old)
- He is a versatile midfielder of the type that Arsenal traditionally and Chelsea more recently seem fond of acquiring in that he has shown an ability to play centrally or on either wing in the Bundesliga.
- His game seems to be somewhat Modric-like in that he likes to dribble, has a knack for opening the defense with a pass (7 assists in 18 starts and 1 sub appearance this season), is a strong crosser of the ball and scores at a solid-but-not-spectacular rate for a midfielder (4 goals in 18/1).
When you look at this set of skills, there isn't much to argue with assuming that he can take the mild step up that is the transition from Germany to England which isn't as severe as going from Holland to England but still represents a little risk. Regardless, of the risk, I'm going to start with the premise that Holtby's skills will translate well between leagues. The big question is how to analyze the Spurs roster and figure out where the minutes are going to come from this season. Let's take a look at some likely scenarios:
- Central/Attacking Midfield - Holtby's profile looks more like a fit with the role that Moussa Dembele plays than with the sort of withdrawn forward role that you'd associate with Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson. Dembele hasn't been as influential since he came back from injury but it is hard to see AVB abandoning Dembele entirely and making Holtby a regular enough starter that fantasy managers should consider buying him on anything more than a spot basis as a central midfielder.
- Left Midfield - There's this guy named Bale currently manning this post who appears likely to continue to do so until Real Madrid or Barcelona (or Chelsea or Manchester City) come and blow Spurs away with a silly offer. It may be coming and Holtby may be a very smart fallback plan that doesn't involve Spurs being held to ransom looking for a replacement. If that's the case, well done to Spurs but it doesn't create any sustained fantasy value this season outside of the odd match when Bale is suspended for diving...again.
- Right Midfield - This might be the best opportunity for Holtby in the back half of the 2012-13 season as managing Aaron Lennon must be infuriating. It is hard to argue the plus side of Lennon when he is on his game. The threat of Bale and Lennon streaking down opposite flanks must be terrifying for defenses. The problem is that Lennon is so hot and cold with his end product that there are matches where defenses likely realize that they don't have to pay much attention to the right side and slide over to focus their attention on Bale. There is the distinct possibility that AVB will install Holtby as a starter in this spot and use Lennon as a late-game change of pace after the defense is already wearing down. If Holtby initially earns his keep in this way, things could get interesting for fantasy managers based on the variety of things he does well that count for fantasy point.
- A Different Formation - One of Spurs' glaring weaknesses is their lack of depth at the forward spot. With K2 struggling (and away for the ACN), it is possible that Spurs will feature more formations that include 5 recognized midfielders with Holtby and Dembele sharing the creative engine room and allowing Bale and Lennon (or Dempsey) to flank Jermain Defoe. Whether this is technically a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3 doesn't matter for the sake of this argument if it means that Holtby sees the field very frequently. This would make Holtby a potentially attractive fantasy option but probably limit his upside a little bit because he might lead to fewer crosses and assists than a posting on one of the flanks would.
- A Rotating Role - One of the upsides of a versatile performer like Holtby, especially as the season wears on, is that he may be able to earn starters minutes by playing multiple positions on a rotating basis. If he starts 4 out of every 5 matches while rotating in across the three spots that he is capable of playing while giving Bale, Lennon, and especially the injury-prone Dembele some rest then he could have significant fantasy value. The big question in this scenario would be evaluating his potential at the various spots and how effective he might be for fantasy purposes in each.
Of the scenarios above, I suspect that the most likely outcome would be that he will see playing time as a key substitute in the immediate term as a young player adapting to a new league. How he shows in those substitute appearances will dictate whether AVB is forced to find him more playing time immediately or whether his opportunities this season come primarily through injury and suspension of others. Our hope as fantasy managers should be that we get a taste of what he can do this season but that his price stays low headed into next season when he will likely have a bigger role.
My advice is to hold off for now and take a cautious approach on this player. Nik, what say you as our man with his fingers on the pulse at White Hart Lane. Which scenario do you see as most likely?