Inside Lane: Have Spurs’ full-backs had a little too much praise?
Tottenham blogger Chris Miller feels that, while Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies got into some dangerous positions against Watford on Saturday, they could have made more of the opportunities.
Our full-backs have been lauded after Saturday’s 1-0 thrashing of Watford, and rightly so - both played well. But I can’t help but feel that their performances have been overstated somewhat, and that’s from someone who has long defended Tottenham Hotspur full-backs.
I have thought for some time that the modern full-back has been misunderstood, and judged against old standards. The role has changed significantly over the years, and even more so for Spurs’ players under Mauricio Pochettino. It is less about ‘defending first and getting forward when you can’ and more about providing a constant attacking outlet and pretty much all of the width.
When we have possession in our half, Eric Dier drops between the two centre-backs, allowing the full-backs to push right up to the halfway line and beyond, giving us the opportunity to transition quickly from back to front.
Both Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies did that part very well against Watford. Trippier (one) and Davies (0.7) make more crosses per game in the Premier League than Danny Rose (0.4) and Kyle Walker (0.4) so perhaps they were deliberately selected in this particular match for that reason.
Watford are known for defending with a narrow back four and maybe Pochettino identified this as a weakness. Trippier (one in 368 minutes) and Davies (two in 1,088 minutes) also have more assists per minute than Rose (two in 1,162 minutes) and Walker (one in 1,882 minutes) so we might have fancied our chances.
With Watford barely getting out of their own half, there was not much defending to be done, which allowed our full-backs to get forward with even more regularity than usual, and there was a lot of space to exploit. In the first half we constantly got Davies in down the left and in the second Trippier profited - both got into great positions. And this is where I feel that they have received a little too much praise.
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Having got into some very good areas they failed to deliver on all but one occasion. Trippier’s goal was fantastic - not the finish itself, of course, which was simple - but the burst of pace and positivity that he showed as the attack began. Aside from that, though, Trippier produced 10 crosses, three of which were accurate - which was relatively unproductive given how much time and space he had.
Meanwhile, Davies had three big opportunities to deliver in the first half, having got deep into the box. He had one wayward shot which took a favourable deflection and went just wide, one which he struck well but too close to Heurelho Gomes, and another where a slightly mishit cross was half-blocked by the first defender and then saved. Having done a lot of the hard work and got into great positions, we might have expected him to have scored or created more. Most studies over the years have found that crossing is an inefficient way of creating chances. Something like a fifth of crosses generally find their target and, even when they do, it is rare for a side to score a viable proportion of goals that way.
My biggest criticism of Trippier is that he too often puts a ball into a ‘dangerous area’ or ‘corridor of uncertainty’ - probably because he was encouraged to do that at Burnley. But even the most beautifully shaped cross is only dangerous if there is a man there to attack it, and we have so few bodies in the box because the way we build up play requires us to have attacking midfield contributions that bit deeper. Ultimately, we could get more men into the box but it would be at the expense of build-up play.
Trippier and Davies are doing well and are improving players under Pochettino. We also benefit from them offering a different style to the alternate full-backs. But, personally, I still see Walker and Rose as our best full-backs, and expect both to start against Manchester City on Sunday.
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