Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been widely tipped to be on his way out of White Hart Lane this summer. A new striker or two apart, a large number of Spurs fans would also like to see a new left back given our struggles at the position last season.
The Cameroonian spent a large chunk of the campaign out with injury, resulting in Jan Vertonghen, Kyle Naughton and even Gareth Bale operating in the left back role.
The arrival of a Brazilian, someone who Benni admitted he ‘didn’t know who Paulinho was’ and a switch to 4-3-3 may just give him the chance to flourish again.
The full backs in AVB’s 4-3-3
The full backs play a large role in Andre Villas-Boas’ 4-3-3 system, both with and without the ball.
When in possession, they are required to move up the pitch and assist their wider forward players. They have two main duties here.
Firstly, they need to look to play balls through the opposition defenders to our wide players moving between the lines on the run.
Secondly, if the wide player moves inside, then they need to provide the width and look for passes played through the defence themselves. From here they can get in to positions to cross the ball or cut it back to a team mate.
Without the ball they are required to press up the field in order to force the opposition back in wider areas. They pinch in very tightly behind their wider forward players in order to decrease the space. In this way they can force interceptions and turnovers from either directly taking the ball or indirectly by the opponent kicking long downfield to clear.
BAE getting forward
After playing 34 games in the Premier League in the 2011/12 season for Harry Redknapp, Benoit Assou-Ekotto found his time limited last season due to injury. He also found himself on the bench against tall, physical, aerial teams like West Ham and Stoke. Here, AVB preferred Jan Vertonghen at left back in order to get effectively three centre backs in the line-up to counter the opposition’s aerial threat.
When he did get to play, Benoit Assou-Ekotto showed that he was able to get forward and support the attack, something AVB will require in a move to a 4-3-3.
Nowhere was this more evident than in our last game of the season against Sunderland. Not only did Benni look to play passes through to Clint Dempsey cutting inside from his starting position on the left. He also got forward and in to the final third, providing width to cross.
This is what AVB requires from his full backs when we’re in possession if he moves to a 4-3-3 system. Benni showed that he could operate this way when the head coach used this formation against Man City.
In the first half that day we played 4-2-3-1 and Benoit Assou-Ekotto struggled to get forward.
He received only two passes in the final third, a long ball delivered from the opposite touchline and a layoff back to him from Gylfi Sigurdsson. Overall, most of the passes to him in the first 45 were either square or backwards.
After the interval came a switch to 4-3-3 and he was able to become more aggressive, getting more in to the City half of the field.
The passes to him became more attacking by their diagonal nature as the tempo of play quickened by having a midfield three and the full backs pushing on.
When in possession in the first half, Benni had to move the ball inside a lot and from a deeper position. After the switch he was attempting to play much more aggressive, vertical passes up the line to Gylfi Sigurdsson in the wide forward role, as well as trying to cross in the final third.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto crossing
The role of the full back in AVB’s 4-3-3 requires that he is able to cross.
In the 2011/12 season when he played every Premier League game, Benoit Assou-Ekotto attempted 93 crosses, the eighth highest among defenders that season. He was trying to put a ball in to the box every 33 minutes of match time.
Last term, despite missing a large portion through injury, he still put in 55 crosses in the Premier League, or one every 22 minutes of match time. This increase in frequency highlighted the attacking nature that Andre Villas-Boas required from his full backs last season.
For Benoit Assou-Ekotto, despite this change, he increased his cross completion percentage slightly from 26.8% in Harry Redknapp’s last season to 27% in AVB’s first campaign. This saw him just behind Leighton Baines’ 28% and ahead of fellow full back Kyle Walker’s 22% completion percentage.
Overall, it showed that Benni was still delivering consistent crosses at a high level, but that he could also deal with the increased workload.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto defensively
Andre Villas-Boas’ system requires his full backs to press higher up the field, pinching in behind the wider forwards. The increased pressure should result in more turnovers, especially from interceptions.
Benni can tackle, but he prefers to intercept the ball, being more of a stealth defender. Last season he was attempting a tackle every 40 minutes, compared to intercepting the ball every 27 minutes in the Premier League.
If we go back to the Man City match we can see the effect of switching to a 4-3-3 on BAE defensively.
In the first half with Spurs playing 4-2-3-1, Benoit Assou-Ekotto makes two interceptions fairly deep in our half of the field. After the interval and with the switch to 4-3-3, Benni makes three interceptions much further up due to the additional pressing from the full backs.
Benni is one of the top interceptors in the Premier League when healthy.
In the 2011/12 campaign, he finished eleventh among Premier League defenders with at least ten appearances, making an interception every 33 minutes on pitch.
In picking off a pass at an improved every 27 minutes last term, he finished fourth among defenders with more than ten Premier League appearances.
It is his ability to steal the ball that will allow him to excel in a 4-3-3 system.
BAE the perfect fit for 4-3-3?
Left back has been a problem area for us this season and the rotation of players hasn’t helped.
Whilst many Spurs fans are looking for us to bring in a new full back over the summer, Benoit Assou-Ekotto has shown that he can adapt to what Andre Villas-Boas has wanted this season and would be a good fit if we switched to a 4-3-3 system.