Ben Davies is the long awaited arrival to fill the much talked about left back slot. But just what does he bring to Spurs and how is Mauricio Pochettino using him?
Full backs in Mauricio Pochettino’s system
The full backs have differing roles in Mauricio Pochettino’s system, which I talked about last week when covering how the Argentine will change our defence.
At Southampton he used a very aggressive left back that got up the pitch to overlap his wide forward and put in crosses.
At right back, Pochettino went with a player that operated with more restraint as he had a wide midfielder in front of him. This full back only needed to overlap when his wide midfielder moved inside.
Overall, Mauricio Pochettino needed from his full backs:
– Ability to help with pressing whilst good defenders when retreating.
– Speed to cover the ground going forward and back.
– Can take players on in 1v1 situations, especially from the full back on the side with the wide forward.
– Able to deliver good accurate crosses.
Ben Davies has two of these four attributes in abundance. He is able to press, but is also a decent defender when retreating. Going forward, he is able to deliver good accurate crosses.
On the flip side, he doesn’t posses great speed. He has good speed, but he is not in the league of Kyle Walker or Danny Rose when it comes to covering the ground. He also doesn’t have the pace of Luke Shaw or Nathaniel Clyne who Pochettino had at Southampton.
What’s more, he is not naturally a player who takes opponents on.
Luke Shaw attempted 109 take-ons last season for Pochettino’s Saints side, the second most by a defender in the Premier League. By comparison, Ben Davies attempted just 29 in a Swansea side which was much more focussed on crossing from it’s full backs last season.
What Davies does have though is experience of playing the left side without cover. At Swansea he usually had either Wayne Routledge or Pablo Hernandez ahead of him. Both players drifted inside, leaving Davies to have to provide the width and crosses, but also be the first line of defence with his wide-man often in field.
Mauricio Pochettino’s system, if he doesn’t move his wide forward from the left flank to the right, functions with a similar lack of cover for the left back. Davies experience at Swansea will stand him in good stead at handling this flank on his own.
Ben Davies going forward
Getting forward to aid the attack on the overlap and supply crosses shouldn’t be a problem for Ben Davies. This was something he was tasked with doing at Swansea, who moved to a much more crossing based approach to feed Wilfried Bony and Michu last season.
Only West Ham and Manchester United attempted more balls in to the box than the Swans. Ben Davies put in the ninth most crosses by a full back in the Premier League, with 104.
When looking at the new roles for our full backs this season, we saw how Mauricio Pochettino got the ball out to Luke Shaw, often with passes over long distance.
In the final third the ball went more up the line to the full back. However, the length of the passing lines show how the ball was switched directly to Shaw and how he retained his width with Jay Rodriguez drifting in-field in his wide forward role.
Swansea did something similar with Ben Davies, as they too looked to deliver the ball out to him, often from longer passes to switch play. In the final third, again the passes flatten out up and down the line to him, as he overlapped his inside cutting wide midfielder – Hernandez or Routledge.
This allowed Ben Davies to get in to crossing positions (1) whereby he can put the ball in the box. He also plays diagonal balls (2) over the top for others to run on to. This is something that Mauricio Pochettino likes to feed his strikers or players making sudden burst runs from midfield.
So far for Spurs we’ve seen Ben Davies operate in a very similar fashion. Interestingly Mauricio Pochettino has used Aaron Lennon ahead of him on both his appearances on our USA tour. Lennon is similar to Wayne Routledge going forward, but offers much more by way of tracking and defensive cover.
Against Toronto FC we can see how Lennon has drifted in field and Davies gets forward on the overlap.
This allows him to play a short, low cross for Erik Lamela to get an effort on target.
Later in the game, he calls for a long diagonal switch of the ball from Etienne Capoue.
Similarly, he sneaks up on the outside and Christian Eriksen again finds him with the long diagonal pass.
Aaron Lennon has drifted in field on each occasion, giving Ben Davies the freedom of the left flank to try and supply telling crosses.
So far, with only two pre-season games to work on, this looks to be Ben Davies role when we are in possession.
Ben Davies in defence
A full back’s role is not just limited to going forward; he also needs to be able to defend. Mauricio Pochettino likes his full backs to help press the opposition in wide areas, but they also have to be able to retreat.
As we can see from our game with the Swans at the Liberty, Ben Davies can do this, recovering the ball in both halves of the field.
The problem for Ben Davies when at Swansea was that teams targeted his left back zone in order to attack the Swans. As we can see above, he can defend it, but with Davies often being left on his own on that side with his midfielder getting caught in field, teams exposed this.
We can see how we were focussed on getting in the left back zone when winning at the Liberty Stadium.
Davies’ decent but not great speed can see faster players get in-behind him, as he loses the foot race here with Aaron Lennon on our first goal.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Saints side also went after Davies’ left back zone in their 1-0 victory at the Liberty.
This will be the main problem for Ben Davies at Spurs. He will again be tasked with getting forward, but he also needs to get back and defend. With an inside cutting player in front of him and the later help that this brings, this could be a problem. His lack of track speed can be his undoing and maybe why Mauricio Pochettino has put Aaron Lennon in front of him on both his appearances for Spurs so far.
What Ben Davies brings to Spurs
After bringing in seven fresh faces from overseas last summer, Daniel Levy has focussed on going after those with Premier League experience this time around.
At just 21-years old, Ben Davies is already a very talented player with a bright future. He is a good crosser of the ball, which is what Mauricio Pochettino needs from the full back on the left side. He also has experience of having to hold down a flank on his own.
The only problem for Ben Davies may just be in the defensive phase. Having to get forward, whilst not having blazing recovery speed, may just be what our opponents target this season.