A big season for Etienne Capoue?

Etienne Capoue may just be one of the players who we get to see the best of in Mauricio Pochettino’s system.

Etienne Capoue seemed to be the forgotten man last season. Getting injured in just our third Premier League game saw him miss a large chunk of time for the man who actually wanted to sign him, AVB.

When he returned he was cast in a role as an emergency centre back. Then Tim Sherwood took over and his dislike for holding midfielders in preference to box-to-box ones saw him slip further down the pecking order.

Etienne Capoue was rumoured to be heading out the exit door, but four starts in four pre-season games have seen the Frenchman firmly back on the radar.

Mauricio Pochettino likes Capoue at the base of his midfield. The reason is not only that he can win the ball back, but also he has an excellent range of passing. The ability to move play accurately over distance is something our other ball winner, Sandro, doesn’t posses in the same way.

Etienne Capoue moving the ball

We’ve already seen so far in his time at Spurs that Mauricio Pochettino is going to use a defensive midfielder dropping in between wide splitting centre backs.


Capoue splits the wide moving centre backs.

This is done to outnumber and stretch the opposition in order to negate and tire out any kind of pressing.

The ball is brought out of defence by either the centre backs or the defensive midfielder. If these options are blocked off, then the play will be moved out through the full backs. The idea is to always have more numbers, and therefore options, than the opposition can cover.


With short options covered, Brad Friedel looks to find full back Kyle Naughton.

The reason the defensive midfielder is key for Mauricio Pochettino is that he is not just a ball winner. He also needs the player in this position to be a very able distributor, often to play passes over long distance. This can be vertically straight up the field or to switch it out to the full backs.

At Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino used Victor Wanyama for this role. So far at Spurs he has given it to Etienne Capoue.

The Frenchman showed in some of his brief appearances last season that he had an excellent range of passing. Take our second Premier League game against Swansea, Capoue’s first start in a Spurs shirt. We can see how he distributes the ball not only forward, but also diagonally out to the left flank in order to set his full back free.


Etienne Capoue passes played, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

His ability to keep the ball moving, and therefore alter the angle of attack, is what Mauricio Pochettino requires.

Against Toronto, we can see how Capoue rifles a pass through six opposition players to put Lennon in a very attacking position.


Etienne Capoue plays a vertical pass to Aaron Lennon.

He also was doing similar things against Celtic at the weekend. Here he finds Harry Kane drifting between the lines, taking three midfielders out of the game, in the move that leads to our second goal.


Etienne Capoue splits 3 players to hit Harry Kane.

This allows a very quick transition between defence and attack by moving the ball vertically. It often catches the opposition off guard and forces them in to panic defending.

In the Toronto game, we can also see here how he is able to fire a pass out to his full back, Ben Davies, who is motoring forward unopposed.


Etienne Capoue switches the ball out to Ben Davies.

Sending the ball early and accurately affords Davies more space and stretches the defence out, tiring them over the course of 90 minutes if this is done repeatedly.

Etienne Capoue the ball winner

Mauricio Pochettino not only requires his defensive midfielder to be a passer, but also a ball winner. His defensive duties cannot be neglected and winning possession back is a major part of the role.

Etienne Capoue, with his size and strength is able to do this. Just as he did here in snuffing out what was a very good Swansea midfield known for its possession and passing.


Etienne Capoue ball recoveries, Spurs 1 Swansea 0.

In one of his other rare starts, he also did a similar job on Newcastle and was arguably one of the best players on the park in our 4-0 win.


Etienne Capoue ball recoveries, Newcastle 0 Spurs 4.

Etienne Capoue averaged 2.1 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game in twelve appearances for us last season. Sandro, by way of comparison, averaged 1.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game from 17 appearances.

A big season for Etienne Capoue?

It looks so far as if Etienne Capoue is very much in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans.

Our new coach has a need for a defensive midfielder who not only wins the ball, but can also pass it over distance. This is where Capoue has the advantage over Sandro’s limited range of passing, which could well see the Frenchman get more starts at the position.

This could see Etienne Capoue make the kind of impact that we expected from him when signing him from Toulouse last summer.

The only problem that he has is that he can look very casual in his movement and he sometimes doesn’t do things quickly enough. This was one of the reasons, along with things like injuries, which saw him struggle to adapt to the pace of the Premier League. With a season under his belt, he should be better equipped to adapt this term.

This is a big season for Etienne Capoue and he has the tools to succeed in Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield, which seems to be tailor-made for him.

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21 Responses to A big season for Etienne Capoue?

  1. AnythingButPenalties 4th August 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Totally agree. I’ve thought Capoue was great since that Newcastle game.

    I think he’d be great paired with Schneiderlin (if we get him). Capoue sits and Schneiderlin provides the energy. Let’s hope he gets an injury free run in the side.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th August 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      Him and Schneiderlin would make a good midfield, but i’m not overly concerned if we don’t get him as we have plenty of options at that position – Paulinho, Dembele, Holtby – just for starters.

  2. drum 4th August 2014 at 10:12 am #

    This is a really good article.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th August 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Billy Hayden 4th August 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Mark, this is a really great article. Best i have read for some time on spurs sites. While Capoue lost form & become inconsistent during injury spells, i really like the guy and feel he has real potential to be a top star in our team (regardless of the manager).. He is strong, he can pick a pass out, and he moves around the pitch nicely. I feel he also fits well in a team where eriksen has a free role as deserved. I will be disappointed to see Sandro leave the club, but would be equally disappointed to see Capoue leave.. (im certain we will look back and regret if either leave)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th August 2014 at 4:50 pm #

      Thanks for reading Billy, glad you enjoyed it. Agree that it would be disappointing to see either leave. For me, it really depends on what the manager requires from his holding player. Capoue is better suited to Mauricio Pochettino’s needs, but i don’t think Sandro would be sold without an appropriate replacement as we really require two players for each position.

  4. anotherwisemonkey 4th August 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Thank you for this insightful and informative piece.

  5. doug 4th August 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Great article! I always thought he was a talented player, but the early leg break ruined his season, hopefully he can show his ability this time. Mark how do you think its shaping up so far? I know its early days but they do like much more like a team than last year, where to me players often looked lost or didnt understand what their or their team mates roles were.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th August 2014 at 4:54 pm #

      I think its shaping up very well and we really are only a central defender (hopefully we’ll get Musacchio) away from being pretty much sorted for this campaign. If we get him i’d be happy with the squad we have in place, any other signings would be a bonus.

      The players do look more together and like a team. I’ve tweeted a couple of times now that the number of selfies and gags floating about on the various social networks is real testament to the squad harmony that Pochettino has created. Everyone looks and seems genuinely happy.

  6. John 4th August 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Like the article. Point of discussion being wide playing CB’ s. This has very bad consequences for the whole back four when it goes wrong. Dawson got caught several times too close to Naughton and a simple over or through ball leaves both CB and RB lost. Seen it happ time and again. Walker had words with Carroll who didn’t get back to cover when both CB and RB were caught wide leaving the goal exposed to direct attack. We’ve seen Kaboul and Friers get caught out too far apart and Davies got caught flat footed by an inside pass between him and Kaboul. Not trying to slate anyone. Just trying to show how many different players have struggled with wide CB’s. Thinking on it Capoue is the only player we have who has the skill set to play deep mid in this system. I now know why Schniederlin is important to MoPo. Dembele,Sandro and Paulinho all hold the ball too long, some have a suss’ passing game too.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 4th August 2014 at 5:01 pm #

      Good points John. I think this is all a learning process and there are going to be some teething troubles whilst the players figure out the system and how to operate with each other in it. It has been noticeable in pre-season how shaky our defence can be, especially in the Seattle game, but they have been improving.

      Pochettino’s Southampton kept 15 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, only Man City (16), Arsenal (17) and Chelsea (18) kept more. So, it is testament that it can work once everyone is used to playing it.

  7. spurs o olic 4th August 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Awesome read been a while since I read something as absorbing as this well done to the author !!! Wonder if the author could analyse the response/support we get from our wingers an area where I definitely think we need to strengthen with preferably a Depay or the American green from a quality left footed WINGER …….

  8. John 4th August 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    Hi Mark, I hope it works out. We wont have long to wait and see. West Ham (our first match) found us out three times last season. Not sure if Rose, Daws, Naughton and Kaboul suit this system? I like the idea of an expressive interacting attack/midfield. Keeps the ball away from our end. I like the way things are shaping. I predicted a 5 goal gap over Celtic. What surprised me is it came off! How many games do Spurs stop pressing when we hit two goals? Hopefully Pocho gets his men. If he gets the backs sorted I think it could be a season of entertaining football. That’ll do me.

  9. yinka b 4th August 2014 at 10:57 pm #


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th August 2014 at 9:24 am #

      Thanks for reading Yinka, looking forward to a good season. COYS!

  10. SomeDude 5th August 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Hey, I was hoping to grab your thoughts on what we should do about Adeybeyour. I realize that most people think he is a twat but your analysis is much better then just conjecture on his personality. To me, he probably our most talented player. He can out-mucle just about anyone, he is lightning over 5 feet and his touch is so soft and deft that he occasionally looks like a wraith. I don’t want to call anybody a racist but I have a hard time believing that if he was white he would suffer the same accusations of “attitude problem” a la Balotelli (quick trivia, what do ribbery, benzema and rooney all have in common?).

    Furthermore, I was hoping to get your official pre-season stance on this seasons Europa League. I know in the past you have seen it as a somewhat unhelpful tournament to be in but, as you may (or may not) remember, I feel that if you want to build a strong team you need to go and beat strong teams. The Europa League is on of the best places for us to do that. So although your style is generally classier than to request that a manger take a specific plan of action, how do you think the Europa league should feature as a priority? I am kinda sad that our manager threw away the cup to Sunderland last season with a youth team on display when Southampton was both guaranteed safety and out of Europe. I think with a squad like ours that is a loosing game.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 6th August 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Great post and questions SomeDude. I think you are pretty right about Adebayor. For me he can be both the gift and the curse. He can be one of the most devastating players in the Premier League when he wants to be due to his size strength, power and he is very quick over the ground with an excellent touch and command of the ball. On the flip side, he has to be kept interested otherwise his enthusiasm wanes. That’s when his attitude can be a problem eg his fallout with AVB and then going AWOL after the African Nations Cup.

      So, i think we have two sides. Yes he can be unplayable at times, but there is an issue of focus which can lead to the personality problems.

      As far our system is concerned, the archetypal Adebayor ie the one who has excellent movement and can make through passes to his team mates would be perfect. Pochettino would just have to keep him involved and motivated.

      Re Ribery, Benzema and Rooney – is it something to do with Prostitutes? I remember seeing some Lavezzi style stuff from the two french lads in the news a few years ago. And we all know what Rooney did.

      My view on the Europa League is generally a good one. This season i did say it would be better to miss out so that the new coach would have more time on the training field to get his system and ideas across to the players and i stand by this. This is especially true with the World Cup meaning a number of our lads wouldn’t get to work with Pochettino until just prior to the start of the season. I would have preferred to be out of it this season and then we go after a European trophy in Pochettino’s second season when the system has been learned by the players and is second nature.

      For better or worse, we are in it this season though. I think it is a tremendously difficult competition to win due to the number of matches and travel to the ends of Europe which fatigues the players. I would be happy if we gave it a go as now a Champions League place is available for the winner, but if Pochettino has been given the target of making top four then i think we should focus on the league and give the lads who are not playing regularly in the Premier League or are Poch’s first choice XI when fit a go in the Europa League. This would keep the whole squad interested.

  11. SomeDude 5th August 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    Oh, and he plays a similar style too the one you outlines that our top striker will need (he comes back to distribute).

  12. Keith Hales 8th August 2014 at 1:04 am #

    Very detailed and very well written article just like all the articles here. The detail you go to puts all other sites to shame, keep up the good work!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 8th August 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      Much appreciated and thanks for reading Keith.