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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.