Discuss: Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton?

Our left back has been an area for much discussion over the season with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Jan Vertonghen and Kyle Naughton all occupying the position.

After playing virtually every minute last term, Benni was expected to continue in the role, but injury to the Cameroonian has seen both Vertonghen and Naughton fill in.

Assou-Ekotto is now back, but not necessarily restored to the position he once had on lockdown, despite saying Kyle Naughton was not a threat to his place. Jan Vertonghen has returned to his more accustomed role in the centre, but Benoit has often been overlooked for Kyle Naughton as Andre Villas-Boas’ left back of choice.

With six must-win matches coming up in the Premier League, who should AVB go with, Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton?

Full backs in AVB’s system

The full backs play a large role in Andre Villas-Boas’ 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 the full backs 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.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton defensively

If we take a look at both Kyle Naughton and Benoit Assou-Ekotto defensively we can see the differences in each player’s game and style.

Benoit Assou-EkottoKyle Naughton
Mins on pitch813 mins1050 mins
Aerial duel attempt48 mins32 mins
Aerial duel success58%69%
Tackle attempted33 mins23 mins
Tackle success52%59%
Interception29 mins44 mins
Loose ball recovery13 mins18 mins

Benoit Assou-Ekotto prefers to try and intercept the ball, whereas Kyle Naughton is more of a tackler.

The Cameroonian will win the ball back through stealing and picking off misplaced passes and he also recovers loose balls well. The Englishman is much better at winning the ball back through challenges both on the deck and in the air. Kyle Naughton is just 1cm taller than Benoit Assou-Ekotto, but his frequency and win percentage in aerial duels is much greater.

Andre Villas-Boas’ system also requires the full backs to pressure the opposition. As a team, we win the ball back slightly more through tackling (20 per match), than intercepting (19 per match) due to our pressure game causing our full backs to engage with opponents. This should favour Kyle Naughton, however, we still win a lot of balls back through our pressure resulting in misplaced passes, which keeps Benoit Assou-Ekotto in consideration.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton going forward

As mentioned earlier, the full backs on both sides are required to get forward and support their wide attacking players.

If we take a look at where both Assou-Ekotto and Naughton receive the ball on the pitch, we get some interesting differences.

Benoit Assou-EkottoKyle Naughton
Mins on pitch813 mins1050 mins
Overall pass received2.1 mins1.9 mins
Pass rec in oppo half3.8 mins3.5 mins
Pass rec in final third7.4 mins8.4 mins

The objective of the full backs is to get in to the final third and support their wide player by either overlapping or by playing a pass through for him. We can see here that even though Kyle Naughton has received the ball more frequently overall, Benoit Assou-Ekotto has seen much more of it in the final third.

The reason for this is that whilst Benoit Assou-Ekotto is naturally left-footed, Kyle Naughton is a right footer playing on the left. This then has a knock-on effect for each player’s passing stats.

Benoit Assou-EkottoKyle Naughton
Mins on pitch813 mins1050 mins
Overall pass accuracy74%82%
Pass acc – oppo half79.5%87.5%
Pass acc – final third84%88.5%
Mins per cross attempted22 mins75 mins
Cross success31%28.5%

Kyle Naughton is much more effective at retaining possession of the ball due to his higher completion percentage of passes in each of the zones. As we’ll look at in a second, this is due to the fact that he plays a lot more safer square passes as he comes inside on his right foot,

By using his right foot more often, Naughton attempts considerably less crosses, and even then, completes them at a slightly lower percentage.

If we take a look at both players on stats zone, we can see their differences. I picked two games at random against similar ranking opposition, Norwich and Sunderland, both away from home where both players saw a decent amount of the ball.

Kyle Naughton played against Sunderland and we can see how he received a great deal of possession in the opposition half, but he rarely makes it in to the final third. His passing also reflects his more passive nature on the left. A number of balls are played squarely back inside and the only incisive passes he plays for his wide player to get in behind are long balls through the channels. His only cross is a short one inside the area, which is blocked.


Kyle Naughton passes received and played, Sunderland vs Spurs.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto got the start away to Norwich a couple of games later and we can see how much further forward he gets, echoing his increased passes received in the final third. There is also a slight difference in the angle of balls that he receives. Kyle Naughton took a number of square passes played to him, whereas the balls to Benoit Assou-Ekotto are more diagonal and forward in nature. This highlights his slightly more attacking intent to get forward.

The Cameroonian’s own passing does seem him play a number of square balls, but he attempts many more through balls in to or towards the area, as well as crosses.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto passes received and played, Norwich vs Spurs.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto passes received and played, Norwich vs Spurs.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto is much better going forward than Kyle Naughton due to him being naturally on his left side. As a result, he has an increased frequency for receiving the ball in the final third and his own passes played are more attacking in nature. Although Kyle Naughton completes passes at a higher rate, thus taking care of the ball, his passing is very often safe and square, rather than aggressive and forward.


Last season, Benoit Assou-Ekotto showed much better positioning in Harry Redknapp’s system. This term, both he and Kyle Naughton have struggled to play with the attacking dimensions Andre Villas-Boas requires, whilst also coping on the defensive end.

Nowhere was this better illustrated in than in our Europa League tie with Basel. Benoit Assou-Ekotto started in the first leg and was torn apart by the speed and direct dribbling of Mohammed Salah, especially on the Swiss side’s first goal.


Mohamed Salah is played in through with Benoit Assou-Ekotto out of position.

Kyle Naughton has more pace, so he was brought in for the second leg to match up with Salah. Although he did a better job of staying with the flying Egyptian, he was caught up field trying to support Gylfi Sigurdsson as Moussa Dembele turned the ball over on Salah’s goal.


Kyle Naughton is caught up field for Salah’s opening goal.

Both players have had difficulties with their positioning as they become accustomed to the role this season. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is an experienced full back, but has struggled to come to terms with what Andre Villas-Boas wants. Kyle Naughton should be more reliable given he doesn’t stray in to the final third as often, but he too hasn’t coped with his positioning.

Discuss: Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton?

Both players have their strengths and weaknesses, but who should get the nod for our six crucial Premier League encounters, Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton?

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7 Responses to Discuss: Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton?

  1. Claude 16th April 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Neither. BAE is being sold so is playing like he doesn’t care and Naughton is a complete liability, totally out of his depth this season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th April 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      I guess you’d be in favour of playing Jan there for the rest of the season then?

  2. Michael 28th April 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Good article.. that is quite an extensive analysis you’ve put together.. however interesting as it is I would suggest in this case it wasn’t necessary.. BAE has been one of the best left backs in the EPL during his time with Spurs.. if his form has not been quite the same standard this season I would think his long injury layoff and the subsequent lack of a consistent run in the first team since has been the reason.. Naughton is not a left sided player and should never be played there.. even on the right I question how good he actually is.. certainly not at Walker’s standard.. and who can be sure what exactly that is after this season? the news circulating is that Milan are in for BAE.. that says it all really.. much like Adebayor and others BAE has been mishandled this season by a manager who tends to outthink himself and doesn’t know when to make exceptions to the rules he puts in place

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      I agree that Benni is the better player and Naughton is out of place on the left, but AVB seems to prefer him over BAE at the minute. Naughton got the start against WIgan again on Saturday…

  3. Michael 29th April 2013 at 3:04 am #

    Something bugged with your comment section.. said a number of times there was a problem with my comment details.. thought it was maybe a word limit so reduced the text.. no success.. now my original comment is posted.. ??

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 29th April 2013 at 12:13 pm #

      HI Michael, i’m having trouble replicating the problem, if you don’t enter the capture code correctly then it will give you an error. Also, sometimes the page can become cached in your internet browser, so your comment won’t appear unless you hit F5 to refresh the page and empty your browser’s cache. Mobile phone devices are never served cached pages, so let me know if you entered your comment on a mobile phone?

  4. Michael 29th April 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Hi that’s correct I’m using a mobile device.. however despite the error notice original comments seem to be posting.. but I am receiving duplicate emails confirming these posts.. nevermind though.. in respect to your article I would just like to see our best XI on the pitch.. that can be subjective when there is not much to choose between players but I think in the case of BAE and Naughton the choice at left back should be clear.. AVB showed at Chelsea that for whatever his reasons he doesn’t necessarily always pick his best team.. eg. Cole on the bench away to Napoli in last year’s CL quarters.. with every game a final now Spurs need to put out their very best and most creative side