Etienne Capoue shows what he can do

After interest from Napoli and Tim Sherwood’s dislike for holding midfielders, Etienne Capoue didn’t look to have a big future at the Lane.

The Frenchman had played just 160 minutes in the Premier League since the new coach took charge in a stop-start season that has been interrupted by injury.

Wednesday night on Tyneside, the biggest surprise was to see Capoue’s name on the team sheet. He hadn’t started since our trip to Old Trafford and doesn’t fit the box-to-box mould of midfielder that Tim Sherwood craves.

We’d seen the new boss try to cram three such players in to the line-up against Everton. Nabil Bentaleb, Paulinho and Moussa Dembele all got the nod and the Toffees controlled possession and large parts of the game. Support was also lacking for Emmanuel Adebayor, the player whom their movement and energy was supposed to help.

Against Newcastle it was a surprise to see Sherwood keep all three given how wrong the experiment had gone against Everton.

Adding a holding player in Etienne Capoue though had the stabilising effect our midfield required. It allowed all three box-to-box players to concentrate on bursting forward to aid and support Adebayor, whilst also having the energy to get back when possession was lost.

On the ball

Etienne Capoue was at the centre of the action; sitting in front of and screening his back four. He touched the ball more times than any other player on the pitch and became a distribution hub. The defence could move the ball out through him, whilst the attackers could lay the ball back to him as he offered an out ball if they were under pressure.


Etienne Capoue passes received, Newcastle 0 Spurs 4.

In possession, his passing was to move the ball out square to the left where we had a full back paired with a winger who was staying wide. To the right he moved it much more forward on the vertical to where we had a player moving inside (Dembele) and a full back overlapping (Walker).


Etienne Capoue passes played, Newcastle 0 Spurs 4.

When he tried to move the ball aggressively forward over distance, something we know that he can do from when Etienne Capoue signed for Spurs, he often failed to find his target. These passes (in red) were in the first half where the game was much more stretched, compared to when we were playing on the counter after the interval. Capoue also looked a touch off the pace to start the game, but progressively grew in to it.

Etienne Capoue grows in to the game

The pace of the match, which was very up-tempo anyway, did seem a bit too fast for Etienne Capoue to start out. He hasn’t played that often in the Premier League, just 580 minutes or the equivalent of 6 full matches this season, 2 of which were spent at centre back.

As a result everything seemed to be happening a bit too quickly for him. Two of his three fouls in the match were committed in the first 11 minutes, as he took time to get to grips with the game. However, as the contest wore on, Capoue adjusted and we started to gain a greater control on proceedings, allowing us to move up the field.

He intercepted the ball just twice in the first half, both on the edge of our box. After the interval, he progressively moved forward and so did we as a team, as he picked off seven passes much higher up. This allowed us, and especially our three box-to-box midfielders, to get forward much quicker and from more advanced positions.


Etienne Capoue interceptions by half, Newcastle 0 Spurs 4.

After the interval he was even spotted making a lung-bursting run up the right, taking on Newcastle players. Capoue is more than just a holding midfielder in the Makelele mould and can move the ball forward through passing or taking it past opponents. This is something he did for previous club Toulouse and a trait he would bring to Spurs when we signed him.

Etienne Capoue shows what he can do

On a night when the focus was on us scoring goals, the return of a defensive midfielder to the line-up added some much needed stability to the side. Our first clean sheet on the road since Tromso followed and it was our first away shut out in the Premier League since our trip to Goodison Park at the start of November.

This wasn’t a vintage performance from start to finish; the Frenchman really did take time to grow in to the game. Once he did, both he and the side gained composure, allowing Nabil Bentaleb, Paulinho and Moussa Dembele to get up in support of Emmanuel Adebayor.

Bentaleb had arguably his best outing in a Spurs shirt, as did Paulinho with the pair scoring and assisting on three of our four goals. Etienne Capoue on the other hand, finally provided a player to take away the opposition’s space between the lines.

This is an area we’ve had trouble with since the new coach has taken over, as the centre backs have been playing much deeper than under AVB’s fabled high line. With two box-to-box midfielders in front them, there have been large pockets of space opening up, but Capoue took this area away. Newcastle were forced to lob balls over the top or to put in crosses.

By the end, Etienne Capoue had really laid down a marker for a place in the side with what he can do and how it allowed others to also excel. He may also have given Tim Sherwood something to think about with regards to his views on defensive midfielders.

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7 Responses to Etienne Capoue shows what he can do

  1. Doug 14th February 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    He deserves a regular spell in the team and showed what he can do the other night at Newcastle

  2. george 14th February 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    I agree with all this but I’ve got two queries. How is it Spurs have won so many games lately without a defensive midfielder and will Spurs’ team and management be ready when the opposition wises up and sticks someone on Capoue to prevent him being the out ball.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th February 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      Good questions George. We were rather lucky to beat Everton, but I believe we’ve won games by simply overrunning or overpowering teams. The games we’ve lost under Sherwood have come against smart teams that get players between the lines to expose our lack of defensive midfielders (Arsenal) and another team that overpowers, but with better players (Man City).

      The opposition may well wisen up and put someone on Capoue in a similar manner to which Everton had Leon Osman shadow Nabil Bentaleb last weekend, denying him the ball, time and space. In that case the full backs have to come in to play to move the ball forward or one of the other central midfield players to create either 3v2 or 4v3 situations.

  3. matt 14th February 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Excellent article Mark and a good analysis of the contribution made by Etienne Capoue. I am delighted that he was not sold in the transfer window and am hoping now that his talents are there for all to see (especially Tim Sherwood!). He was played in his correct position, for the full 90 minutes, for the first time under TS. His contribution was immense, especially an outstanding number of interceptions, 9 in all! His presence as a classic DM, shielding the back four, was the best tactical decision that TS has made since he took over as manager. It liberated Nabil Bentaleb from the holding midfield position (even if TS does not call it that!) and from defensive responsibilities to which he is not ideally suited and gave him and Paulinho license to roam forward (although both were very diligent in their defensive responsibilities also). Together with a very intelligent deployment of Mousa Dembele, tucked in/playing narrow on the right hand side, we dominated most of the midfield exchanges. Capoue was the catalyst and in the absence of Sandro, Sherwood must continue with him in that role and with that midfield shape, especially in the games against Arsenal and Chelsea coming up. Capoue is no ‘Sandro lite’, this guy is a bona fide “Beast Mk 2!”

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th February 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      Good comment Matt, i completely agree. Interesting that Capoue was used by his previous coach in France, Alain Casanova, infront of the defence in a 4-1-4-1 formation and that he excelled when given that role here.

  4. Chu2ks 15th February 2014 at 11:23 am #

    I second matt’s comments above, and excellent analysis from both him and you Mark.

    If Van Gaal gets the job, I believe this is the system he’ll most likely opt for with a ‘defensive midfield’ player in front of the back-four. It makes the game so much easier for the creative players as well, and liberates the full-backs- Walker was quite impressive in this game, which is hard for most Spurs fans to say this season, no coincidence.

    With either Capoue or Sandro, I’d have Benatleb/Paulinho/Eriksen/Holtby*/Carroll*(*:returning from loan) on either side in the midfield three, and have Chadli/Lamela(he’ll come good)/Townsend/Lennon/Eriksen up top either side of Ade.

    Sherwood has impressed me with the fact that he’s shown he’s neither stubborn nor incapable of changing his mind-invaluable characteristics in leadership, with his flexibility in his tactical set-up. Long may it continue, and if he moves on at the end of the season(not wishing that), this may well be the birth of a manager whose teams we might grow to enjoy watching.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th February 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      TS has proved flexible here. It’ll be interesting to see if Capoue (or Sandro when back fit) get a run of games or whether this was a one off to counter Newcastle’s lack of DM and the space they were giving up between the lines that having Capoue in the side allowed Bentaleb and Paulinho to get in to. The line-up for Norwich, a big physical crossing side, is one i eagerly await!