Federico Fazio arriving at Spurs sees our defence going large with the powerful 6ft 5 Argentine, but just how will he fit in?
Federico Fazio became Mauricio Pochettino’s fifth acquisition of the summer and yet another defensive player. Our new coach seems determined to rebuild our back line and the Argentine’s size, strength and power are key factors in his recruitment.
Centre backs in Pochettino’s system
The role of the centre back in Mauricio Pochettino’s system is quite different to anything we’ve done before.
Our new coach requires that they are both mobile and comfortable with the ball at their feet, as these factors are key to how they operate.
They not only have to vertically mobile to get up and down the pitch, but also laterally, as they have to defend out towards the sidelines. Pochettino likes to push his full backs on and so the centre backs need to be comfortable at defending out in these wide areas.
In our opening Premier League match with West Ham, we can see how Younes Kaboul was pulled out in to the wide areas to defend. He switched sides of the centre back pairing after Kyle Naughton’s red card and Etienne Capoue dropped in. He therefore made clearances (circles), interceptions (diamonds) and tackles (crosses) out towards both sides.
The centre backs are often helped in these wide areas by one of our defensive midfielders in the pivot. Both Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb will often drop in to cover their full backs and help their central defender out, but not always, especially on counter attacks.
Therefore, the central defenders not only need to be comfortable moving out into wider positions of the pitch, but also good tacklers in 1v1 situations.
This mobility also extends to when we have the ball. Mauricio Pochettino uses the split centre back system, whereby they move wide when we have possession at the back. This then allows one of the midfielders in the pivot to drop in between them, usually Etienne Capoue, so that one of the three can bring the ball out.
When in possession, our new coach likes his centre backs to be comfortable on the ball and good passers. With the centre backs splitting wide to bring play out, any slip-ups could see us in vulnerable situations and out of position if the ball is turned over.
On the ball, distribution is key, the centre backs not only need to pass the ball short, but they also need to be able to move it long. This can be to ping it across to their fellow centre back or to switch the side of play to the full back on the opposite flank.
These distance passes are vital to getting the attack moving, as they can quickly alter the angle of it or rapidly move the ball forward in to aggressive positions.
Federico Fazio fitting the system
At Sevilla Federico Fazio proved to be a very big, strong and powerful defender. He has mobility, but not necessarily great speed. He has a long stride to cover the ground, but naturally for someone who is 1.95 metres tall it can take a while to get his legs moving.
He is comfortable defending in wide areas though. Fazio can play on both sides of the centre back pairing and with Sevilla’s naturally aggressive full backs, he often had to cover for them.
Against Athletic Bilbao he operated on the left of the centre back pairing and we can see how he makes clearances in his penalty area (circles). We can also see how he covers left back Alberto Moreno by the number of interceptions (diamonds) he makes out on that flank.
Fazio has great range with his long legs and although he doesn’t move rapidly, he can often steal the ball. This helps him defend not only in the middle, but also if he is pulled out in to wider areas.
When in possession, Federico Fazio has the ability to play as a split centre back and take the ball forward from these wider positions.
In the article on how Mauricio Pochettino will change our defence, we saw how he uses his centre backs to receive the ball. This will often be in an arcing motion as they move out from the centre and towards the touchline in support of the full back further forward. Just as Younes Kaboul does here.
We can see how Federico Fazio does this from the right side of the centre back pairing against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
Whilst also moving in a similar arc out and up, this time from the left of the centre back pairing, against Real Valladolid.
Note in both positions how the ball is often moved over distance to him by the length of the passing lines, this quickly switches the side of possession.
When on the ball himself, he has the ability to move it over distance, but with varying degrees of accuracy.
Against Atletico Madrid, we can see how he moves the ball out on the diagonal to his right full back, Coke (1). We can also see him shifting it across to his central defensive partner, Pareja (2). Whilst also playing extremely long switches to the full back on the opposite side, Alberto Moreno (3).
It is these three types of passes that Mauricio Pochettino will require Federico Fazio to make in a Spurs shirt.
Whilst Federico Fazio has the tools to be an excellent centre back, there are one or two concerns.
Firstly, he is very long and has range due to his height, but this means he can be slightly slower over the ground to get in to his stride or quickly change direction. He is very strong in the tackle and will usually win the ball, but if a quick player gets past him, which isn’t often to be fair, he is probably not going to catch them.
To compensate for this, Fazio can sometimes sit slightly deeper or back off to pick and choose his moment. This can leave him susceptible to playing the opposition on side. In a fast-paced league such as ours, this could see him in trouble due to the speed of attacks compared to Spain.
The second concern is again due to the pace of our game. Fazio likes time on the ball and can sometimes be slightly slower with it, again due to his size. Against teams that press and harass, he can be forced to miscue the ball or turn it over through clearing.
Barcelona are one the ultimate pressing sides and we can see how he struggled with any downfield or long passing against them.
The final concern relates to fouling, as Federico Fazio can pick up the cards. Eight yellows in 27 La Liga appearances last season, along with three penalties conceded.
What you can give up in quickness, you gain in size, strength and power. Federico Fazio has this in abundance and it will see him do well in our game. He is a defender first and foremeost. What’s more, at 1.95 metres, he is very strong in the air, in both penalty boxes.
He is also an excellent interceptor of the ball due to his long legs and the range that he has. This can help him snuff out opposition attacks, especially if pulled out in to the wider areas, which Pochettino requires of his centre back pairing.
He is also technically sound, especially if given time on the ball. He can deliver the types of passes that Mauricio Pochettino will require him to make, but with sometimes a varying degree in accuracy.
Whilst Federico Fazio may not have been our first choice given our pursuit of Mateo Musacchio, solid centre backs are rare in the market at the moment. Especially ones that are mobile and comfortable enough on the ball to do what Mauricio Pochettino requires.
Federico Fazio is this and at £8 million may well prove to be good value for money and an absolute beast at the back.