Aaron Lennon returning from injury for Spurs at the weekend was a welcome sight. Although he showed some flashes of quality, the diminutive winger received possession just 15 times in our 2-1 win at the Liberty Stadium. For Spurs fans, this has become an increasingly frequent sight since Gareth Bale moved in to the number ten role during our trip to Norwich at the end of January.
The Welshman was taking a shot at goal every 20 minutes on pitch and creating a chance for a team mate every 40 minutes when playing out on the left. Since his move to the middle, he has improved those numbers to a shot every 16 minutes and fashioning an opportunity every 32 minutes.
So, whilst Gareth Bale is thriving, is this having a negative effect on Aaron Lennon?
Aaron Lennon before and after the Bale move
Aaron Lennon is in the midst of one of his better seasons in a Spurs shirt. He is chasing down his best figures in the Premier League, being just one goal away from equalling his haul of five in 2008-09. He’s also just three assists shy of his record of ten in the 2009-10 campaign.
Interestingly enough, his last assist came in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United at the Lane. This was the match before Gareth Bale switched to the centre for the second half away to Norwich.
If we take a look at his numbers before and after Gareth Bale switched to the number ten role in this match, we can see just how much less of the ball he now commands.
|Before Bale Move||Since Bale Switch|
|Pass received||3.3 mins||5.4 mins|
|Pass received in oppo half||3.9 mins||7.8 mins|
|Pass received in final 3rd||6.3 mins||13.1 mins|
|Pass received in penalty area||23.1 mins||32 mins|
|Mins per cross (completion %)||37 mins (20%)||42 mins (14%)|
|Chance created||43 mins||72 mins|
Before Gareth Bale’s switch to the centre, Aaron Lennon was enjoying much more of the ball and in areas higher up the pitch.
Overall, he was receiving a pass every 3.3 minutes prior to the move to make Gareth Bale the regular number ten. Since the switch, he has received a pass every 5.4 minutes. This might not seem like a big difference, but it equates to an extra 11 passes received (27 as opposed to 16) per full 90 minute match.
The further forward we go, the less Lennon sees of the ball. His minutes per pass received decrease by larger amounts right up until the penalty area. This is having a knock on effect on his crossing, which is down, as is his completion of them and his overall chances created.
Aaron Lennon was fashioning an opportunity for a team mate every 43 minutes prior to Gareth Bale’s switch to the centre in the Norwich match. He had also set up three goals in the five Premier League matches before this game. Since then he is only creating a chance every 72 minutes, a dramatic decrease on his productivity from when he and Gareth Bale were on opposite sides of the field.
If we take a look at his last few appearances, we can see how Aaron Lennon is getting fewer touches of the ball in less attacking areas.
Aaron Lennon against Swansea
I mentioned at the outset how Aaron Lennon received just 15 passes at the Liberty stadium. If we take a look on Stats Zone at where he took them, we can see how little of the ball he was getting and in less attacking areas.
Aaron Lennon did stay wide, but rarely made it in to the final third to receive the ball. Swansea dominated possession, but on one of the rare occasions he took possession in the final third, he dribbled across the field and played in Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander’s curling effort was clawed away by Michel Vorm, but the driving run from Lennon was a positive in an otherwise quiet afternoon.
Aaron Lennon against Arsenal
Prior to his injury, Aaron Lennon last played in the Premier League at home to Arsenal.
Our pint-sized speedster did score in this game, notably from one of the few passes he took in the final third, as he cut in through the middle.
Overall, Aaron Lennon received just 21 passes in this match. This was better than his average of 16 since Gareth Bale switched to the centre, but worse than his average of 27 prior to the Welshman’s move.
Again he is receiving possession in less attacking positions, with a lot of passes just over the half way line, but only two are in to the final third. His goal did come from a pass through the Arsenal defence, something Andre Villas-Boas has tried to install in this year’s team.
What AVB wants from Aaron Lennon
The Portuguese manager wants Aaron Lennon to be receiving the ball from passes played through the defence to get in behind the opposition full back. He was doing a good job of this as I wrote in “Aaron Lennon getting the manager’s message?” which saw him score once and set up three further goals in a run of five Premier League matches.
One of those games against Aston Villa, saw him regularly get in behind the full back and this allowed him to supply one of our four goals.
His strike against Arsenal did arrive in this fashion, as he snuck in behind Nacho Monreal, but it’s not been a regular sight since the switch of Gareth Bale to the centre.
Does Gareth Bale playing centrally get less from Aaron Lennon?
It appears on one hand that the move to shift Gareth Bale in to the number ten role has improved his own personal performances. I examined this in the post “Just how much better is Gareth Bale in the centre?” where we saw how he is getting away an increased number of shots, whilst also creating more chances.
But whilst Bale’s own play has improved, it would seem to have come at the detriment of others. Aaron Lennon is seeing less of the ball and his own chance creation has plummeted since the Welshman’s central switch.
He is not only getting less possession, but fewer touches in advanced areas, where he was helping the team by fashioning more opportunities earlier in the season.
We have undoubtedly missed Aaron Lennon in recent weeks, having very little width with Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson often in the wide positions. They have been used almost as inverted wingers, with both players preference to come inside with the ball. Now we have the luxury of width back in the side, surely we should be using it?