After a standout season in 2011-12, Kyle Walker struggled at times playing for Andre Villas-Boas last term.
Bursting on to the scene with great potential and already a regular member of the England squad, it can be easily forgotten that he is just 23 years old and still learning his trade.
Where Kyle Walker did run in to trouble last season was in three key areas.
1. Kyle Walker vs indirect opponents
Kyle Walker had trouble in the last campaign when not defending against a direct opponent.
In our 3-2 win at Old Trafford he was up against Ryan Giggs in the first half and did well to keep him quiet.
In the second period he had no direct opponent, as Giggs was withdrawn and Shnji Kagawa played narrowly on the left side of a diamond midfield. The Japanese international kept coming infield and was consequently left open for Man Utd’s second goal.
Kyle Walker was worrying about Danny Welbeck when he should have been concerned with Kagawa moving in to the centre.
In our 4-2 defeat to Chelsea at the Lane, Eden Hazard started on Walker’s side. However, the interchangeable nature of the Belgian with Oscar and Juan Mata meant Walker’s opponent changed all afternoon.
Although Mata’s second goal wasn’t directly his fault, Walker was left with a decision to make of whether to stay wide with Oscar or track the Spaniard.
William Gallas should have been more alive to the run in behind by Mata, whilst Jake Livermore shouldn’t have just let him run by. However, Walker also had a decision to make once Mata by-passed Livermore.
As it wasn’t his direct opponent, which was Oscar at the time, Walker stayed wide and Spurs conceded a goal through the inside right channel similar to Kagawa’s.
The goals conceded above can also be linked to awareness and what is going on around you on the football pitch. Quite often the speed and pace of Kyle Walker gets him out of trouble, but last season we saw several momentary lapses in concentration.
QPR’s goal in the 2-1 victory at the Lane was an example of this, as Walker was slow to come out from a corner, playing Bobby Zamora onside.
Reading’s consolation in the 3-1 win at the Madejski was also an example of what can happen when you are not alive to the bigger picture.
Kyle Walker gets caught looking in on Adam LeFondre and doesn’t realise that Hal Robson-Kanu has streaked past him to get to the back post.
Kyle Walker did have his share of face plam moments over the season.
His ill advised pass that let Liverpool back in to the game when we were leading 2-1 at Anfield. Trying to take on Juan Mata with a crazy piece of skill as the last defender, resulting in Daniel Sturridge getting a tap-in when we were a goal down and chasing the game against Chelsea at the Lane in naming just two.
It may be from over-confidence after having such an exceptional first full season in 2011-12 when he won the PFA young player award. It may also be due to getting used to the extra demands placed on him in Andre Villas-Boas’ system.
This term as the head coach switches to a 4-3-3, improving his judgment will be key for Kyle Walker.
What AVB will need from Kyle Walker this season
Since Andre Villas-Boas has taken over, he has required Kyle Walker to get up and down the flank even more than during Harry Redknapp’s reign. This is to help with both attacking and defensive responsibilities.
Without the ball, Walker is required to help with pressing the opposition’s left-sided wide player to force him back.
Together with the high line we have deployed, saw him having to operate much further up than he did in Redknapp’s 4-4-1-1. Consequently his minutes per interception improved from winning the ball back every 50 minutes in 2011-12 to every 37 minutes for AVB last season.
When we’re in possession he is required to get forward and support his winger when AVB has gone 4-2-3-1. Here the coach requires Walker to thread the ball through the defence to his wide player (Aaron Lennon) on the run. If Lennon comes short to receive possession, then this is a trigger for Walker to look to receive the ball as he cuts through in to space.
A good example of this was on our opener down at St Mary’s earlier in the season.
When AVB went 4-3-3 last term, Kyle Walker had to get forward even more with the wide player in front of him cutting inside to support the central striker.
Without both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, Andre Villas-Boas went with this formation in our 2-2 home draw with Everton.
Walker had to motor up and down the line in order to provide an attacking outlet with his wide forward, Clint Dempsey, moving in to the middle. He received 50 passes, but the ball was often moved directly to him from the centre of the park as he gets in to advanced areas. These longer direct shifts of the ball are more in tune with how a conventional winger would receive the ball.
Once in possession, he was required to cross the ball or cut it back to create scoring chances.
It probably comes as no surprise that Kyle Walker increased his crossing frequency from one attempted every 32 minutes in 2011-12 to one every 26 minutes for AVB last season.
We also saw a glimpse of this increased role in our pre-season friendly against Sunderland in the Barclays Asia trophy.
Andre Villas-Boas lined us up once again in a 4-3-3 and Walker had to get up the touchline to provide an outlet.
Without his wide forward, again Clint Dempsey, in front of him, Walker has the opportunity to attack the space behind the opposition full back. He drives in to this area, taking his man on and cuts it back for Gylfi Sigurdsson to score.
If Andre Villas-Boas continues with his transition to 4-3-3 this season, then we’ll see a lot more of this from Kyle Walker.
A key season for Kyle Walker
Despite an up and down season last term, Spurs conceded the fewest number of chances in the Premier League through Kyle Walker’s right back zone according to OPTA. A point for his critics of the last campaign to mull over.
The problem for the right back was that when he did commit an error it was usually something major leading to a goal or a good scoring chance for the opposition.
Kyle Walker will be going in to just his third season as our starting right back and it will see him as a vital cog in the side if Andre Villas-Boas plays 4-3-3.
The formation requires athletic full backs that can get up and down. Walker will have to get forward and support the attack, which could leave him out of position in defence and open to more criticism if we leak goals.
Tthis will be a big season for the right back to see if he can cope with the increased workload.