Kyle Walker often divides opinion among Spurs fans.
At times last term, he struggled to come to grips with the amount of attacking and defending that was required in AVB’s system. So, this season, can he get the balance right when more is being demanded of him in both phases of play?
Kyle Walker last season
In the defensive phase last season, Kyle Walker had problems in three main areas.
Firstly, when not defending against a direct opponent. An example was in our 3-2 win at Old Trafford where 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In the second period he had no direct opponent, as Giggs was withdrawn and Shnji Kagawa played narrowly on the left side of a diamond in midfield. The Japanese international kept coming inside and was consequently left open to score 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.
Secondly, as the goal above partly highlights, he sometimes struggled with being aware of what was going on around him.
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 our 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 our 3-1 win at the Madejski also highlighted 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.
Thirdly, his judgement could go array at key times. His ill-advised cross field pass against Liverpool that gifted them a lifeline back in to the match at Anfield when we were 2-1 up, was arguably his worst moment of the season.
Going forward, Andre Villas-Boas used him predominantly in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but also at times in a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2.
For most of the last campaign, Kyle Walker had Aaron Lennon in front of him playing as more of a winger. Lennon stays wide rather than cut in-field, looking to gather speed, dribble and cross.
Walker was required to thread the ball through the defence to Lennon on the run, so that he could receive it in-behind the opposition full back. This saw Kyle only having to get forward on the overlap when Aaron came short.
When AVB went with a 4-3-3 formation, then usually the player in front of Kyle Walker was Clint Dempsey or Gareth Bale. Both men like to move inside to get in to more central areas, which left Kyle Walker having to provide the width. He now had to motor up and down the line in order to offer an attacking outlet with his wide forward moving in to the middle.
We saw this In our 2-2 draw with Everton at the Lane last season where AVB went 4-3-3. He received 50 passes, but the ball was often moved directly to him from the centre of the park. These longer direct shifts of the ball were more in tune with how a conventional winger would receive possession.
It is getting further forward that Kyle Walker has had to get in tune with this season with Andre Villas-Boas having shifted to a more permanent use of 4-3-3.
The set up and functions of the wide players in this formation are slightly different this term though.
Kyle Walker this season
This season Andre Villas-Boas has employed a 4-3-3 from the outset, but its function is slightly different in the wide areas from when this formation was played last term.
With Clint Dempsey or Gareth Bale playing on the right and moving in field, the ball would be moved directly out to Kyle Walker from the centre of the park. This term, the wide forward is still cutting inside, but Kyle Walker is now looking to receive many more passes played up the line.
Compare the match against Everton above with our first home match in the Premier League against Swansea. Kyle Walker had Andros Townsend operating in front of him and with Andros moving inside, Kyle was looking to get beyond the full back.
In our last Premier League game with Arsenal, we can again see how the passes to Walker flatten out to be played more up the line in the final third.
This sees Kyle Walker as more of a threat to get in-behind the full back and square the ball or provide a short cross, as he did here for Roberto Soldado.
Walker was providing a cross every 26 minutes in the Premier League last season, this term that has increased to one every 19 minutes so far.
With Kyle Walker needing to get increasingly forward, this naturally leaves his side of the pitch more exposed in the defensive phase.
When Walker is up field, he needs to be covered by either one of our trio of midfielders or the defence shifting across. Etienne Capoue, Sandro or Moussa Dembele often provide help on his side, but we are open to being attacked through this zone.
In Spurs 1 Swansea 0 at the Lane earlier this season, the Swans didn’t offer much by way of attack. When they did create chances, they came through Walker’s right back zone.
Can Kyle Walker get the balance right?
It is this balance between attacking and defending that Kyle Walker needs to get right this season. He is required to get forward and provide attacking support by overlapping his wide forward, but also needs to be back in position in the defensive phase.
This term we have been pressing the ball much more. This allows him to get back in to position as we attempt to slow the opposition down and win possession back quickly. If successful, it then minimises the distance he has to cover between the attacking and defensive phases.
Last term, he was good going forward, but sometimes struggled with being unaware as to what was going on around him without the ball. With his role further enhanced this season, Kyle Walker is going to have to be more switched on to get the balance right between defence and attack.