Kyle Walker has had a very up and down season for Spurs after a standout campaign last term.
We’d hoped his error at Anfield was a one off, but then days later he had another shocker at the San Siro, as detailed in the Inter 4 Spurs 1 match report. With the Nerazzurri scoring four times through his right back zone, it appeared as if he was in the midst of another downward spiral.
Dropped for our Premier League match with Fulham, his performance at Swansea on the weekend hinted at something of a return to form.
Kyle Walker going forward
Getting up the field in support of the attack has never been a problem for Kyle Walker and that has been a key part of his game for Spurs this season.
Under Harry Redknapp, Walker was required to get forward, but as we played with traditional wingers, his role was to feed Aaron Lennon in wide positions to cross.
This season, Andre Villas-Boas requires two things from his full backs going forward.
The first is for them to look to hit their team mates with passes played through the defence. The second is to increase their overlaps and look to gain the ball on the run behind the opposition full backs themselves, thus creating a fluid partnership on each flank.
As a result, Walker has attempted 112 crosses already this season in the Premier League, compared to 106 for the whole of the last campaign. This has seen him gain 5 assists this term, whereas he had just 1 for the whole of last season.
Despite us only having 37% possession at Swansea on Saturday, Kyle Walker was showing a willingness to get forward and gain the ball on the move in the final third. He was also looking to feed the ball in to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon running in behind Swansea full back Mark Davies.
His top target for passes in the game was Scott Parker, who has had to change his game to be more attacking from his midfield role this season. Second was Gareth Bale, highlighting the more aggressive nature of our full backs this year.
Kyle Walker defensively
Whilst Kyle Walker has been doing well going forward, it’s on the defensive end that his form has been in question.
Swansea were playing more to attack left back Kyle Naughton in this match and had most of their play down this side.
They went 38% of the time at Naughton’s left side, compared to just 28% at Kyle Walker on the right according to WhoScored.com. However, this didn’t stop Walker putting in a solid defensive shift.
He made three of four attempted tackles along with 5 interceptions in the game, limiting Swansea to just one chance created from his right back zone. Note the location of the tackles and interceptions as Kyle Walker was making these challenges high up and not back close to his goal.
The fact that he pushed Swansea back down this side was the most impressive thing about his performance here.
He held a high position and whilst Swansea were able to get the ball deep to Dwight Tiendalli going at our left side, they rarely got in down our right.
The only notable chance created from Kyle Walker being beaten was when Wayne Routledge drove past him to the by line and put in a cross. Gareth Bale blocked Nathan Dyer’s resulting shot, but this was the only real moment where Walker was exposed. This was a shame, as to begin with he looked in a good position in order to defend the situation.
As Wayne Routledge has the ball, his hand appears to be forced by the presence of Scott Parker, which causes him to go away from a potential double team and towards the by line. Kyle should have had this move covered. He has a decent starting position, plus he shapes his body to guard against a dash down the outside.
Routledge beats him to it though and is able to get his cross in, but a great block on the stretch by Gareth Bale helps Walker out.
Kyle Walker coming back to form?
It may only be one game, but Kyle Walker did show some positive signs against Swansea.
Going forward he was looking to get in behind the opposition full back, whilst also trying to get the ball to his team mates on the run beyond the Swansea lines.
Without the ball, he did a decent job of forcing the Swans back on his right side. He maintained a good high position, whilst tracking Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge pretty well – apart from the latter’s cross to Dyer. This was a good sign seeing as he has had trouble defending against players that drift inside, as I wrote about in the post ‘Why we shouldn’t get down on Kyle Walker.’
His good showing might have something to do with being away with England and working with Gary Neville.
“He’s a player I looked up to and watched often. He had a fantastic career. He gives me tips and coaches me through things. I’m excited to be working with him. I’ve always liked to go forward, but he has helped massively in terms of myself improving defensively. I just want to keep on learning.”
This is a positive sign with a tough run-in coming up, but a potential pitfall is that he’s rapidly approaching the most minutes he’s played in a season.
So far this term, he’s started all bar two Premier League matches and played the full allocation in every Europa League game. In the League Cup he came on from the bench against Carlisle, but played the full 90 against Norwich. In the FA Cup, he was rested for our home win over Coventry, but then came on as a sub against Leeds.
His total minutes logged for club and country so far this term is 3837, whereas he played a total of 4122 minutes for Spurs and England in the 2011/12 season. He’s just 285 minutes, or 3 full matches, away from reaching that target again this term. So, maybe his performances against Liverpool and the return against Inter were affected by fatigue setting in.
A bit of respite over the last few weeks may have served him well, but it’s something to keep an eye on given that he is fast approaching the time he played for the whole of last season.
Let’s not forget that the last campaign was his first full one as our regular right back, so a blip this term could be expected. Saturday’s performance against Swansea did offer some signs that Kyle Walker may well be coming back to form at the right time.