Who starts at left back: Danny Rose or Ben Davies?

Mauricio Pochettino has options at left back as new arrival Ben Davies competes against new contract Danny Rose. But who is the better choice?

When Ben Davies signed for Spurs it looked for the entire world that he was going to be our new starting left back.

However, Danny Rose signing a new five-year contract and seeing plenty of time in pre-season means that Mauricio Pochettino is going to let the two vie for the starting spot.

The left back in Pochettino’s system

The full backs have differing roles in Mauricio Pochettino’s system, which I talked about when covering how the new coach will change our defence.

At Southampton he used a very aggressive left back that got up the pitch to overlap his wide forward and put in crosses.

What Mauricio Pochettino requires from his left back is a player who can:

– Help with pressing up the field whilst a good defender when retreating.
– Speed to cover the ground going forward and back.
– Overlap his wide forward and take players on in 1v1 situations.
– Able to deliver good accurate crosses.

At Southampton, Pochettino used Luke Shaw to get forward and past Jay Rodriguez on the overlap to cross. Shaw would receive the ball, often over distance from long switches in play. This would quickly alter the angle of attack, allowing him often to get possession before opposition defenders could recover their positions.

If we look at Shaw’s passes received against West Brom from last season, we can see these long switches across the field to him. We can also see just how far forward he gets in order to put in crosses.


Luke Shaw passes received against WBA.

Shaw attempted 5 crosses in this game and over the course of the Premier League last season he put the second most balls in to the box amongst defenders. Only Leighton Baines attempted more.

The Saints full back got in to crossing situations by dribbling. With Jay Rodriguez drifting inside as a wide forward, he had to work his delivery often from beating his opponent. Shaw attempted 111 take-ons; only Seamus Coleman tried more often to beat his opponent amongst full backs.

Ben Davies

When Mauricio Pochettino signed Ben Davies, he seemed a natural fit for what Mauricio Pochettino required.

He had two of the four attributes i talk about above in abundance. He is able to press, but is also a decent defender when retreating. Going forward, he is able to deliver good accurate crosses.

The only down side is that he doesn’t posses great speed. He has good speed, but he is not in the league of Kyle Walker or Danny Rose when it comes to covering the ground.

He is also not naturally a player who takes opponents on. In a Swansea side that was focused on crossing for Wilfried Bony and Michu last season, Davies attempted just 29 take-ons, some 82 less than Luke Shaw.

Not taking opponents on doesn’t mean he can’t deliver a cross, he just gets in to the positions in a different way. Only Manchester United and West Ham put more balls in to the box than Swansea in the Premier League last season. Ben Davies attempted 104 crosses, the ninth most by a full back.

Swansea did do something similar with Davies that Southampton were doing with Shaw. Ahead of the Welsh full back, both Michael Laudrup and Gary Monk used an in-field drifting player. Wayne Routledge and Pablo Hernandez both left the line to allow Davies to overlap and cross.

They would also look to get the ball out to him from long switches in play across the pitch. They did this against us and as Davies got further forward, the passes to him flatten out to be played more vertically up the line to him rather than horizontally across the field.


Ben Davies passes received against Spurs.

From there, Davies could get in to crossing positions, something that we’ve seen him do for us in pre-season.

Here, Aaron Lennon has moved inside from his starting position on the left to allow Christian Eriksen to hit Davies with the long diagonal.


Eriksen delivers the long diagonal to Ben Davies on the run.

From getting free, Davies looks to find Erik Lamela with the low cross.


Ben Davies crosses for Erik Lamela.

Later in the game, Etienne Capoue finds him open from another long switch in play.


Etienne Capoue switches the ball out to Ben Davies.

Another example from the Toronto game saw Lennon drift inside to suck the defenders in and then release Davies on the overlap.


Lennon moves inside to supply Davies with the pass.

Mauricio Pochettino not only requires his full back to get up the field, but he also needs to defend. He wants the man at this position to help with pressing up the field, but then retreat if the opposition advances the ball.

Davies was very good at pushing up and squeezing the opposition when at Swansea. The only problem that he had was that sometimes with his wide player drifting inside, this could leave him exposed and teams took advantage of this.

We attacked heavily through his left back zone in Swansea 1 Spurs 3 at the Liberty.


Spurs chances created against Swansea.

Aaron Lennon also beat Davies in a foot race in the build-up to our first goal.


Aaron Lennon gets beyond Ben Davies.

Davies lack of cover was a target for opposition teams, but Mauricio Pochettino affords his full back more protection. Something we’ll see when looking at Danny Rose next.

Danny Rose

Danny Rose has been a player that has divided opinion amongst Spurs fans. He has made some mistakes, but he also has been hung out to dry by our formation last season, which made him look error prone.

He should also be given a decent chance at the left back role, as he too has a number of the characteristics that Mauricio Pochettino requires.

Rose is lightning quick over the ground. He can help press, but can also regain his defensive position quickly due to his foot speed. What’s more he is able to cross the ball and beat his opponent in 1v1 situations in order to deliver the ball in to the box.

At the start of last season, Andre Villas-Boas also used Rose in a very similar manner to what Mauricio Pochettino requires from his left back.

AVB was extremely aggressive with his full back on the left side, as he too used a wide forward ahead of him.

We can see from our opening game of last season how Rose had two zones where he received the ball. The first was from his centre back and defensive midfielder in his own half. The second was from long switches in play to him out and across the field when he was in the opponent’s part of the pitch.


Danny Rose passes received against Crystal Palace.

Rose also operated with a wide forward drifting inside, meaning that he too had to get in to crossing situations by attempting to take his opponent off the dribble.


Danny Rose take-ons and passes played against Crystal Palace.

The only difference in AVB’s set up, was that he wanted his left back to get further up the pitch, so that he could cross from shorter distances or play pull backs from getting to the byline. Shorter crosses mean an increased chance of them being more accurate, as the delivery is closer to its target and this is what the Portuguese coach preached.

Pochettino is not as focused on supplying short crosses and just requires his left back to be able to deliver from both short and long situations. They are a crosser first and foremost.

We’ve seen Mauricio Pochettino use Danny Rose so far in a similar manner. From our last pre-season game with Schalke, he was up in the opponents final third in order to cross in the first minute, as he overlaps Aaron Lennon.


Danny Rose gets past Aaron Lennon to cross.

Here, we can see him sprinting to provide the width in the space with Lennon in-field as Lamela dribbles with the ball.


Danny Rose sprints to provide Lamela with an overlap.

Danny Rose has looked good so far for Mauricio Pochettino, but like Ben Davies, he too has weaknesses.

Rose only played in the first four Premier League games of last season before fracturing his foot. Three of these saw us keep clean sheets as he looked comfortable in AVB’s system. He did not return until Tim Sherwood took over and this is where the problems started.

Sherwood went more cross heavy than Andre Villas-Boas, but interim Tim did it often from a twin-striker formation. This meant one less player to cover back and with the left midfield player drifting inside, this afforded Danny Rose no cover whatsoever.

Nowhere was this flaw better illustrated than Spurs 0 Arsenal 1 at the Lane.

The Gooners took an early lead from our turnover in possession. Left-sided midfielder Christian Eriksen had drifted inside and Danny Rose had bombed forward on the overlap, leaving acres open on the left side.


Erisken is caught infield and Rose forward.

As Sandro’s errant pass was turned over, Tomas Rosicky burst forward in to an ocean of vacant space where the two players should have been.


Rosicky has the freedom of the flank.

The rest is awful history, but Rose was being asked to do too much by Sherwood, with basically the whole flank to pin down. The errors followed in other matches, as did a large portion of fans getting on his back.

With Mauricio Pochettino’s system it may look the same with one player drifting inside and the full back overlapping, but its very different.

He affords his left back the freedom to go forward, but also provides him with cover. This should benefit both Rose and Davies who are both susceptible to being beaten in-behind. Davies against quicker pace, Rose through often a lack of positioning by being caught up field.

When looking at how Mauricio Pochettino will change our midfield, I highlighted how our new coach asks one of his men in the pivot to cover in the left back slot when that full back has gone forward. If we return to the Schalke game, we saw this, as Lewis Holtby has filled in for Danny Rose here.


Lewis Holtby fills in for Danny Rose.

We can also see how Holtby, along with Aaron Lennon, are covering for Rose against two Schalke players as he regains his position.


Lennon and Holtby make it 2v2 as Rose recovers.

This additional cover is something we didn’t see for our left back when Tim Sherwood was in charge. For Pochettino, it is a vital safety valve with the full backs being asked to be so attack-minded.

Danny Rose or Ben Davies?

Both players have their merits. Danny Rose has blistering speed and can take opponents on in the final third. Davies has better positioning and is a more accurate crosser of the ball.

With the additional cover afforded to the left back from the midfielder in the pivot, both players will have more support than they saw on their teams last season. This allows them both to be more aggressive in attack.

Whether Mauricio Pochettino goes for Davies or Rose may just depend on the opponent.

Against a team with speed on that flank or one who sits and plays on the counter, he may just go with Danny Rose. When facing a quality opposition where a full back with much better defensive positioning is required, he may well opt for Ben Davies.

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27 Responses to Who starts at left back: Danny Rose or Ben Davies?

  1. anotherwisemonkey 11th August 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Great post. I think Rose will start against West Ham and QPR, but expect to see Davies against Liverpool. He’ll get run outs in the Europa League, too.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th August 2014 at 6:45 pm #

      I think they will probabaly get equal time, but it’ll be curious to see just who Pochettino starts against what opposition and if a pattern emerges.

  2. Ramos43 11th August 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    Well observed, and thought-out. Personally I have ALWAYS been an admirer of Rose and believe that given time, guidance and support he has all the tools to become and excellent full-back.

    Providing both players stay fit, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Rose enjoys more game time come the end of the campaign.

    Although I agree that perhaps Rose will be used more in games where we are expected to dominate possession.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th August 2014 at 6:48 pm #

      Thanks Ramos43. Rose still has a lot to learn and i think Davies is ahead of him in that regard, but i don’t think Rose deserves a lot of the criticism he has had to endure purely because the system under Sherwood hung him out to dry.

  3. Ben Davies 11th August 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Rose to start as Spurs will need to be more offensive against a bus parking team like the spammers.

  4. Yid747 11th August 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    Anyone other than rose as he is awful.

  5. Spurssince80 11th August 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    I understand the requirement for transition, but last year Sours bought 7 and didn’t play half of them. The best way to bring them in and blend them is to play them. Naughton and Rose and Dawson etc should be “break glass in the case of emergency” options only for this season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 10:09 am #

      Agree that we need to bring through the signings from last season. Naughton and Dawson are backup options and i have Davies ahead of Rose, but i’d like to see Danny get a fair chance to prove himself, as i don’t believe he got that last season.

  6. AnythingButPenalties 11th August 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Very interesting. I have to admit I am not very keen on Rose but it does seem he might be better suited to the Pochettino system. He certainly seems more in the Luke Shaw mould.

    Still if it were my choice I would play Davies. Does it make sense to regularly change your starting left back, even if their skills are suited to different opponents? Half the battle with a back four is them feeling comfortable playing together.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 10:19 am #

      A settled back four can be good, it can also be vulnerable to certain teams – think back to where AVB would move Vertonghen to left back despite having Rose/BAE available. He would play Dawson alongside Caulker in the centre to effectively get three centre backs, albeit in a traditional back four shape, on the field. He did this quite effectively against teams that used a big front man/men and long ball/crossing eg West Ham, Stoke, Moyes’ Everton to nullify there height advantage.

      Last season at Southampton, Pochettino flitted between Chambers and Clyne at right back, so maybe he will do that again here.

      I like settled centre backs, but i don’t mind changing the full back options as players do spend a vast amount of time on the training field together. Apparently Pochettino organises a full 90 minute match midweek, so players should be familiar with each other.

      Also full back is a very tiring position and arguably requires the most athletic players for Pochettino. They are hurtling up and down the field, so rest and rotation is key to keeping them as fresh as possible.

  7. Paulo 11th August 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    This analysis has put a huge smile on my face…… I was beginning to think all Spurs fans has written off Rose… I for one, think he’s got heaps of potential… it wasn’t long ago he had a cracking season on loan at Sunderland and it even seemed likely that he might get a call up to the senior England squad one day.

    Lots of young defenders make mistakes, and you’re right – leaving him super exposed last season was not a shrewd move….

    It was actually one of the great tragedies of the second half of last season.. it was virtually impossible to form proper judgements of players given the wild managerial circumstances… it’s going take Mauricio Pochettino a fair amount of time to unpick the current squad…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Glad i could put a smile on your face Paulo :) I like Davies and think he is more positionally aware, but i’d like to see Rose given a fair chance as i don’t think he has had this. It’s easy to point fingers at him last season, but i believe a lot of this was due to Sherwood’s formation and he was hung out to dry and an easy scapegoat.

  8. Poul Pils 11th August 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Ben Davies.. No doubt !!!

  9. SP 11th August 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Maybe, with a bigger and better squad than at Southampton, Pochettino is looking to be able to switch characteristics from flank to flank. Have Rose going forward on the left and Naughton more defensive on the right, and then Walker more offensive on the right and Davies more defensive on the left?

    Make it just a bit more unpredictable, a bit more tactically adaptable?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 10:24 am #

      I think so SP. He switched between Clyne – very athletic, get forward and good crosser type – and Chambers – slightly slower, but still good speed, but more dependable defender – at Southampton and he may well do that here.

      • SP 12th August 2014 at 2:21 pm #

        Yes, I don’t want to sound like I am dissing Southampton because I’ve always had a lot of time for the club (apart from their fans attitudes over Schneiderlin). But I think folk miss just how limited their squad was as a whole, just because their first team was pretty good – and a lot of that was to do with Poch bringing players on, in the first place.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 5:50 pm #

          I think that’s why Pochettino is trying to get good backups eg Vorm for Lloris, as that’s where Southampton struggled if a first choice player was out for a while eg Boruc.

  10. Hersh 12th August 2014 at 7:08 am #

    Not a spurs fan but I was way too curious abt who would start on the left. Great article! As a neutral, I would love to see rose on the left

  11. Bretto 12th August 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Very well done. A couple of points: (a) I can see your rationale for the type of player the MoPo may choose Rose (those teams that sit back for the counter) but those same teams that sit back also tend to have a defensive strategy. Would it not be better to have an accurate crosser rather a fast but inaccurate crosser? Inaccurate crosses are money for jam for teams coached by Big Sam and Tony Pulis. (b) I am not as high on Rose as some may be. Looking at his time at Sunderland and last year it still appears that he makes a number of the same positioning errors. Does not fill me with confidence.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Great comment Bretto. I didn’t say that Rose was an inaccurate crosser, but that Davies is a more accurate crosser. If you check their completion stats from last year, Davies (20%) was better than Rose (17%), but that doesn’t make Rose inaccurate and a lot can vary as they were aiming for different targets on different teams.

      Against teams like West Ham, sometimes you need speed, sometimes you need guile. Rose would provide speed, Davies provides more guile. Davies is also bigger physically, which would be beneficial if West Ham were playing with the likes of Nolan and Carroll, but without the latter, Pochettino may want to make this a game of speed rather than Big Sam who will want to make it a game of brawn.

  12. Soulchan 12th August 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    Thaks for great article again Mark :) Been translating your post in my Korean community including this one. Will you write about matches when new season starts? Like review or something.

    About the article, well, I think Rose has potential really good full back if he can work on his crossing. I guess you might agree on this

    Then, how do you think about Naughton? He’s good at crossing but except that, I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why we’re trying hard to get Yedlin. Do you think Naughton will be better?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th August 2014 at 5:48 pm #

      Thanks Soulchan, hope they are going down well? :)

      I usually do a pre-match tactical analysis for games and also a post match report then put the links on the Facebook page and Twitter.

      I think Naughton will be better on the right, but i’m not sure he’s really the solution. I’d like to see more of Yedlin as i’ve only seen him at the World Cup for USA; i think him as cover for Walker will be quite exciting.

  13. Paulo 12th August 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    With 4 assists last season only 4 players got more than Danny Rose in the PL. not bad

  14. Paulo 12th August 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    I mean.. Only 4 defenders got more!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th August 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Great stat and he only played in half our Premier League games as well! :)

  15. Hersh 25th August 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Looks like it will be danny rose for a long time now……last night he was awesome…great ball to set up Adebayour

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 25th August 2014 at 3:08 pm #

      He does seem to be first choice now, Davies has some work to do to oust him from the team.