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.
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.
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.
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.
From getting free, Davies looks to find Erik Lamela with the low cross.
Later in the game, Etienne Capoue finds him open from another long switch in play.
Another example from the Toronto game saw Lennon drift inside to suck the defenders in and then release Davies on the overlap.
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.
Aaron Lennon also beat Davies in a foot race in the build-up to our first goal.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
We can also see how Holtby, along with Aaron Lennon, are covering for Rose against two Schalke players as he regains his position.
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.