Etienne Capoue has come in from the wilderness at Spurs to be the man who gets us moving with the ball.
Andre Villas-Boas signed him, but couldn’t use him due to injury. Tim Sherwood’s dislike of holding players saw him dropped to the bench and rumoured to be on his way to Napoli. However, Mauricio Pochettino brought Etienne Capoue back in pre-season and has made the Frenchman the hub of our forward ball movement.
This is nothing new for Capoue. This was what he was originally brought in to do when he arrived at Spurs last season. He had shown for Toulouse that he had an excellent range of passing and he was quick to show this off for us.
In one of his rare starts for AVB last season, we can see how he used him to distribute the ball, often over distance, out to the flanks and vertically up the field.
Capoue was not just a passer, but also excellent at winning the ball back. His strength and size gives him great range to not only tackle, but also get in to the opposition passing lanes to intercept.
Mauricio Pochettino has also embraced this. Against Southampton Etienne Capoue was showing the defensive side of his game once more, as he made tackles (crosses), Interceptions (diamonds) and clearances (circles).
When he regains the ball, Mauricio Pochettino is once more using him as quarterback to get our offensive movement started, but in a slightly different way.
There a many similarities between AVB’s and Pochettino’s systems, but a major difference is that our new coach wants to move the ball over greater distances and faster.
This doesn’t mean aimless hoofs up field, but more calculated passing, which can see the ball shifted through the air or along the turf, often on the diagonal.
Although Capoue played rarely for AVB due to injury, we are already starting to see this longer and faster ball distribution for Pochettino.
Here is an example of how he sends the ball over great distance to Ben Davies in our pre-season game with Toronto to take advantage of the space the left back has. Our new coach was getting his message across from the start.
But also from our latest match with Southampton. We can see how his passes are played much more on the diagonal, which is more aggressive and also how he goes longer more often to move the ball faster.
His targets are quite often our full backs, as he switches play from side-to-side, altering the point of attack.
Against Southampton, his top-passing target was Danny Rose. If you combine the passes Capoue sent out to Naughton, and then his replacement Eric Dier, then the player at right back also received the same amount as Rose at left back.
Go back to our match with West Brom and Capoue was once again looking for his full back, but this time focused on the right, as Eric Dier was his favourite target.
Even in a change of formation against Arsenal, moving the ball out to the wide players was Capoue’s role. However, his passing was much shorter due to us playing so deep and on the counter attack.
Capoue did create a glorious chance for Nacer Chadli, as he sent the wide forward through on goal from his straight pass up the field. Chadli miss-hit his left-footed effort wide though.
This pass put Nacer Chadli through on goal, but these more aggressive vertical forward passes across the ground have been something of a rarity.
In pre-season, Mauricio Pochettino had Capoue moving the ball vertically up through levels in the defence with regularity.
Here he finds a straight ball up to Aaron Lennon through a crowd of Toronto players.
Against Celtic, here is an example of him taking players out with a pass through the middle to find Harry Kane.
These vertical passes which take several players out of the game, have somewhat been replaced by Capoue moving the ball to Erik Lamela so that he can run with it. This is to hopefully get Lamela in to space between the lines from where he can run, shoot or pass.
Lamela has firmly established himself as Capoue’s second top passing target after the full backs.
Against West Brom we can see how Capoue moves the ball up the field to Lamela, often through the centre where he can start his runs, but also on the diagonal out to the touchline.
This appears to be a direct change from pre-season to have Capoue delivering the ball to Lamela, rather than forcing vertical passes through layers of the opposition defence. This is by no means bad, as it just has a player in Lamela moving the ball forward through dribbling, rather than it being passed up the field.
It may be slightly less risky tactic, as an opponent can easily intercept a pass through a crowded midfield. But it can slow ball movement down and may just be one of the reasons behind our slower tempo recently.
On the flip side to this, opposition teams have been packing the middle against us. The congestion we’ve been seeing in the centre from Liverpool’s diamond or the box played by Besiktas have also played a part.
This could well have altered Pochettino’s decision for Capoue to pass the ball vertically through the middle to trying to run it with Lamela.
Mauricio Pochettino is using Etienne Capoue as our quarterback to get play moving forward. Among Premier League midfielders, only Yaya Toure, Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Barry have played more passes than Capoue.
His top targets are the full backs in order to switch play and get the ball moving quickly forwards down the flanks. The change to have him playing less vertically aggressive passes through layers of the opposition’s midfield may have to be re-visited if we are playing with a slow tempo.
Mike Sz says
Ha! Very good, sir. You lay out here — in a more comprehensive and elegant way — what would be my explanation for why Capoue was my MOTM (or co-MOTM with Hugo) v Southampton (as per my previous comment — and thanks for the e-mail). I remarked on both Capoue’s vertical AND diagonal (plus shifting fields) passing, but I had not thought as much about (possibly because I didn’t observe or recall so clearly) the emphasis on one (diagonal) over the other (vertical). I love that BOTH are part of Capoue’s game, and thus Spurs attack, but I agree — if anything (and yes, especially if we are playing at a slow clip), I love to see (and would love to see more) vertical passes…and not just short ones to Lamela. It’s a minor concern at the moment, but Lamela sometimes tries to do too much (case in point: the scuffle in the box after Ade’s “non-call” in falling to ground that gave Lamela the ball and a great chance — he decided to try a trick instead of instinctively shooting on a one-touch). I should think that a more aggressive “verticalidad,” with Capoue at quarterback (!), would help with this?
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Capoue has been impressive and the vertical passing, which was a big part of pre-season, has been curtailed by teams packing the middle. Whether this is quality of opposition faced in PL vs pre-season or whether PL teams have just had time to scout Poch’s tactics are two factors involved. Pochettino and his staff have probably been looking at other ways to move the ball forward because of this. Prob the reason why Capoue’s second top passing target after the full backs has been Lamela – to advance it by dribbling. Whilst Pochettino has also brought Ryan Mason, a forward passer in to midfield at the expense of a dribbler in Dembele.
Good article. He reminds me of Tom Huddlestone. Both players a similar role but Capoue is better defensively and more mobile. But Huddlestone has better passing, accuracy and goal threat.
Do you think you’ll be doing one for Ryan Mason? Not much post about him, and it’d be great to see his contributions to Spurs.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Nice comparison Vince. I will try and do a piece on Mason before the next set of Premier League games.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Vince, a piece on Ryan Mason is now up here:
Appreciate your thoughts/comments?