It’s early, but so far it’s fair to say that Kyle Walker isn’t having the best of seasons for Spurs.
This is partly due to the unrealistic expectations that some fans and the media have, whilst also down to him making errors that any 22-year old defender growing up in the spotlight would. Its just that his errors are highlighted due to the fact he plays for a top five club and has already been called up for England.
It’s almost like the media are treating him in the same vein as a ten-year veteran, rather than a player who had a good first full season as a regular right back.
Last year Kyle Walker announced himself with the game-winning goal against Arsenal, whilst also helping to keep 14 clean sheets in his 37 Premier League appearances. Towards the end of the season he even played through the pain with a broken toe with a Champions League place on the line. One thing that can’t be questioned is that Kyle Walker loves the shirt.
With expectation comes the burden of pressure and Kyle Walker was relishing a new chapter under Andre Villas-Boas.
“I won the PFA young player [2012 award] but that’s driving me to show that I can win it again this season. I’m very hard on myself and I don’t settle for second best. I want to be the best player I can be and if that means staying behind and doing extra training, I’m prepared to do that.”
Maybe being his own biggest critic also has a lot to do with his decreasing confidence this season and that has led to some sub-par performances.
It’s not all bad and let’s not forget he is still only 22, but for me there are four areas which have caused his struggles this term.
1. Kyle Walker vs indirect opponents
Kyle Walker has had trouble this season when not defending against a direct opponent.
In the match with Man Utd, he was up against Ryan Giggs in the first half and did well to keep him quiet.
In the second he had no direct opponent, as Giggs was withdrawn and Shnji Kagawa played narrowly on the left side of a diamond midfield. The Japanese international kept coming infield and was consequently left open for Man Utd’s second goal at Old Trafford.
Kyle Walker was worrying about Danny Welback out wide when he should have been concerned with Kagawa in the centre.
Against Chelsea on the weekend, Eden Hazard started on the left, but the interchangeable nature of the Belgian with Oscar and Juan Mata meant his opponent changed all afternoon.
Although Mata’s second goal wasn’t directly his fault, Walker was left with a decision to make of whether to stay wide with Oscar or track Mata. At the point of his decision, there was a massive space between him and his centre backs with him being dragged so wide.
William Gallas should have been more alive to the run in behind by the Spaniard and Jake Livermore shouldn’t have just let him run by him. Walker also had a decision to make once Mata by-passed Livermore. As it wasn’t his direct opponent which was Oscar at the time, he stayed wide and Spurs conceded a goal through the inside right channel similar to Kagawa’s.
The goals conceded above can also be linked to awareness and what is going on around you on the football pitch. Quite often the speed and pace of Kyle Walker has got him out of trouble, but this season we’ve seen a few momentary lapses in concentration.
QPR’s goal in the 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 the 3-1 win at the Madejski was also an example of 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.
3. Play the game not the man
On Saturday, Chelsea’s fourth goal in which Kyle Walker tried to do some kind of back heel whilst deep in our half was the result of Juan Mata getting in his head.
The pair had exchanged several words during the match and it came to a head just a few minutes before Kyle Walker tried his audacious piece of skill on the sideline.
Walker was obviously irritated with Mata, as he spanked the ball out for a throw-in straight in to the Spaniard who was on the floor out of play. Mata to his credit didn’t roll around on the turf trying to get Walker booked, but got up and the two exchanged pleasantries once more.
Minutes later Kyle Walker was isolated one-on-one with Mata out wide after William Gallas passed the ball to him with Chelsea pressing. He didn’t want to go long and rather than go back to Brad Friedel, which would have been the best option, he tried to skill Juan Mata. The rest, as we know didn’t go too well and any chance of a comeback was gone.
No one knows what was said between the two, but for me, the Spaniard definitely got inside Walker’s head and caused his ill-advised piece of skill.
4. William Gallas
Don’t discount William Gallas in having an effect in the play of Kyle Walker too. The Frenchman plays on Walker’s side of the back four and Kyle may be having to overplay to compensate for Gallas’ lack of mobility.
The Frenchman has looked every bit 35 this season, being slower over the ground and not giving himself any extra space to compensate for his lack of movement.
This can be unsettling for a full back when your centre half isn’t as mobile and can be late on defensive rotations.
Kyle Walker positives
Despite the fact that Kyle Walker may be having a sub-par season this term, there are still plenty of positives.
He has improved his tackling, successfully winning 75% of challenges so far this term, as opposed to 69% last season.
As with Andre Villas-Boas and his passion for pressing, this will cause more interceptions and Kyle Walker has also improved in this defensive department. Last season he was making an interception every 51 minutes on the field. This season he is intercepting the ball every 47 minutes.
Kyle Walker has also improved his game going forward this season. Whilst not receiving as many passes in the final third, he has improved in his passing, successful crosses and shooting.
Last season, Kyle Walker was receiving a pass every 7.8 minutes in the final third, this campaign he is receiving a pass every 8.6 minutes. Whilst this is down, his cross completion is up from 17% to a much healthier 22% and his shooting accuracy has also increased from 8% to 22%. His overall passing accuracy is also up from 83% to 84%.
As a result, after creating a goal scoring chance every 100 minutes on pitch last season, this term he is generating an opportunity every 58 minutes.
Why we shouldn’t get down on Kyle Walker
A year on from his first full season as our regular right back, Kyle Walker seems to be struggling with second season syndrome.
He has had problems when he doesn’t have a direct opponent to mark and also with his awareness of where the danger is coming from when the ball is in central channels. This can cause him to not be as narrow as he should, leaving space between himself and his centre backs which the opposition has exploited.
We must remember that he is only 22-years old and going through the growing pains of any young defender. With the success he’s had last season and playing for a top five club, his every move is naturally going to be highlighted by the media. This doesn’t make Kyle Walker a bad player, just someone who is going through a bad patch.