The improvement in our full backs this season is a large reason why we have leapt up the table under Mauricio Pochettino.
In the modern game, full backs have become the most versatile parts of any team. Involved in both defensive and attacking phases, they have to be some of the most athletically gifted players on the field. It’s no different at Spurs this season where the full back positions are proving a hive of not just defensive, but also attacking activity.
The full backs are the most important parts of Mauricio Pochettino’s system. They have to be the fittest players on the field to cover the amount of ground that they do to feature in both defence and attack.
Early in the campaign, I produced this piece on how we were getting little to nothing from our full backs and why it contributed to us sputtering out of the gate. Kyle Walker’s passes received map from our third game of the season, a 1-1 draw with Leicester, highlighted how we were looking to get the ball out to our full backs, but that they weren’t able to penetrate high enough in to the final third.
Roll on to match day 31 against Bournemouth and the improvement made in being much more aggressive to get forward is clearly apparent. The ball was being delivered to him further up the pitch, but also quicker from the centre of the park to get him more time and space. Tempo as well as the vertical directness of Walker’s movement was playing a bigger part.
Kyle Walker got forward after just 40 seconds to whip in the opener for Harry Kane to sweep home. In the second half he surged forward beyond Kane on a breakaway to steer a shot across the goal and just past the post.
In our last match with Liverpool he also was readily up in the final third despite Jurgen Klopp’s Reds trying to press and hem us in our half.
In between those matches and we had the international break. Walker conveniently popped up overlapping his wide man in the box to tee up the opening goal for Jamie Vardy against Holland. Just to serve another reminder of how much more aggressive he has become with his play and positioning this season.
But it’s not just limited to Kyle Walker. Danny Rose has also been a revelation this term, seeing him earn his first England caps in the international break. Ben Davies is breaking out of the mould that he was casting of being defensively effective, but afraid to get forward. Whilst Kieran Trippier is also starting to blossom in to the deadly crossing full back that we wanted him to be when he signed from Burnley.
This quartet that we now have in place are not only pushing each other, but have also gone from strength to strength this season to be some of the best chance creators in the league.
If we look at their final third touches in the first ten Premier League games and compare it to since then, we can see the improvement they’ve made at getting on the ball in advanced positions.
|Final third touch|
|Final third touch|
|Danny Rose||6.7 mins||4.4 mins||-2.3 mins|
|Kyle Walker||6.5 mins||5 mins||-1.5 mins|
|Ben Davies||5.6 mins||4.6 imns||-1 min|
|Kieran Trippier||10.0 mins||3.1 mins||-6.9 mins|
Kieran Trippier only played 10 minutes, so his improvement, although being the largest, is distorted. However, all of our full backs are getting forward and on the ball in the final third much more often.
With Kyle Walker and Danny Rose playing as our full backs, they are now getting an average of an extra 12 touches in the final third per game compared to the opening ten matches of the season. This means extra bodies more frequently in the attack, leading to overloads and more scoring chances being created.
If we look at our full backs chance creation, it mirrors the improvement made of getting forward in to the final third.
In the first ten Premier League matches of the season, these are the minutes per chance created and each full back’s rank for creating among his Premier League defensive peers.
|Danny Rose||188 mins||37th|
|Kyle Walker||142 mins||28th|
|Ben Davies||83 mins||12th|
|Kieran Trippier||90 mins||21st|
Only Ben Davies was in the top 20 of Premier League defenders for minutes per chance created. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were well down the rankings with a chance created every 142 and 188 minutes respectively.
If we look at the period since match day ten and we can see how the improvement made of getting forward in to the final third has increased chance creation.
|Danny Rose||87 mins||13th|
|Kyle Walker||80 mins||6th|
|Ben Davies||99 mins||17th|
|Kieran Trippier||81 mins||7th|
All of our full backs are ranked in the top twenty Premier League defenders. Kyle Walker has shaved 60 minutes and Danny Rose a whopping 100 minutes to decrease the time between chances created.
Overall, Spurs are the only team with all of their squad of full backs inside the top twenty, even the top fifty, defensive players for chance creation.
What’s more if you study starting pairings, only Man City and Everton have their full back combinations inside the top 30 defenders for chance creation. Interchangeable lefts backs Alexander Kolorov (ranked 1st) and Gael Clichy (11th) with right back Bacary Sagna (18th) for the Citizens. The Toffees have perennial assist man Leighton Baines ranked fourth overall for minutes per chance created and Seamus Coleman is 30th.
Now you can see why Mauricio Pochettino needs interchangeable full backs due to their exertions to get forward to attack and back to defend. They are often the only players switched between Premier League and Europa League matches.
More attack-minded full backs have had a positive effect on our overall position in the Premier League table.
In our first ten games of the season we were scoring an average of 1.6 goals per game; this has since risen to 1.8 goals per game. Our goals against has also decreased from 0.8 to 0.7 and our average points per game has jumped from 1.7 to 2.2 leading to us challenging for the title rather than the Champions League places.
Flying full backs
Others are getting the accolades this season for making us the highest scorers in the Premier League, but don’t underestimate the role our flying full backs are playing in supporting our attack.