Etienne Capoue arrived from Toulouse as part of our magnificent seven of summer signings.
The Frenchman has had limited opportunities to show what he can do so far this season due to injury. Now healthy again, it appears he has fallen down the pecking order with Tim Sherwood and could be on his way out of White Hart Lane.
When he arrived, Etienne Capoue seemed to be a good fit for Andre Villas-Boas’s system and was rumoured to be one of the signings the Portuguese actually wanted.
As The Secret Footballer talks about in his book ‘Lifting The Lid On The Beautiful Game,’ often when a new manager comes in, he uses one of the previous managers signings as a sacrificial lamb. Or in other words, someone to be sold off to show who is now in charge of the squad.
Etienne Capoue really shouldn’t be this player, as he actually fits the mould of someone who will excel in Tim Sherwood’s system.
Etienne Capoue for Andre Villas-Boas
When he arrived in England, Andre Villas-Boas only used Etienne Capoue in three Premier League matches before he sustained a nasty injury at Arsenal. His comeback games in the Premier League saw him operate as a centre back, but with differing consequences. He kept Sunderland at bay, but was dragged all over the place by Liverpool.
During his sparse time in midfield – which this season accounts for just 244 minutes in the Premier League – AVB used him very much as a defensive holder in his 4-3-3 formation.
Capoue screened the back four to break down opposition attacks as Villas-Boas lined him up in a powerful midfield with Paulinho and Moussa Dembele.
The Frenchman would win the ball directly or receive it from his centre backs. He would then move it out to the full backs, as the tempo of our possession was pedestrian and rather laboured.
Whether this was AVB’s long-term plan for Capoue we’ll never know, as he featured so infrequently before the Portuguese coach departed.
Etienne Capoue for Toulouse
The reason for the speculation about AVB’s plans for the Frenchman is that Etienne Capoue had excelled operating behind the midfield in Toulouse’s 4-1-4-1 formation. However, this didn’t make him just a simple defensive holding player.
Coach Alain Casanova used Capoue in order to win the ball back, but also to start attacks and move the play quickly forward from deep. This wasn’t quite in the mould of a Regista like Andrea Pirlo, but he wasn’t deployed as a destroyer who wins the ball and then gives it up like the classic ‘Makelele role’ either.
Capoue would do this through his passing, as he tried to move the ball quickly up the field after winning it back. He could also do it through dribbling, with a powerful, driving style very similar to Moussa Dembele.
Sat between the back four and his midfield quartet, Capoue was an excellent defensive screen due to his big frame and considerable size and strength.
This allowed him to cover across the park and recover the ball, as he did against St. Etienne or more impressively at PSG.
He was effective at regaining possession or taking the ball from the back four, and then he would move it forward through passing or dribbling.
He did this much more aggressively than anything we’ve seen so far at Spurs.
Against St. Etienne we can see how looks to move the ball either directly to the flanks or forward, often over great distance with long vertical balls up the park. But he was also is able to advance it through dribbling, as he turns defence in to a swift form of attack.
Against PSG he was equally aggressive through his passing and dribbling. Again he looks to move the ball directly out to his wide players from the middle of the park, whilst also hitting longer passes vertically forward.
Whether Andre Villas-Boas had planned to use Etienne Capoue in the same way that he had excelled for Toulouse will never be known. However, the Frenchman can be asset for Tim Sherwood in our new coach’s system.
Etienne Capoue as a fit for Tim Sherwood
Tim Sherwood has so far given us two different looks during his time in charge.
The first is a twin striker approach that sees him use two box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park.
The second debuted against Swansea and was a 4-1-4-1 defensive system that morphs to a 4-3-3 when in attack.
Etienne Capoue can play in either system due to his ability to not only win the ball back, but also with his knack to shift it quickly to the wide players or forward.
The reason why this is important is that Sherwood likes the ball to be moved straight up to Emmanuel Adebayor in the build-up, preferably to his feet.
He then wants it to be played wide to work crossing situations. These passes can either come from Adebayor or our midfielders directly moving the ball to the flanks if the striker isn’t available. From there, the Togolese big man can be found from crosses as he arrives later in the box after being involved in the build-up and therefore should be harder to mark.
So far, five of Adebayor’s six goals have come from crosses, testament that the system is working.
From what we’ve seen of Etienne Capoue at Toulouse, he can be an effective weapon in order to move the ball straight to Adebayor in the build up. He can also shift it directly to our wide players when the Togolese international is marked and the play needs to be moved quickly to the flanks to create crossing opportunities.
This could be either in the twin striker approach or more aptly in the 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 hybrid system seen at Swansea, which would arguably get the best out of him.
Etienne Capoue is a midfielder who can win the ball back. He is a player that naturally operates between the midfield and defence, an area where we have been vulnerable since Tim Sherwood took over. This was something he tried to solve with the 4-1-4-1 formation in the defensive phase at Swansea, with mixed results. Etienne Capoue would plug this gap.
But then Capoue can also move the ball forward or directly to the wide players to work crossing situations from his starting position in front of the defence.
Etienne Capoue is an attack instigator, who can get himself and the ball up the field much more than many people in England realise. We’ve clearly not seen the best of him in a midfield role just yet and giving up on him so soon would surely be a mistake.