Full backs Ben Davies and Kyle Walker need to be more aggressive in their attacking movement for Mauricio Pochettino’s system to work.
It’s been a mixed start to the season for full backs Ben Davies and Kyle Walker. Both players have come in for criticism on their defensive work. In possession of the ball, we’ve only seen flashes that they understand what Mauricio Pochettino wants from them.
In our head coach’s system, the full backs are the key players and it is on their ability to get forward and provide overlaps and crossing support that it succeeds or fails. With Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli occupying the wide positions in front of them, this is even more imperative. Dembele comes towards the ball and is not a threat to go down the outside. Chadli drifts infield as he seeks to pop up in the box to profit from the service of these wider players.
Mild vs Man Utd
Against Manchester United on opening day, Ben Davies was solid but unadventurous. He received a decent amount of the ball in our half and most of it in the middle third. However, he only got up in to the final third once to take possession.
This venture forward lead to a cross that failed to find its target (1), but Davies couldn’t be counted on to provide anymore of a supply line from the left. A failed corner was his other contribution and an attempted cross from a position much further back towards the halfway line (2).
Over on the other side and Kyle Walker was having a similar day. The bulk of his passes received were once again in our half and the middle third. He did however tear in to the Man Utd box on two occasions and was rewarded with a shot at goal the first time and was beaten to the punch by Sergio Romero the second.
These darting runs from out to in to provide a surprise attacking element that is one thing that Mauricio Pochettino requires from playing aggressive full backs.
The other is to get up in to high crossing positions to deliver service for others, but Walker, like Davies, again struggled to do this. A square pass in the box was his only attempt at providing this service.
Stifled vs Stoke
At home in Spurs 2-2 Stoke we again saw our full backs playing a very mild and often unadventurous game. Ben Davies once more received a lot of the ball in the middle third, but not high enough up in order to impose himself or push Stoke’s wide players backwards.
He took just one pass in the final third, but what a pass this was and what a demonstration of what Mauricio Pochettino wants. Davies went rumbling past Harry Kane and in-behind the Stoke defence in order to cross for Nacer Chadli to thump the ball in to the net.
It is this one-two movement that Mauricio Pochettino requires from his full backs as they have to look to get beyond their marker and up in to high crossing positions.
Davies only attempted one cross when in the final third, but what a devastating one it was (1). His only other attempts at putting the ball in the box predictably came from less aggressive positions much further back towards the halfway line and failed to find their targets (2).
On the other side and Kyle Walker didn’t provide the killer cross that Davies had, but he was at least trying harder to get further forward. The majority of passes that he received were in the middle third, but the balls to him were much more aggressive. You can see this by the more vertical nature of the passing lines.
He did get the ball three times up in the final third, which wasn’t as much as it ideally should be, but at least showed a movement in the right direction. Two of these lead to crossing attempts, one was blocked and rebounded out to Ryan Mason for a shot; the other failed to find its target.
Lame vs Leicester
Ben Davies had a game to forget against Leicester in our 1-1 draw. He turned the ball over and his positioning often left a lot to be desired. He did however show less of his cautious approach and got forward. Whether this came at the expense of his defending is up for debate, but at least Davies got himself much higher up and in to the final third in order to overlap his wide player, Nacer Chadli.
With more aggressive positioning comes more opportunity to provide crossing support. Although Davies attempted his highest number of crosses this season with four, all of them were blocked. On the plus side, at least this time he wasn’t attempting them from positions closer to the halfway line than the opposition penalty area.
In amongst the negatives from his performance this was at least something positive from Davies. It showed that he could at least shake off the some of the cautious side of his game and provide more of the aggressive full back play that Mauricio Pochettino wants.
Out on the right and Kyle Walker received a ton of passes out to him, often over distance from the centre of the park and more on the diagonal to get it to him quickly. This was good to see, but the problem for Walker was that only one pass got to him in the final third and that was from a throw-in.
This meant that he, much like Davies in previous matches, was trying to provide crosses from much deeper positions. This saw his balls in to the box delivered from further back than the edge of the penalty area, which are easier to defend and failed to find their target.
He did provide three shooting opportunities, but all were along the deck passes. The best and most aggressive one put Nacer Chadli in-behind to latch on to and blaze a shot over the angle of near post and bar (1). The other two were short passes for Mousa Dembele shots from outside the box that didn’t trouble Kasper Schmeichel (2).
Overall, Walker, like Spurs, failed to penetrate or get high enough up to overlap and get in-behind Leicester. This meant that he couldn’t provide crosses, cutbacks or pull backs from higher positions that would give the Foxes trouble.
Why Spurs need more from our full backs
The Full backs are key in Mauricio Pochettino’s system because they have to provide a number of factors that allow his formation and system to flow.
Firstly, his full backs provide the width to stretch opponents out. Secondly, their aggressive nature also forces the opposition players marking them back towards their own goal, as they have to defend them. Thirdly, with wide players ahead of our full backs playing inverted and cutting inside, they are vital means of not only providing width and overlaps but also crossing support. Their service is what not only the striker thrives on, but also the wide player on the other side cutting in to the box. Finally, being higher up, they provide a first wave of wide pressing should the ball be lost out on the flanks. It is their job to seek out and hem in the opposition in towards the sideline and regain it.
So far both our full backs haven’t been aggressive enough in fulfilling these duties often enough. Danny Rose’s return on the left should provide a much-needed boost on this side with his more adventurous style play. On the right, Kyle Walker has the ability to do this in his locker, but will find himself under increasing pressure from Kieran Trippier who has the assets to take over. When our full backs get going, our system will do too.