Why Spurs need more from our full backs

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.


Ben Davies passes received, Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.

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).


Ben Davies passes played, Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.

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.


Kyle Walker passes received, Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.

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.


Eriksen lobs the ball in to Walker’s run.

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.


Kyle Walker passes played Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.

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.


Ben Davies passes received Spurs 2-2- Stoke.

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.


Harry Kane comes short, Davies goes in to the space created.

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).


Ben Davies passes played, Spurs 2-2 Stoke.

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.


Kyle Walker passes received, Spurs 2-2 Stoke.

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.


Kyle Walker passes played Spurs 2-2 Stoke.

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.


Ben Davies passes received, Leicester 1-1 Spurs.

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.


Ben Davies passes played, Leicester 1-1 Spurs.

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.


Kyle Walker passes received, Leicester 1-1 Spurs.

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).


Kyle Walker passes played, Leicester 1-1 Spurs.

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.

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14 Responses to Why Spurs need more from our full backs

  1. CantSmileWithoutYou 26th August 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    This should be headlined “Why Spurs need to Play the right Fullbacks”…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th August 2015 at 6:52 pm #


  2. Gavin 26th August 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    Why on earth is Trippier not playing? He is so much better than Walker both defensively and in attack. When he played pre season for Spurs he was voted man of the match. It is a ridiculous decision to play the inept Kyle Walker.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th August 2015 at 7:24 pm #

      I can only imagine he is getting used to the system in training before Pochettino gives him a chance.

      • Bleedlilywhite 26th August 2015 at 8:55 pm #

        That and, also, no coach would play a replacement out of the gate. The incumbent should be given a chance before relegation to the bench. That is class. MP has it.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th August 2015 at 11:59 pm #

          Good point.

  3. Steve 26th August 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    When Kyle Walker or Andros Townsend have the ball, it is like watching a headless chicken.

    They may be fast, but they have no idea what they are doing, or where they are going.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th August 2015 at 11:52 pm #

      It does have that feel about it, Townsend more than Walker, but Kyle has struggled for a while now.

  4. Zaph 26th August 2015 at 8:44 pm #

    Quite damning info on the face of it. For comparison I watch 30 mins of Brugges v M.Utd – Brugges supposedly having the same format as Spurs (although the make of the players made it look far more like 4-1-4-1 at times). Twice in the opening 5 mins the left back crossed from level or beyong the opposition penalty area, creating chances. Therefater it atiled off, and I lost interest.

    I’ve been concerned about Davies who, next to bentaleb seems to make those dire square to opposition passes more than most, crosses poorly and seems to always thake the safe ‘recycle’ option.

    Walker? A conundrum, he’s done it in the past – but is it his injury recovery or the new system that’s the problem – he was useful with the speed on the break system – lennon and bale + Modric’s passing.

    Is it the full backs or the overall implementation of the system?

    Therein lie the problems perhaps – too much slow recycling of the ball, not enough speed of movement followed by heads-up accurate and incisive passing/crossing. Insufficient variation in the attacking method.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 26th August 2015 at 11:58 pm #

      I think it’s the full backs as Walker tends to cope better with a natural winger infront of him rather than an inverted wide player. He has also not been entirely the same since his injury and he continues to struggle to mark players that drift off the line.
      Davies, as you say, has a bit of the sideways passing bug, but his lack of adventure to get forward is stifling at times. It’s not that he can’t do it, as his assist on Chadli’s goal against Stoke showed, but just that it’s not in his natural make-up.

  5. Richard 27th August 2015 at 7:47 am #

    Hi Mark…it all seems very complicated. All we hear about is systems, under Rednapp all he talked about were the players. Players win you games not tactics. Do you not think we should have a style of play based on the players we have and get the best out of them? Everyone keeps saying what our players can’t do…Dembele doesn’t do this or that, Lennon doesn’t score goals etc etc…but what about what they can do. Brian Clough used to have great balance to his teams and just asked his players to do what they were good at. We seem to buy players and then try to force them to do things in our system that they arent good at. If Davies isnt great at bombing on we should get that width from somewhere else in the team. Dembele is a physical beast…sitting in front of the back 4 shielding them taking the ball off them and passing it simple he was brilliant in his first season with Sandro next to him. If the team falls down based on our full backs not delivering up front…I think there’s something wrong with our system.


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 27th August 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Richard, I think football in the last 5 years has become a very tactical game and if you don’t adapt then you get left behind. The key is buying the right players to fit the system that you want to play. Having an overriding club philosophy of the way it wants to play and hiring managers accordingly is key to this. We have flitted and flirted with various managers and systems in recent times, but clubs that have a consistent goal and make appointments to suit that are the ones that achieve success. Barcelona, arguably the best team in the world, are an example of this. Yes they sign big names, but they have philosophy of how the game is to be played and that is taught throughout their academy and they bring a ton of players through here. They also don’t chase around big name managers but will appoint from within or hire ex-players that know the philospophy and system well. Current manager Luis Enrique has very little experience in management having had average 1 season stints with Roma and Celta Vigo, yet has them firing on all cylinders sweeping to La Liga and European titles. Its intrinsic.

      Yes Barcelona should be doing this with the talent they have, but if you want Premier League examples then Southampton and Swansea are very good ones. Both clubs have a philosophy of how they want to play which affects how and who they hire to manage the team. Gary Monk, ex-player with no previous management experience, is doing an amazing job with that team. They also recruit players that fit their system as they know what they want from the person at each position. This is one of the reasons why Southampton has a massive turnover of players, as other teams then want to buy them after they have excelled for the Saints. A number of them have ‘flopped’ or under-achieved at places like Liverpool as they don’t 100% fit the system the Reds are looking to play, but were excellent choices for the Saints.

      We need to adopt the same approach. Have a long term goal and a philosophy of how the club wants to play football. We talk about ‘the Spurs way’ but that needs to be defined to the letter and then a top-down plan needs to be implemented which includes the hiring of a coach that fits that style and the academy so that we are generating talent that already knows the system once they graduate to the first team. This generates a production line so that when we sell, we have a next man up approach.

      Of course all of this takes time, something that isn’t given to managers or owners these days. So while we continue to patch the holes and try something new, we’ll continue to have misfit players and the seasons of ‘rebuilding’ or ‘transition.’

      • Bleedlilywhite 28th August 2015 at 3:27 am #

        Mark, that was a great reply! It deserves a further development into separate article.
        I’d like to add to it that Mr. Redknapp was and still is a great tactician. He , however, preferred not to talk about tactic a lot , knowing that majority of the listeners would put soldier’s heroism over general’s wisdom, believing , like Richard that, games are won predominantly by players. So Harry spoke about things that supporters would have liked to hear, hence the belief winning coach can get more out of players and nothing else matters.

  6. Richard 28th August 2015 at 7:32 am #

    Well, I never said nothing else matters. You can have a balance…I just happen to think with Rednapp it was probably too far one way but also under Mopo it’s gone too far the other. If Rednapp had hired a top coach I think he could have won the league with us. But at least we played alot of good football, it was entertaining. There’s not too much of that latley.