Spurs season defining tactics: use of attacking full backs

Mauricio Pochettino used our full backs to great effect this season to be heavily proficient attacking players.

The full backs are the most important players in Mauricio Pochettino’s system. That is why the manager moved to install a set of interchangeable pairs at the start of this season. The reason being that they get through so much work and have to cover the entire length of the field.

Attacking evolution

Our full backs have really evolved as players this season. Early on the campaign they were struggling to play both ends. It saw them often focussing on their defensive duties as they didn’t want to get caught forward. This, however, hindered our attack.

In our draw with Liverpool at home on match day nine, we can see how Kyle Walker receives plenty the ball, but rarely gets up in to the final third.


Kyle Walker passes received, Spurs 0-0 Liverpool.

Roll on to our return with Liverpool on match day 32 and we can see just how much more he gets forward in to the attack.


Kyle Walker passes received, Liverpool 1-1 Spurs.

Another noticeable thing is the length of passing lines and their diagonal forward nature to him. By this stage of the season, we had begun moving the ball much better and quicker. This was from either switches of the ball in a single pass from one side to the other or directly from the centre of defence or midfield.

By now it also wasn’t uncommon to see Kyle Walker or Danny Rose sending the ball to one another. Just as we can see Rose doing so in the return match with Liverpool.


Rose plays a long switch to Walker.

In our next match, Walker plays the long switch to Rose, via Eriksen’s flick-on, for our third goal in our 3-0 romp over in Man Utd. A beautiful pass shown in the video below.

This was possible as our full back’s starting position was much higher up. It allowed team mates to find them in much more attacking areas. This was especially true for Toby Alderweireld with his long diagonal searching passes. This pass from Alderweireld to Kyle Walker to get him in to a great position to pull the ball back for Erik Lamela was just one of many this season.

Much more aggressive positioning has seen each of them improve their attacking output. If we look at each full back’s touches in the final third from Premier League matches 1-10 and 11-38 we can see just how much more often they were getting in the final third as the season progressed.

Final third touch
(Games 1-10)
Final third touch
(Games 11-38)
Danny Rose6.7 mins4.4 mins-2.3 mins
Kyle Walker6.5 mins5 mins-1.5 mins
Ben Davies5.6 mins4.6 imns-1 min
Kieran Trippier10.0 mins3.0 mins-7 mins

Kieran Trippier only played ten minutes over the first ten Premier League games, so his numbers are skewed early in the season. However, he does have the most frequent number of final third touches over the last 28 Matches with one every 3 minutes.

Our first choice pair, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, gained an additional 7 and 5 touches of the ball respectively in matches 11-38. Those extra ball possessions, along with their higher positioning, has seen them improve their chance creation.

Better chance creation

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.

Mins per
chance created
(Games 1-10)
PL Rank
Danny Rose188 mins37th
Kyle Walker142 mins28th
Ben Davies83 mins12th
Kieran Trippier90 mins21st

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, highlighting their struggles.

If we look at the period from matches 11-38 we can see how the improvement made in getting forward in to the final third paid off with increased chances created.

Mins per
chance created
(Games 11-38)
PL Rank
Danny Rose85 mins8th
Kyle Walker80 mins7th
Ben Davies101 mins16th
Kieran Trippier79 mins6th

All of our full backs are now ranked in the top twenty Premier League defenders over this period of the season. Kyle Walker has shaved 62 minutes and Danny Rose a whopping 103 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 4th) and Gael Clichy (13th) with right back Bacary Sagna (15th) for the Citizens. The Toffees have perennial assist man Leighton Baines ranked 3rd 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 that Pochettino will switch between Premier League and Europa League matches.

Positive points

Positive and improved attacking play from our full backs has had an encouraging effect on our Premier League points total.

In our first ten games of the season we were scoring an average of 1.6 goals per game. This increased to 1.9 goals per game for matches 11-38.

Our goals against also decreased from allowing 0.8 per game in the first ten matches to 0.7 goals for matches 11-34. Unfortunately, conceding 10 goals in our last four games, which included getting hit for five at St. James’ Park, three of them without a right back after Kyle Walker went off, pushed our goals against to 0.9 for matches across teh whole 11-38 games period.

Our average points per game jumped from 1.7 over the first ten matches to 1.9 over the last 28 games. This did go as high as getting 2.2 points per game for matches 11-34 after battering Stoke 4-0 at the Brittania. However, dropping points in subsequent matches against West Brom, Chelsea, Southampton and Newcastle took our points earned per match down to 1.9 for games 11-38 due to our end of season drop off.

Interestingly, had we gone along at 2.2 points per match all season, we would’ve finished with 83 points, enough to have been champions.

Full backs overall

As the full backs get moving, so too does our team. They are the most important players on the field for us given how much they have to do and how involved they have to be in both attack and defence.

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