After flying out the traps to begin the season, Aaron Lennon looked like he was taking to Andre Villas-Boas’ new system like a duck to water.
Harry Redknapp had used him as a conventional winger, receiving the ball out wide and going at the defender with pace in order to provide a cross. Andre Villas-Boas wanted him to play higher up and look to receive passes played through the defence in to deeper positions, so he could square it and cut it back.
It seemed to be working; Aaron Lennon provided a goal and three assists in his first eight Premier League matches. Then came a ten game dip in productivity, as he would only provide a solitary goal and an assist as he returned to old ways. Lennon wasn’t getting the ball in such high areas and I looked at this in the post “Aaron Lennon slowing down after a promising start.”
Then came a five game run against Aston Villa, Sunderland, Reading, QPR and Man Utd where he again scored once whilst setting up three more. He earned tremendous praise from Andre Villas-Boas for his form, claiming it was “extraordinary.”
He was back to receiving the ball in higher zones again and it looked as if Aaron Lennon was getting the manager’s message once more.
His assist against Man Utd was his last for Spurs in the Premier League and four matches have passed since he set up Clint Dempsey. Lennon has increasingly become a peripheral figure, as Gareth Bale has been firmly in the spotlight.
So has Aaron Lennon slipped back in to old habits or are there other factors at work?
Aaron Lennon recent form
Aaron Lennon has gone somewhat missing in the last four Premier League matches for Spurs. Whilst this is nowhere near the dip in form he suffered earlier in the season between Premier League matches 9-18, it is somewhat concerning.
|Mins on pitch||891||447||367|
|Pass received||3.8 mins||2.8 mins||2.9 mins|
|Pass received in final 3rd||8.6 mins||5.3 mins||5.5 mins|
|Pass received in penalty area||37 mins||16.5 mins||21.5 mins|
|Mins per cross attempt||73 mins||26 mins||31 mins|
|Chance created||74 mins||28 mins||46 mins|
In his last four Premier League matches (24-27), Aaron Lennon has almost been seeing as much of the ball as he was in his good run of form (games 19-23). His minutes per pass received his increased marginally from 2.8 to 2.9 minutes. Where the disparity comes in is the locations of where he is receiving it. Only slightly less in the final third, but considerably less from passes played in to him in the penalty area. This has then had a knock-on effect to his chance-creating ability to set-up the cut backs and squared balls that Andre Villas-Boas wants from him.
Is Aaron Lennon slipping back in to old habits?
So with Aaron Lennon receiving the ball less in the penalty area, does this mean he is getting back in to old habits? This was where he was gaining possession some distance from the box, looking to go on a quick darting run to beat the full back and cross.
To see his old habits, compare our trip to Southampton when he was in the midst of his slump (matches 9-18), to our outing at Aston Villa (matches 19-23) where he was in good form.
Against the Saints he receives plenty of the ball, but it’s all some distance from the penalty area. Whereas at Villa Park he receives much shorter passes that are played in to zones behind the full back.
If we look at our last two Premier League matches, we can see that while Aaron Lennon hasn’t fallen completely back in to old habits, he hasn’t been as advanced as he was.
Against Newcastle, he receives the ball in higher areas of the pitch in to the zone beyond the full back, which is good, but only once in to the penalty area. This cuts down on his ability to provide shorter cutback crosses and create chances.
Monday night against West Ham, we can see he gets even less of the ball in the zone behind the full back. He receives it just twice from long passes swept across the pitch, whereas AVB is looking for him to get the ball from much shorter passing.
Other factors at work
So, Aaron Lennon isn’t getting the ball in the advanced areas as much as he was, but there are a number of other factors at work.
The Gareth Bale effect
The last four matches where Lennon’s form has dipped and he has seen less of the ball in advanced areas has coincided with Gareth Bale’s switch to the middle. As looked at in the post “Just how much better is Gareth Bale in the centre?” we can see just how much more of the ball Bale is commanding since his move to the middle.
The Welshman’s touches in the final third and the penalty area have massively increased as a result of the move. Aaron Lennon is still getting as much of the ball as he was (every 2.9 minutes), but his average position hasn’t been as advanced as it was earlier in the season.
Increased defensive work
Aaron Lennon this season has also been tasked with doing more to win the ball back. Andre Villas-Boas requires his wide players to press and track the opposition full back and this requires energy and stamina.
Under Harry Redknapp he was making a tackle every 77 minutes and an interception every 188 minutes on pitch. For Andre Villas-Boas he now makes a tackle every 54 minutes and an interception every 102 minutes, which means he may well be tiring due to the number of minutes he has played this season.
Aaron Lennon may also be suffering from fatigue. After 27 Premier League matches and 38 total games including internationals, he is almost at his highest minutes played in a season already.
So far, he has played a total of 3121 minutes in all competitions, his second highest since playing 3664 minutes in the whole of the 2008-09 season. Keep this current pace up and he will be at this level in six matches time when we face Swansea at the end of March. That still leaves seven Premier League matches still to play and Europa League games if we progress past Inter Milan.
What’s up with Aaron Lennon?
Aaron Lennon is still trying to do what Andre Villas-Boas wants from him, which has not always been the case this season.
He is still looking to receive possession higher up the pitch in order to create chances from cutbacks and squared balls from passes played through the defence. He just is doing it less frequently than he was during his good run of form due to a number of other factors. These include Gareth Bale’s repositioning, the extra defensive work and fatigue from playing a record number of minutes this season. Aaron Lennon could well be in need of a rest.