Kyle Walker was almost an ever present in the Premier League for Spurs last season, failing to play in just one game as he made the right-back role his own.
The 22-year old missed Euro 2012 and the Olympics due to a toe injury, but the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas at The Lane will make him a key player for us this season.
The reason being that the Portuguese requires athletic full backs to play his system to not only help press defensively, but also to provide width going forward.
AVB gave Jose Bosingwa a lifeline at Chelsea due to his ability to get forward, when Branislav Ivanovic was the much better defender. At FC Porto, he used the highly mobile Cristian Sapunaru to much better effect.
Chelsea struggled to adapt to Villas-Boas’s defensive pressing and maintaining a high line, whereas Porto excelled.
The right full-back is a key area in AVB’s system and therefore Kyle Walker will be an important player for us this season.
How Andre Villas-Boas’s system works
Andre Villas-Boas likes to play 4-3-3, but so far in pre-season he has switched to a 4-2-3-1, as he doesn’t have the necessary strikers to play a front three.
To play his forward trio, he needs a central target man and also a mobile support striker who can cut in from the right. AVB utilised Daniel Sturridge at Chelsea and Hulk at Porto to work this role, but until those types of players are signed, we could continue to see 4-2-3-1.
What he does have is the wide midfielder to play the left side of the front three to supply width, crossing and get in to the box. Gareth Bale can do this perfectly, just as Juan Mata did at Chelsea and Silvestre Varela at Porto.
The defence’s work has remained the same even despite the formation change and we have seen the high line and pressing at work in our pre-season friendlies. The most notable occasion of us struggling to adapt was in the opening minutes against the New York Red Bulls. A long ball over the top allowed Tim Cahill to break beyond the back four and Jan Vertonghen had no choice but to bring him down. Chelsea had the most red cards of any team in the Premier League under AVB due to this. They were reduced to nine men at QPR, so we can only hope we don’t see the same at the Lane this season.
The full backs are key to the system working; they have to be able to help press up the field in order to force interceptions and turnovers. Then when the team has won the ball back, they are required to play with width and join the attack.
Kyle Walker defensive responsibilities
Andre Villas-Boas struggled with his right back selection at Chelsea. The player he required going forward was the speed and crossing ability of Jose Bosingwa. The player defensively he wanted was the tough tackling Branislav Ivanovic.
At Spurs he doesn’t have to worry as he has a player that can be both an athletic attacker and defender in Kyle Walker. The 22-year old was exceptional at right-back last season, ranking first in tackles won and fifteenth in interceptions made among Premier League defenders.
Walker’s 81 successful tackles beat Patrice Evra’s 80 and Maynor Figueroa’s 73, as the Spurs man proved tough to pass.
His 67 interceptions put him in fifteenth place, way behind Neil Warnock’s Premier League leading 103. It is this part of his game that will need a slight improvement in order to excel in Villas-Boas’s system, as pressing up the field results in interceptions.
If we look at the match between Spurs and Chelsea at the Lane last season, when Andre Villas-Boas was in charge of the Blues, we can see this in action.
Chelsea were pressing up the field to force turnovers from our defenders and then deploying their high defensive line to squeeze the play.
Kyle Walker, after his first full season in the right-back role is among the Premier League’s top defenders at intercepting play. When this is combined with his tackling, he will prove to be a key man for Andre Villas-Boas this season.
Kyle Walker attacking responsibilities
Going forward, Kyle Walker has the job of bringing width and also supporting the attackers to provide crossing opportunities.
Kyle Walker playing with width
If we start with width, we can see using Stats Zone just how Kyle Walker hugs the touchline and is looking to get forward.
If we go back to the 1-1 draw at the Lane against Villas-Boas’s Chelsea, we can see how we were trying to move the ball out to Kyle Walker in wide positions. The long blue lines show how we were quickly looking to get the ball out to him to stretch Chelsea and get in behind their high line.
The width that Kyle Walker plays with was a feature all season, as we can see in our away trip to Liverpool.
The 22-year old likes to get forward, as his passes received in the opposition half (864), were second to only Angle Rangel’s 965 among Premier League defenders last season.
Kyle Walker Crossing
In his time at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas had them as the second highest crossing team in the league behind Liverpool. The Anfielders were attempting 29 crosses per Premier League match, whilst Chelsea were attempting 26 per game.
Spurs under Harry Redknapp were ranked fourteenth in the league with 20 crosses attempted per game. Walker’s role in this phase of the attacking game will be crucial this campaign.
If we look at the top crossing defenders from last season, we can see how well Kyle Walker has performed.
He ranks sixth best in the Premier League last term at the number of crosses attempted, which is a good sign. If he can improve his accuracy to where Benoit Assou-Ekotto is, he will be a serious supply line. BAE had four assists last season, Kyle Walker just one.
We can also see why AVB favoured Jose Bosingwa at right back to Branislav Ivanovic last season. Despite his 16% accuracy, Bosingwa was able to supply a massive number of crosses from right back considering he fell out of the team after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked.
Both full-backs have to be able to cross in AVB’s system, so the fact that we have two of the most prolific bodes well.
The right back has to provide the more adept delivery in the system, this is because the right-sided forward in the 4-3-3 cuts in to the box to join the central striker. Jose Bosingwa attempted 120 crosses last season under Andre Villas-Boas from right-back, Ashley Cole just 68 from his left-back role.
Kyle Walker has some work to do on his accuracy, but in partnership with Benoit Assou-Ekotto we have a good full-back foundation to play AVB’s 4-3-3 formation.
Andre Villas-Boas is missing a few pieces of his puzzle to play his preferred system. Kyle Walker is the right back he so desperately needed at Chelsea and will be a key player for us this season.