Steven Caulker has come on leaps and bounds in the last few seasons. A member of team GB at the Olympics this summer, after going on loan to impress as part of a Swansea side that kept 10 clean sheets in his 26 appearances.
As a result, Caulker was rewarded with a new 4-year contract by the club and is on the squad list for this Premier League season as an under-21 member.
Andre Villas-Boas continues to re-shape the side determined to lower the age of the Tottenham team this year. Without Younes Kaboul for 4 months and William Gallas now looking every bit 35, is it time for Steven Caulker to get his chance?
Steven Caulker at Swansea
Steven Caulker spent the baulk of last year on loan at Swansea and he formed a formidable centre-back partnership with Ashley Williams.
Last season, Swansea were a team that were very different to Spurs in how Brendan Rodgers set them up to play. Last term though, the Swans did have a couple of traits under Rodgers that they share with Andre Villas-Boas’ vision for Tottenham.
These are that Swansea were firstly a possession football team. The other is that without the ball, they press the opposition high up the pitch in order to win it back quickly.
Steven Caulker’s experience at Swansea could stand him in good stead for AVB’s plans for the future.
In order to succeed in Rodgers’ system at Swansea, defenders have to be able to play with the ball at their feet. The Swans worked the ball up the pitch from goalkeeper Michel Vorm, building down the right side through full back Angel Rangel.
Steven Caulker slotted in as the right-sided central defender, playing on average 62 passes per match last season, completing 87% of them. Of all the centre backs in the Premier League, only his partner Ashley Williams played more passes per match, highlighting Swansea’s keep-ball style.
If we take a look at a couple of matches using Stats Zone, we can see how Steven Caulker is comfortable with playing the ball in all areas of the pitch.
Against Newcastle at the backend of last season, Swansea dominated the game and Caulker played a ridiculous 144 passes, completing 137 of them (95%). The reason for showing this is not only that he doesn’t turn the ball over that often, but also that he isn’t afraid to move up the field to distribute passes.
We can see that at the back he plays passes to goalkeeper Michel Vorm in order to recycle play. He also moves it square to Ashley Williams and right to Angel Rangel to initiate attacks. Further up the field, he is looking to move the ball out to the right more often to Rangel and Nathan Dyer.
In Swansea’s 1-0 victory over Premier League Champions Man City, we can similar things happening. Steven Caulker completes 70 of 80 passes in the match (88%) on this occassion. Again he is not afraid to recycle the ball through Michel Vorm, which is something Swansea does a lot. He also goes square to Ashley Williams, then further up field he moves the ball down the right.
Being comfortable on the ball and able to pass it accurately will be required as part of Andre Villas-Boas’ plans for the team. That was one of the main reaasons behind us signing Jan Vertonghen.
Pressing the opposition
Swansea also pressed the opposition high up the pitch under Brendan Rodgers last season, in order to compress the play and create turnovers.
We can see this with the help of Stats Zone if we look at some of their matches.
Swansea’s pressing against Newcastle was evident up the field, creating interceptions of the ball and tackles in the Newcastle half.
In their next match with Blackburn we can also see how Swansea were looking to squeeze the play, intercepting the ball 7 times in the opposition half.
With his ability to play the ball and work as part of a high line, Steven Caulker was a perfect fit for Brendan Rodgers’ system whilst on-loan at Swansea last season.
Andre Villas-Boas is looking to deploy his high defensive line and pressing of the opposition at Spurs this term. He is going to require centre backs that can play the ball and are mobile enough to cope with pressing the opposition. Steven Caulker fits the bill on both accounts.
Spurs current centre backs
Spurs currently have Younes Kaboul, William Gallas and Michael Dawson as the senior centre backs in our 25-man Premier League squad.
To compare them statistically wouldn’t be very apt given that Dawson barely played last season and Gallas only made 15 Premier League appearances. Also, Steven Caulker spent last season playing in a completely different system to the other three.
Swansea pressed up the field; Spurs weren’t as aggressive without the ball. Swansea also had more possession resulting in them having to play less defensively, which meant that Spurs made many more tackles and interceptions per game.
Younes Kaboul, if fit, should be starting alongside Jan Vertonghen, but with him out injured for the next four months, Andre Villas-Boas has turned to William Gallas.
Gallas has started to slow down now that he is 35 and is covering less ground. He still reads the game well, which is why I can see Andre Villas-Boas starting him over the less experienced Caulker and the less mobile Michael Dawson at the minute.
AVB wants to play a possession game with a high defensive line though, which requires athletic centre backs who are comfortable playing the ball. Without Younes Kaboul, William Gallas is able to step in, but he is not the player of ten years ago, looking a yard slow nowadays.
Steven Caulker shouldn’t be starting every game for Spurs, but he is a mobile centre back that is comfortable in possession and can play as part of a pressing defence. Maybe he should be getting a chance to show if his experience last season at Swansea will benefit us at the Lane this term?