One of the greatest characteristics of Tottenham Hotspur in the Mauricio Pochettino era has been their attacking full-backs.
First it was Kyle Walker and Danny Rose who could be seen rampaging up the flanks. Then, when Rose suffered a serious injury last season and Walker signed for Manchester City, it looked as though Pochettino had a job on his hands keeping this part of Spurs’ attacking philosophy intact.
Serge Aurier was signed but, in truth, the Ivorian’s shaky performances have prevented him from nailing down a place in the starting line-up. That is in part down to his defensive deficiencies but the fact is that there are not a lot of right-backs who would easily displace Kieran Trippier.
The 27-year-old has enjoyed an excellent season for Spurs, seizing the opportunity to impress following Walker’s departure. On the opposite flank, Ben Davies has deputised for Rose who has, due to fitness issues, only completed 90 minutes in the Premier League four times this season.
The prominence of Trippier and Davies was again evident in Spurs’ 2-0 win over Watford on Monday night. In a relatively low-key affair at Wembley, goals from Dele Alli and Harry Kane clinched three points for Pochettino’s side as they moved five points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea.
If Spurs win their remaining three games, they are guaranteed to finish above Liverpool and that would represent another good season.
Trippier and Davies with time and space
While several of the Spurs players made sure not to overexert themselves, Trippier played as though he wanted to lay down a marker to England manager Gareth Southgate.
Walker will almost certainly be a member of England’s first-choice back three at the World Cup having played there in recent friendlies. But his successor at Spurs is doing everything in his power to ensure he will be in contention at wing-back, or if Southgate reverts to a back four.
Trippier was named the man of the match against Watford, having tortured José Holebas in the Hornets defence.
With Watford looking narrow when they dropped back, it allowed Trippier and Davies time and space when they received the ball. Given their ability to deliver quality crosses from wide areas, it was risky from the visitors.
Trippier’s attacking contributions were telling though and he notched his fifth assist of the season, pulling a cross back for Kane to fire beyond Orestis Karnezis. Trippier’s cross also gave Karnezis problems for Spurs’ first, too, when the keeper fumbled the ball to Eriksen who squared it to an obliging Alli.
Trippier could have had his second assist, too, when his excellent delivery from a free-kick was headed onto the post by Jan Vertonghen.
Although it was far from the most scintillating performance these Spurs players have produced under Pochettino, it was a night which showcased the endeavour of their two full-backs.
Davies and Trippier, perhaps unsurprisingly, boast impressive stats. Between them, they average 1.20 open play key passes per game, create 0.25 big chances per 90 and make 0.61 successful take-ons.
Their average expected goal contribution of 4.08 is only slightly lower than the 4.6 of Manchester City’s Walker and Fabian Delph, but higher than the 3.8 average of Liverpool full-back duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.
Trippier needs to improve defending
While Trippier remains a much more dependable option than Aurier, the Watford game exposed some of his weaknesses. Namely, his defending.
As you can see below, Richarlison faces up to Trippier on the left wing. The Watford man’s intentions are clear enough: he wants to drop the shoulder and drive into that space behind Trippier before pulling a pass back to one of his team-mates.
Richarlison is strong with both feet so making him check back onto his right isn’t the best option for Trippier.
However, instead of simply standing up to Richarlison, he needlessly dives in, allowing the 20-year-old to skip past him and create a possible goalscoring opportunity.
Luckily for Trippier, Richarlison is unable to find Andre Gray with his pass and Spurs clear the danger.
While it’s convenient to pick out particular examples to shape this argument, Trippier’s unconvincing defending against Watford was not the first time he’s been culpable.
The right-back was arguably at fault for both of Juventus’ goals when Spurs were knocked out by the Italians in the Champions League last-16.
For Gonzalo Higuaín’s goal, Trippier’s positioning let him down. He was too close to Vertonghen and therefore could not get across quickly enough to stop the Argentine.
For Paulo Dybala’s goal, Trippier ws caught ball-watching as the Juve forward ghosted past him. By the time Higuain played the pass, Dybala had beaten the offside trap and left Trippier in his wake, scoring the goal to kill Spurs’ chances.
While Trippier continues to shine going forward, the defensive side of his game requires refinement. With Walker enjoying an excellent first season at City, being named in the PFA Team of the Year, it’s difficult to imagine Southgate plumping for Trippier ahead of his former team-mate.
But one thing’s for sure, while Southgate is hard-pressed to find in-form options at left-back (Rose has been injured for much of the season while Ryan Bertrand has, like most Southampton players, struggled of late), he has two excellent candidates on the opposite flank.