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Player Analysis

How has Ben Davies managed to turn his fortunes around at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino?



Ben Davies

It’s Saturday 11 February 2017.

Ben Davies has just played his first full 90 minutes since October due to an untimely injury to first-choice left-back Danny Rose, and he put in a solid display as Tottenham eased past lowly Middlesbrough.

But a first real test lies ahead for the Welsh international, with Mauricio Pochettino’s side taking a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool in an encounter that could have huge repercussions in the title race.

The hosts haven’t won in their previous five matches and are beginning to lose sight of runaway leaders Chelsea at the top, whilst Tottenham know a win could reduce the gap down to six points.

Yet, what followed was a torrid afternoon for Davies, being completely torn to shreds by a rampant Sadio Mane on the right-wing as Liverpool coasted to a 2-0 win that provided a real blow for Tottenham’s chances of catching Chelsea at the top, leaving them nine points adrift of their rivals.

He simply had no answer to the brute power and the speed of movement that the Senegalese international had, being caught out time and time again and finding it hard to make a recovery.

It was Davies who failed to track the run of Mane for the Liverpool opener, being out-muscled as he attempted to get back at him, and you can argue that he should have stayed tight to Mane in the penalty area in the build-up to the second goal just moments later rather than move back out to the left.

Add to this the fact that he was beaten time and time again on the flank – 50% of Liverpool’s attacks came from their right-hand side such was their ability to get results against Davies – and that he nearly chested the ball past Hugo Lloris into his own net and it’s clear to see his confidence was shot.

It was only the fourth start of the season for the former Swansea defender and, whilst it was an overall poor team performance from Spurs, Davies was certainly made the scapegoat for the manner of defeat.

So the question is, how do you bounce back from that as a young, fringe player?

Somewhat fortunately for Davies, the long-term nature of Rose’s injury all-but left manager Pochettino with little choice but to keep the faith in him, with there no viable alternative on the left of defence.

But having a manager like Pochettino, who understands his players and has always given them time to turn things around when hitting a bad run of form, would have given Davies a sense of reassurance for the remainder of the season as he knew he could redeem himself before the end of May came.

And the 24-year-old did just that, showing vast signs of improvement in the following months to eventually earn himself a new four-year deal in north London, and speaking to Sky Sports towards the end of last season Pochettino expressed his delight at how much fight the defender had shown.

“Always it’s difficult to share a position with Danny Rose, who is one of the best left-backs in Europe, but Ben has worked very hard to find his place. He is a fantastic professional. His position wasn’t easy from the beginning, but he kept fighting, always waiting for his opportunity to play.

“He fully deserves to improve his contract and salary because, when we are talking about the team and the squad, this player deserves all the credit to keep fighting to keep up the level of the squad.”

It signalled a fairly dramatic turnaround from that dismal day in February and it’s that word, ‘fight’, that Pochettino used to describe the Welshman’s character that encapsulates everything about him.

Fast forward eight months down the line and the fortunes of the Spurs defender couldn’t be any more different, and even he couldn’t have imagined how the rest of 2017 would pan out in his wildest expectations.

The young left-back has simply gone from strength to strength as part of a strong Tottenham side, becoming known as less of a back-up to Rose and more of a well-rounded, complete defender that’s now a first-team regular in his own right, and Rose could struggle for his spot back when he does return.

That’s a huge statement considering the fact that the England international was the stand-out left-back in the Premier League last season, but he would find it hard to walk straight back into this side.

It’s just testament to how much Davies’ development has come on in leaps and bounds over the past seven months of the year and it’s fair to say that Tottenham haven’t missed Rose one bit.

Davies has adapted to a left-wing back role seamlessly – despite featuring more centrally for the Welsh national side – and the abundance of energy and forward movement that he brings to Tottenham’s play has proven effective so far this season, keeping up a healthy work-rate on the left.

He’s become very intelligent in his new role, knowing when to burst forward and when to remain deeper, and there’s almost an innate sense and an instinct inside him to know when to make a run.

This brings us back round to the present day, and Davies was at the heart of everything good about Tottenham’s resounding 4-0 victory against Huddersfield – something not unnoticed by Pochettino.

In his post-match press conference, he was asked all of the usual questions about Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen – the players that most people consider to be the heartbeat of the current Spurs side – but the Argentine deflected such questions and turned the focus around on the Welsh defender.

“I think today that if we talk about one player other than Harry Kane it’s Ben Davies. Sometimes we have to be honest and recognise some players that aren’t the focus. He was so young when I arrived. He was working so hard to make his moment, and always being professional. That is why his teammates, the club, everyone is so proud of him.

“In the last three seasons, he was so important for the team. For me he is one of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Today he showed a fantastic performance. Defensively and attacking, because he scored and gave an assist. His energy is fantastic.”

It is hard to disagree with what the Spurs boss said, with Davies putting in another exceptional display in his fine start to the 2017-18 season, claiming a second goal of the year with a neat finish.

There aren’t many players in the Premier League – certainly not at one of the top-six sides – that are as underrated as Davies is, with the 24-year-old creating 15 chances for his side already in six matches this season, a tally that is identical to Dele Alli’s and only one less than Christian Eriksen’s.

His creativity in attack has taken the plaudits this season but it’s important to note that his work in defence has improved vastly too since that fateful afternoon on Merseyside, and Tottenham’s change to a wing-back system has arguably taken some of the defensive burden off of his shoulders.

Last season, as seen at Anfield, he was in a traditional left-back role and his problem was that he could be exploited too easily by pacey wingers, whilst this year he has a back-three mopping up behind him.

They say that patience is a virtue and, after making just 41 appearances over his first three seasons at Tottenham following his move from Swansea City, Davies is the epitome of waiting for his chance.

It may not have come in the circumstances that he wanted, capitalising on a long-term injury to a teammate, but nonetheless there aren’t many that’ll begrudge him this sudden rise to prominence.

His attentions will turn to Wales for the time being as he looks to help his country in their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, but upon return to the Premier League he’ll have the opportunity to earn himself a sense of redemption when Jurgen Klopp’s side come to Wembley in mid-October.

The demons may still be there from that nightmare afternoon in February but, in the form Davies is currently in, it should be Liverpool who are wary as they look to stop a man playing close to his peak.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech



Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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English Premier League

Does forgotten man Henri Saivet have a future at Newcastle United?

Jake Jackman




It is common for a player to be forgotten about after a lengthy period outside of the match-day squad and that was true of Henri Saivet at Newcastle United. The midfielder signed for the club during January 2016 and he is approaching the two-year anniversary of his time at St James’ Park. It hasn’t been a very memorable one in the slightest and he would have been one of those surplus to requirements heading into the transfer window next month. However, a combination of injuries and suspensions led to the Senegalese international being drafted into the starting eleven for the first time this season in the Premier League.

There was a collective groan among Newcastle United supporters when they saw the team-sheet for the visit to West Ham. The club had taken one point from their previous nine matches and it was imperative that they returned to winning ways, but a central midfield partnership of Mo Diame and Saivet gave them little chance of doing that. Or so they thought.

The two midfielders worked tirelessly in the middle of the park and offered good support to the attack. They may not be the midfielders that Benitez wants to build a team around, but they showed encouraging signs on Saturday and they have provided their manager with food for thought. Both of them got on the score-sheet to help the Magpies win an end-to-end contest with one of their rivals at the bottom of the table. The three points moved the club back outside of the relegation zone and it will be interesting to see what role these two players have to play in the immediate future.

Saivet’s performance against West Ham in numbers

It was a rocky start for the 27-year-old as he gifted West Ham an early lead inside the opening few minutes. He horribly misjudged a pass, which went straight to Marko Arnautovic. The only Newcastle defender behind the ball was Ciaran Clark and some good feet from the Austrian international took him out of the game. It was a lapse of concentration from Saivet that was indicative of his lack of playing time this season. Although there remained a lot for the Hammers’ attacker to do, the goal was a direct result of a mistake from the Magpies’ midfielder.

At that moment, Newcastle supporters would have been bemoaning the selection of Saivet as he showed why he hadn’t been picked very often. It would have been easy for the midfielder to go on to have a nightmare match, but he showed great spirit to fight back and deliver a very good performance after the initial mistake. Within minutes, he was stepping up to take a free-kick and took the responsibility over more senior players in the team. The result was extraordinary as his shoot on goal was perfectly measured and found a way past Adrian. It was a great response and it will have pleased his manager.

Saivet came through as a winger in Ligue 1, before being switched to the central midfield role. There were signs when that was evident against West Ham, but it was his tenacity when winning the ball back that stood out. The Senegalese international completed five tackles, four interceptions and made eight clearances. He more than played his part in a battling Newcastle performance and helped the team come out on top against a physical opposition.

In possession, it was clear that there was some rust in his game, as he completed only 63% of his passes. Benitez will want his midfielders to have more control in the middle of the park, but there were encouraging signs in Saivet’s intentions. He often looked to make forward passes and had the energy to get up and down the pitch.

Does he have a part to play for Newcastle United?

It looked impossible for Saivet to come back and play for Newcastle this season. The midfielder left after relegation to join Saint-Ettiene on loan, but failed to impress their then-manager Christophe Galtier.

“A playmaker? I thought I’d found him with Henri Saivet. But if he did not play in England, now I know why: he is no longer hungry. At all.

“We had lost sight of who he was. We concentrated on what he had done against us with Bordeaux in the days of Willy Sagnol and René Lobello. But the Henri of Bordeaux and the Henri of England were no longer the same. It’s an example (for us).”

These were troubling quotes at the time and shed some light on why Newcastle were unable to sell Saivet during the summer. He has big wages and he has been unable to show his quality for the last two years. The comment about hunger is interesting, as the player that delivered an eye-catching performance against West Ham was committed and fighting for the cause. He looked a completely different player to the one that floundered during his early days as a Magpies player.

Realistically, Benitez will not look at Saivet as a player that has a part to play in the long-term future of Newcastle United. He has already passed his judgement of the player and it will take a lot more than one encouraging performance to change that. However, in the short-term, he has done enough to earn more minutes in the first-team, whether that be as a starter or substitute.

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Manchester City

Does Sergio Aguero have a long-term future at Manchester City?

Rob Meech



Sergio Aguero

It is one of the most iconic images of the Premier League era. Sergio Aguero, shirtless and overcome by unbridled joy, wheeling away in celebration after scoring against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the 2011/12 season.

His dramatic injury-time goal had stolen the title from the grasp of arch-rivals Manchester United. That historic moment ensured he would be forever revered as a folk hero at the Etihad Stadium.

Five years later, Aguero has become Manchester City’s all-time record scorer and he surpassed the 1oo-goal barrier on home turf with a double in the 4-0 thrashing of lowly Bournemouth.

It was another reminder of his predatory instinct. Regardless of the quality of the opposition, Aguero’s ability to find the back of the net on a consistent basis remains unquestionable.

But the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager in the summer of 2016 changed the dynamic for the Argentinian. For the first time in his City career, he has had to fight for his place in the starting line-up.

The arrival of Gabriel Jesus in the subsequent January transfer window provided extra competition. Jesus was Guardiola’s man and, despite suffering a metatarsal injury, he became first choice. That theme has continued this season, with the Brazilian being preferred for the crunch games.

On occasion, Aguero has been unable to hide his feelings. He threw his gloves to the ground after being substituted against Tottenham Hotspur in a demonstrable show of frustration. Nonetheless, he remains a team player and, when called upon, has contributed to City’s remarkable success.

Despite his limited game-time, Aguero has 12 Premier League goals to his name this season, which makes him the joint leading scorer at City alongside the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling.

Those dozen strikes have come from only 14 appearances, at one every 92 minutes. That ratio sets him apart from any other striker in England’s top-flight and, incidentally, is considerably better than Jesus, his main rival for the striking berth at City.

Publicly, Guardiola has been effusive in his praise of Aguero and sympathetic to his current role. This was the case after the thrashing of Bournemouth, where he described him as a ‘legend’. But there remains a strong suspicion that, should the club’s valuation be met, the former Atletico Madrid hitman will be allowed to leave the Etihad.

Many would consider Guardiola mad to countenance such a decision. After all, this is a Golden Boot winner of the highest pedigree. However, the City manager is famously single-minded. His ruthless axing of fans’ favourite and England keeper Joe Hart proved no player is safe from being jettisoned.

And this is Aguero’s biggest problem. For all his prowess in front of goal, he is not a typical Guardiola striker. He is a predator in the box and performs that role with distinction.

But the Catalan demands more than just goals. He demands his main striker to pull defenders out of position with clever runs, creating space for the attacking midfielders to swamp.

At most clubs in Europe, Aguero would be the first name on the team-sheet. However, at City, he is having to play second fiddle to Jesus. Despite his deep affinity to Manchester City, it appears increasingly likely the 29-year-old will leave the club in the summer.

In Guardiola’s insatiable pursuit of perfection, there is no room for sentiment. Although Aguero remains a goalscoring machine, he may become the Catalan’s next victim.

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