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

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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 - @96PearsonW.

Liverpool

Why is Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson so under-appreciated?

The 27-year-old is a regular starter for both club and country.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Getty Images

No England player is derided more than Jordan Henderson. Scroll through social media after a Three Lions international and the likelihood is unfavourable comments about the Liverpool midfielder will be in ample supply.

It was no different after the recent friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Although England stepped up their World Cup preparations with a morale-boosting 1-0 victory, Henderson was subjected to the usual vitriol and abuse.

Charged by Gareth Southgate of shielding the back three, the 27-year-old carried out his instructions to the letter, helping the visitors keep their fifth successive clean sheet.

Furthermore, Henderson was able to have a positive influence in attack, pushing England forward with his range of passing, both short and long. His performance was commended by Southgate, who had entrusted him with the captaincy in the absence of Harry Kane.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It is not only the England manager who values Henderson’s qualities. Jurgen Klopp has frequently spoken of his admiration for his skipper.

Succeeding someone as iconic as Steven Gerrard – at a club as prestigious as Liverpool – was a daunting task, but Henderson has not been overawed by the armband. In fact, he has relished the extra responsibility at Anfield.

This season has been a hugely encouraging one for Liverpool. They have progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and look set to finish in the top four of the Premier League.

Much of the attention has focused on Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, whose exploits in front of goal have grabbed the headlines. The Egyptian, in particular, has been a revelation and is the frontrunner to win the Golden Boot.

For every Salah there is a Henderson, someone who keeps the side ticking. Much of what he does goes unnoticed. Perhaps it is only the Liverpool supporters who see him at close quarters that recognise the work he undertakes.

The dropping deep to collect the ball from the goalkeeper. The pressing when the opposition are in possession. The tempo he dictates. The movement that enables more creative players the time and space to work their magic. It’s not always pretty, but it’s mightily effective.

You won’t see Henderson dribble past three opponents before smashing the ball into the top corner – that is not his function in the team. But it doesn’t make his contribution any less important. Every building needs strong foundations and Henderson is the bedrock upon which Liverpool’s most dazzling talents can flourish.

Unlike on the continent, the value of a holding midfielder is continually overlooked in England. It is a testament to the former Sunderland man that, despite the negative perception about him, he continues to hold down a place for both club and country.

As well as his attributes on the pitch, Henderson is a total professional off it, dedicated to extracting every ounce of ability he has.

In two months’ time, Southgate will finalise his 23-man squad for the World Cup. There is no question that, fitness permitting, Henderson will be on the plane to Russia.

In all probability, he will be named in the starting XI for England’s opening fixture against Tunisia on June 18. Unfashionable though he may be, Liverpool and England will continue to benefit from Henderson’s reassuring presence.

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Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech

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Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United‘s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook looks destined for a top-four club

The 21-year-old has been called up to Gareth Southgate’s squad as a reward for his recent form.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Getty Images

His form has largely gone under the radar, but Lewis Cook’s England call-up for the prestige friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy has brought him fully into the public consciousness.

The Bournemouth midfielder has been rewarded for his eye-catching performances since establishing himself as one of the first names on Eddie Howe’s team-sheet.

Keeping the likes of Harry Arter out of the starting XI, Cook has become a fans’ favourite at the Vitality Stadium.

With each appearance, the 21-year-old looks increasingly at home in the top-flight and is growing in maturity.

Cook had been enlisted as cover by Gareth Southgate during last November’s friendlies but didn’t feature. This time, however, he is in the 27-man squad on merit alone.

Despite being a newcomer, Cook has international pedigree.

He captained England at the Under-20 World Cup and followed Bobby Moore as only the second Englishman to lift a global trophy when the Three Lions defeated Venezuela in South Korea.

His progress has been tracked by Southgate, who wants to build a pathway from the age groups to the senior team.

It is a model that has proved successful in Germany, whose 2014 World Cup winners featured a nucleus of the dominant under-21 outfit.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Southgate has made it clear that, ideally, he wants to pick those who are performing regularly for their clubs.

With an increasingly shallow pool of players to choose from, this is not always possible.

But for the likes of Cook and James Tarkowski of Burnley, their call-ups are proof that you do not have to play for a so-called ‘big club’ to receive England recognition.

It gives hope to all those who harbour international ambitions.

Cook arrived in Dorset with high expectations after joining from Championship outfit Leeds United in the summer of 2016, but his maiden season was bedevilled by difficulties.

He lined up for his competitive debut in the 2016/17 Premier League curtain-raiser against Manchester United, only for a persistent ankle injury to sideline him for seven months.

He featured only sporadically at the back end of the campaign.

This season began similarly frustratingly for Cook, who failed to make the match-day squad for the opening fixtures.

However, he made his first Premier League start of the term against Leicester City last September and never looked back.

First, in partnership with Andrew Surman and latterly alongside Dan Gosling, it is no coincidence the Cherries’ revival has occurred with Cook at the heart of the action.

He has been instrumental in their improvement.

Cook’s style has been compared to Jack Wilshere, who spent last season on loan at Bournemouth.

Howe has credited the Arsenal man with aiding his protege’s development, culminating in this England selection.

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Like Wilshere, Cook could not be described a prolific goalscorer. In fact, he has netted only two goals in 120 career appearances.

Where he shines is in possession of the football.

Linking defence with attack, Cook’s vision and ability to execute a pass are stand-out qualities. He rarely gives the ball away and always wants to move the play forward.

Occasionally he picks the wrong option, but at such a tender age mistakes are inevitable.

Despite the microscopic scrutiny involved in the top-flight, he can never be accused of hiding.

Cook always demands the ball from his team-mates, no matter how well he is playing.

Speculation has risen that Cook might be a target for some of the Premier League’s elite clubs, most notably Liverpool, who were reported to be targeting him to replace the Juventus-linked Emre Can.

Whether this interest materialises remains to be seen, but should Cook’s form continue then Howe may face a fight to keep his prized asset on the south coast.

There is little doubt from those who watch him regularly that Cook has the potential to reach the very top.

England recognition – and a spot at this summer’s World Cup – will only accelerate his rise.

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