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