The signings of both Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier in 2014 and 2015 respectively were not exactly the ones that brought Spurs fans dreaming of the year ahead, but the significance of the pair has been highlighted across the season and explains to a degree the extent of Spurs’ success in the 2015/16 campaign.
The combinations of Walker and Rose, and Trippier and Davies, has been a feature of the team this season. Walker and Rose have typically featured in the ‘bigger’ games, against sides like Manchester City, Arsenal, and recently against Liverpool, whereas the latter pairing have been used in Europa League games, but also in Premier League games against lower teams like Swansea and Watford. Here, Trippier especially has excelled – his superior ability going forwards when compared to Kyle Walker is vital in breaking down defensive sides. Spurs have failed to do this in recent years, even with the likes of Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale in their ranks, and this hints that Pochettino’s tactics are also helping Spurs as a unit break down teams. Trippier’s crossing ability; as shown against Fiorentina in the home tie of the Europa League games, creates chances and goals, and resulted in an own goal against the Italian side. His goal against Watford is also testament to his superb attacking ability – a late run towards the far post, found wonderfully by Dele Alli, and an easy tap-in in a huge game for the club’s title chances.
In the high press system however, Pochettino may be rotating less out of choice and more out of necessity. As there is no real width in the supporting trio behind Kane; whether this is Son, Eriksen and Alli as it was against Liverpool, or Lamela, Mason and Chadli as it has been in Europe, the fullbacks are the sole wide players in the team. They stretch the play going forwards, and because of the system’s reliance on this, both full-backs must be attacking as frequently as possible. Obviously, without the ball, the team becomes compact, and the four defenders must defend as one unit. Consequently, the two – whether it is Walker and Rose, or Trippier and Davies – must both cover immense distances throughout the 90 minutes. At this stage of the season, it is imperative that the squad as a whole is performing at maximum capacity, and it is unrealistic to expect each set of full-backs to recover completely before the following game – the players in these positions alternate. It has worked almost to perfection this year for Spurs, and – for once – the defence as a whole isn’t weakened if the ‘first choice’ full-backs are rested. Pochettino is able to tinker with the defence without affecting the effectiveness at which it operates as a unit.
Credit must go to Pochettino for his development of players like Danny Rose, a player whose future at Spurs many doubted two seasons ago. Currently, he’s having a fantastic season and should go on to start for England at the Euros. The progression is incredible when you think back to where he was a little over 12 months ago. Kyle Walker; one of the more experienced players in the team, also looks better than his counterparts at other clubs. But yet more credit must go to the manager who has developed players so that they fit perfectly into his system, instead of developing them for the transfer market. The 4-2-3-1 works perfectly at Spurs, and plays to the strengths of the full-backs. Eric Dier’s anchor role allows them to bomb forward at will, and Spurs look a sublime attacking force on their day. This has only been possible because each of the four wide defenders has been kept fully fit, fully dedicated, and fully effective – all in all a master-stroke by Pochettino.
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