It gives an insight into the methods of Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino that he has left his full-back positions open to sharing in a season that currently presents him with the chance of landing the club’s first league title since 1961.
At left-back Ben Davies has started 13 times in the league and has assumed Europa League duty while Danny Rose has played 18 times in the league, making the odd cup appearance. On the opposite side Kieran Trippier has been used sparingly in domestic competition, making five league appearances, but has been the first-choice in the cups and in Europe as Pochettino’s main right-back, Kyle Walker, is rested from league duty.
Walker has played 26 times in the league and has been consistently solid in a defence that is the Premier League’s meanest with 24 conceded, recording 65 tackles which puts him behind only Moussa Dembele in the Spurs squad and making the most interceptions in Pochettino’s team with 71.
It is the 25 year old’s electric pace and willingness to get forward that appeals most to the Argentine coach however, with Walker Spurs’ fifth-most prolific chance creator with 25 having galloped forward enough to deliver 57 crosses over the course of the season.
In a narrow team, Pochettino relies on his full-backs to provide the width and in Walker he has found a willing disciple; according to EA’s Player Performance Index he is ranked as the league’s 4th most effective full-back.
Walker’s steady and impressive campaign has been in marked contrast to the two previous seasons which were disrupted by injury, the right-back managing only 15 appearances in Pochettino’s debut season as he was struck by a serious abdomen injury.
Walker may have feared for his place in the Argentine’s plans as Trippier was signed from Burnley for £3.6 million, but according to the former Sheffield United defender his arrival only served to improve his game.
“I’ve tried to get my head down this season and I’ve got good competition with Kieran coming in so it has made me push my game on”, said Walker about Trippier who was primarily signed, like Davies from Swansea, to give able cover at full-back so they can be rotated seamlessly without losing any attacking explosiveness from forward runs.
That continuous rotation is something that Walker recognises as necessary to fit his manager’s high-octane style.
“The full-backs that play for Tottenham are explosive players” said the full-back, “they cover nearly the most ground on the pitch, getting up and back, so it’s vital that we come into the games fresh rather than playing two games in a week.”
He also acknowledges that taking more of a restrained role has aided his fitness, with his injury problems now shaken off with demands far less than the “150-odd” games he played for the club in his first three seasons in north London.
His much-improved fitness has ensured Walker, like Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Rose and the rest of Spurs’ bright young things, has remained fully devoted to Pochettino’s plans. The season started on the low note of the own goal that gifted Manchester United a 1-0 win at Old Trafford on the opening day, an instance of Walker’s habit of drifting off and overly-relying on his speed to bail him out of trouble, but can end with the glory of a Premier League medal.
That type of lapse has evaporated from Walker’s game at Spurs in an outstanding season that could also conclude with a trip to France as the 25 year old aims to join his aforementioned club mates in England’s squad for Euro 2016.
He seems to be in direct-competition with Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne for what is likely to be Roy Hodgson’s sole right-back slot and his audition against the Netherlands on Tuesday night was impressive, bringing the forward-running he is now so well-versed in to the international scene to race forward and play his part in a fluid passing move by pulling the ball back for Jamie Vardy to convert.
There were flashes of lapses of concentration defensively, the ease with which Memphis Depay brushed past him was a concern as Walker needed to outstretch his arm and concede a free-kick to stop the winger, while Luciano Narsingh also nearly broke clear but Walker’s pace denied him.
Still, the Spurs man did enough at Wembley, remaining solid and offering width all night, despite the 1-2 defeat, to possibly nudge ahead of Clyne in the race to land a place in Hodgson’s squad. Last season’s forgotten man, it is reflective of Pochettino’s influence and Walker’s own willingness to improve, that this year he has become hard to ignore.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
Like O-Posts on Facebook
You can also follow O-Posts on Twitter @OPosts