Tottenham Hotspur has spent the summer seeking a wide player who can slot in alongside Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela to complete our midfield. Current front-runner Memphis Depay lit up the Eredivisie last year before going on to impress at the World Cup. But how much better than our existing wingers is he really?
The excellent Ted Knutson over at StatsBomb generously answered this question for us. In his piece (which you really should read) he compares Memphis Depay to Andros Townsend, arguably the closest Depay analog we have at Spurs. Both players are elite dribbles who take tons of shots. But in all other areas Depay blows Townsend out of the water. It's really not even close.
If you read Ted's article (seriously, go read it) one of the things that sticks out is Townsend's poor shot locations. Out of 56 shots, only 2 of them were taken from "prime shooting locations"--basically the areas our own Michael Caley dubs the "danger zone". Depay on the other hand took 47 out of his 159 shots there. That's 3% versus 30%. The difference is staggering. Of Townsend's shot selection, Ted observes:
This is as bad as it gets. Seriously - how can a guy who is that good at dribbling be so bad at getting to good shooting locations? (The temptation to just graffiti "LOL" in the center of the entire box was overwhelming.)
If you can move everything he does toward the goal by 6-7 yards, he'd be amazing - can that be coached? We'll find out.
So what's Townsend's problem? We know he's one of the best dribblers in the Premier League. He has tremendous ball skills and his ability to take on opposing defenders is practically unparalleled. He seems to have no problem picking up the ball anywhere on the pitch and slaloming past defenders at will. That is, until he gets to the box, whereupon he seems to decide "eh, close enough" and lets loose a thunderous shot that more often than not lands somewhere outside the stadium.
Does he just not understand the relative value of shooting inside the box behind opposition defenders? After all, long-range blasts worked out more than fine for Gareth Bale. Why wouldn't you try to model your game after a guy who was that good?
Or maybe he just needs the space of an open pitch, and when things get crowded around the box he can't make it happen. Deprived of yards of grass to run into at speed, his dribbling skills desert him. It seems unlikely that he'd be incapable of tricking his way into the box, but why else would he not even attempt it?
If Townsend can learn to get inside the box and shoot behind the last defender, rather than straight into him, he could be an excellent player for Spurs. Can he learn to do it?