Juan Foyth’s big day finally came on Saturday evening against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 20-year old Argentine central defender made his Premier League debut for Tottenham Hotspur at the Molineux against a surprisingly good Wolves side, clearly a reward for his Man of the Match performance against West Ham in the League Cup last Wednesday.
But all didn’t exactly go according to plan. Late in the match with Spurs holding what seemed like a comfortable 3-0 lead, Foyth conceded not one but two penalties to Wolverhampton, both of which were converted. After the second goal, with Spurs on their back heels and with ten minutes to go, Pochettino responded by substituting in Davinson Sanchez and pushing the clearly rattled Foyth into midfield. Spurs eventually saw out the match, though it was a very nervy finish.
In his post-match comments to the press, Pochettino refused to throw his young defender under the bus, telling the BBC that he was pleased with Foyth’s performance.
“These things happen. He is so young, it’s his first game in the Premier League, I think he played well. He always tried to play and was relaxed and calm. I think his performance was very good and I am happy with him.”
In his post match press conference, Pochettino expanded a bit on his comments.
“Yes of course, [it was] his debut, but I think his performance was very good. I am happy, but when you are a centre-back you can be involved and then it’s [something that happens]. Then in the second half they pushed a lot, trying to turn the result. Of course [the penalties] happened and I think he’s clever and he’s going to learn. But I’m happy, very happy. His performance was very good.”
The ending may have marred what was otherwise a pretty impressive Premier League debut, but it would be unfair to be too harsh on Foyth, even with the two penalties. The first was a clear foul after Foyth kicked Raul Jiminez in the shin inside the box, though Foyth was left in a difficult position after Kieran Trippier cheaply gave away the ball in Spurs’ corner. The second penalty on Jonny Castro seemed at the time to be somewhat soft, and Spurs were clearly focusing on Foyth, who was shaken up.
Pochettino’s decision to bring in Sanchez may have seemed at the time as if he lost faith in Foyth, but his post-match comments suggest that he was trying to get Juan calmed down and out of the line of fire. After all, Poch could have easily hooked him instead of bringing Sanchez in for Lucas Moura. That he didn’t should probably be interpreted as a sign of trust and encouragement.
Foyth made the same kinds of mistakes that many young central defenders do at the highest levels of the game. While hand-waving away his two penalties may seem a little like “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play,” these are the kinds of matches that do the most to help young players improve. And from the little we’ve seen of him so far, it sure looks like Foyth has the tools to be a very good defender in the years to come.