We are continuing our year-end series evaluating the Tottenham Hotspur first team players in 2017-18. Don your flame-retardant t-shirt, because today we’re reviewing the fullbacks.
Key Passes: 48
Kieran Trippier entered into this season knowing that the starting right back position was his, at least at first. The departure of Kyle Walker to Manchester City meant that this was his big chance to prove correct all those who said that the drop-off between himself and Walker wasn’t as severe as what was predicted. And it is true that he definitely stepped up his game. Trips’ five assists in the Premier League was good enough for fifth in the league, and his nine overall meant that he had the most assists of anyone not named Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, or Son Heung-Min. Not bad for a defender who’s primary attribute is his crossing.
But as good as Trips was going forward — and he was pretty good! — his Achilles heel was his defense. His lack of pace often left him exposed to counterattacks and opposition wingers targeted him (though not as frequently as Ben Davies). He marginally improved his positioning this season, but the way Spurs play, that lack of pace can prove to be a real problem.
I don’t want to be too harsh on Trips. He was pretty good for the most part, and it’s good to have a player with his skill set in the side. But Trips is 27 now — no longer a spring chicken, and we should not expect him to get any better than he is now. His game is also limiting and doesn’t always seem to fit in with what Pochettino wants to do with his tactics. I’m just not sure that’s good enough on a side that now wants to compete for Premier League titles.
Rating: 3 Chirpys
Key Passes: 47
I don’t think most people expected Ben Davies to be Spurs’ starting left back for the majority of the season, but the injury and subsequent struggles of Danny Rose meant that Mauricio Pochettino leaned on the Welshman hard this season. Ben’s strengths really came through when he was given time on the ball and more space in which to operate -- he had an exceptional game in the NLD win in February, for example, and he had six assists, all in the league. He’s clearly a Premier League caliber footballer. That’s good!
Unfortunately, the bad often overshadowed the good, and it came on the defensive side of the game. But Big Ben under pressure or run a speedy player at him and he tended to fall apart, none worse than the two matches against Juventus where his defensive lapses and poor decisions led or contributed to three goals. His lack of pace and positioning errors make him a liability that Tottenham can no longer afford. Rose’s injury mean that there just wasn’t anyone else, and it’s no wonder that Spurs are making a hard push to sign Ryan Sessegnon this summer.
Rating: 2.5 Chirpys
Players Googled: 32
Oh, Danny. It’s not all his fault. He was out injured for nearly a year, then made a super dumb decision to give an interview in the S-n when he got frustrated, which Pochettino probably considered a betrayal. He came back to action super rusty and overweight, and obviously without the trust of Pochettino, who helped get him into the England squad. It took him a while to get back up to speed and while he showed glimpses by the end, he never really looked like he had his mojo back.
His performances were good enough to get him on the plane to Russia somehow, but he sure looks like he’s going to be sold this summer, probably to Manchester United. We know there’s a good fullback in there somewhere, because we’ve seen it, and if he sticks around a good World Cup and preseason could help him get back to his best... wherever he happens to be when the season kicks off.
Rating: 2.5 Chirpys
Foul throws: 6
When he signed from PSG, Serge Aurier was supposed to be Kyle Walker 2.0 (or maybe 1.1) — a speedy, dribbly fullback that knew how to get forward but had the pace and the awareness to get back and defend when required. His signing was controversial, but his game was much less so. Pochettino worked him into the side gradually, and he had his moments.
What we learned from actually watching Serge play this season is it’s hard to play football well when your brain is ten yards behind you on the pitch. Prone to reckless challenges, conceded penalties, and a ridiculous number of foul throws, you got the sense that if someone could somehow get him to focus he could turn into something really special. The good news is that if you believe that players need at least a half season under Pochettino to realize their potential, then we can maybe expect an improved performance from Aurier in year 2. He’s definitely got the tools — I’m willing to give him another chance. Pochettino might not be.
Rating: 2.5 Chirpys
This season was supposed to be the coming out party for Kyle, especially after he started and picked up the man of the match award in the season opening win against Newcastle. It was a pretty auspicious performance from him — he looked nervous and played somewhat safe against Toon, but it was a pretty good (if probably not MOTM-worthy) game. And then... Pochettino rarely turned to him again, plopping him for an eight minute cameo against Huddersfield and starting again on the last match of the season.
KWP’s minutes mostly came in the cups, and it was a bit of a mixed bag. He played passably well against Wimbledon, got yanked at halftime for “tactical reasons” at Newport, and scored his Spurs debut goal in another late cameo in the replay against Rochdale. Still, small sample size notwithstanding, it’s a promising bit of play from our 21-year old combo fullback. Certainly enough to build on, if we’re grading on a curve. I don’t know whether he has done enough to force himself into the Tottenham conversation next season, but if nothing else he’s done enough to earn himself a Premier League loan.