Harry Winks has received a lot of praise in the press recently, but it seemed pretty misplaced most of the year. While Winks is an accurate passer and has made some nice driving runs, he was truly awful defensively. Even with the uptick to be discussed, he’s 59th in tackles per 90 and 47th in interceptions per 90 out of 69 eligible midfielders (I filtered at at least 5 appearances on Whoscored.com). Over a 520 minute stretch in the Premier League this season from September 15 to December 6, Winks recorded a total of 4 tackles and interceptions. A complete sieve. And it showed. With Winks paired with Moussa Sissoko, Spurs have given up many more chances at pace than we’ve been used to, and Spurs have been unable to control the ball.
It was not always this way. Before severely injuring his ankle, Winks had solid tackle and interception numbers, particularly for a teenager who had not completely filled out. In 2017/2018, Winks was averaging 1.9 tackles per 90, and getting dribbled past .8 times per 90. This season, up through December 12, Winks was at 1.3 tackles per 90, and .9 dribbled pass. He simply had not shown the same juice he had earlier in his career, frequently closing out late and getting blown passed.
But Winksy may be finally getting back to where he was. Statsbomb mentioned that his defensive pressure numbers have been improving over the course of the season, prompting me to look at his tackles and interception numbers. Here’s his 4 game moving average in tackles and interceptions per 90:
[Note, I’ve removed any cameo sub appearances and then adjusted to per 90 where Winks was subbed off.]
As I wrote in regards to Harry Kane earlier this year, ankle injuries can be tough to recover from. In the match against United, which Spurs had every reason to win, Winks was at his best. His eight combined tackles and interceptions showed him doing a lot more work defensively, and he wasn’t dribbled past once (even if Pogba muscled him off the ball a couple times). He also fired a few shots from range, perhaps showing his confidence in his ankle (not to mention the nice move he made to nearly set up a goal early in the match.)
Winks is an incredibly accurate passer. He has completed nearly 95% of his passes since he’s been playing regular minutes in the league. While he has not been a particularly expansive passer, it’s hard to be anything but a net positive when you’re completing that high a percentage of your passes. He’s third in the league in pass completion this season. Winks does not need to be an amazing defensive player to be a useful squad player. If he can just get back to adequate defensively, Spurs midfield will have another nice rotation piece, rather than a player who cannot be carried.