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Loan report: Tottenham’s Oliver Skipp is bossing it at Norwich City

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Skippy has become an integral part of Daniel Farke’s Championship-leading Norwich squad. What does that mean for his future at Spurs?

Birmingham City v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With a turbulent season chugging along at Tottenham Hotspur and inconsistent performances on the pitch, Spurs fans need to squeeze every bit of joy out of anything they can get. One unexpected source has been the performances of Tottenham’s loanees. Young players’ development abroad was something that Spurs fans could rarely enjoy during Pochettino’s regime. It’s a stark contrast between both managers; although Mourinho has shown he has his shortcomings, his willingness to let promising players find minutes elsewhere is certainly not one of them.

Oliver Skipp has been the stand out performer within this season’s cohort, with Daniel Farke stating that the sheer amount of minutes he’s played for table topping Norwich City “shows how much I rate him.” Back in January Spurs were heavily rumored to be considering a recall option to shore up a midfield that has begun to deteriorate over the last two months or so.

But what role does Skipp play for Norwich, and would he be genuine option for Spurs in the ‘21/’22 season?

Midfield Stalwart

Nigel Farke has done an excellent job at Norwich finding a system that utilizes his team’s strengths while also capitalizing on the opponent’s weaknesses. Norwich typically set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that can become a 4-3-3 in attack (where the left and right sided midfielders push up to assist their Icelandic Finnish striker, Teemu Pukki) and can also retract into a 4-1-4-1 defensively.

During long stretches of possession against weaker opposition, Norwich have set up in a rarely seen 2-2-3-3, with two centerbacks and two midfielders hanging back as a safeguards on the counter while full backs and flanking midfielders push up. Skipp is one of the midfielders trusted to stay back and quickly shift the ball from one flank to another or make a pass that cuts defensive lines. Here we see him receiving the ball moments before doing just that.

For Spurs fans, he can most closely be compared to Hojbjerg or Winks - out of possession, he protects the back four in and around Zone 14. In possession, he sits just outside the two (or three) banks of defenders to maintain passing tempo and dictate which the direction the attack will flow.

Important to note, however, that Skipp not only has the ability to do more on the ball but is given the license to do so by Farke. Skipp has a bit of Ndombele in him as his vertical passing can be superb at times and he is not shy to carry the ball or run through defensive lines for a pass when the opportunity presents itself.

Skipp is upfield as Norwich regain possession. His teammate’s smart movement (Pukki’s veering to the right channel, Cantwell dropping for pass) open a space for Skipp to exploit. Hojbjerg would never be caught in this position, much less make this run, and neither would Sissoko or Winks. This is why comparing Skipp to one or two Spurs players’ style of play can be helpful but at the same time doesn’t tell the whole story.

As the image above shows, Skipp has more in his locker than what a ‘defensive midfielder’ would suggest. Let’s take a look at his actions when Norwich are in possession and out of possession.

Norwich in Possession

Skipp has become an integral part of Norwich’s midfield, having started for Norwich in all Championship games. Again, similar Hojbjerg, Winks, and Ndombele at Spurs he’s tasked with either finding the free man for pass or a run in transition, carrying the ball forward himself and keeping the pendulum swinging during sustained possession. Both home and away, Norwich average 61% of possession, which makes Skipps passing rate sound a bit more impressive - he has the 10th highest average passing rate per 90 in the league at 51.6 (perhaps not the best comparison to make but just to give an idea - Hojbjerg averages 68.2 and Ndombele 49). Clearly, Farke has placed a lot of trust in the youngster given that Norwich’s title hopes depend on their consistency.

When Skipp is on the ball, the first thing he does is look forward and see if there’s an option to progress the play. This makes him a deadly player against the opposition in transition.

Norwich regain possession and the ball is fed to Skipp. Instead of playing it backwards or sideways, he takes it in stride and accelerates to get away from two defenders. The play can progress and Skipp plays Cantwell in through the left channel.

To be clear, Skipp does not play like Ndombele in the sense that he dribbles and gets out of tight spaces consistently (.9 dribbles per 90 compared to Tanguy’s 6.3). But Skipp shows a propensity, and ability, to carry the ball forwards and this is shown by his numbers too (1.32 progressive runs /90).

Of course, the main player at Tottenham who is entrusted with carrying the ball forward in midfield is Moussa Sissoko, whose weak passing ability can kill an attack before it even starts. Skipp, on the other hand, is showing that he’s a jack of all trades in the Championship, with good passing ability as well.

Aarons finds Skipp with acres of space in the middle of the pitch. Skipp takes a touch, looks up, and sends a pass towards the left flank.

He averages 3.23 long passes per game, far surpassing both Sissoko and Ndombele’s numbers, but surprisingly falling short of Winks’ number (6.03). The mere fact that he can shuttle back and forth and has an eye for a pass gives him a dynamism in midfield that Spurs have sorely needed. Currently there are simply too many ‘monkey’s paw’ situations with Sissoko and Winks - one offers sheer grit and athleticism but shows only glimpses of professional quality moving forward, the other can play some great passes when he’s on it but is easily shrugged off when dueling for the ball.

Another example of Skipp’s ability to progress the ball. He finds himself in a tight area, with two opposition players and two teammates surrounding him. He still has the wherewithall to spot Buendia running into space - the ball is played and Norwich start a counterattack.

Norwich Out of Possession

Skipp might have the ‘defensive midfielder’ label but anyone thinking that he has the skillset of someone like Ndidi or Rice would be misguided. For example, Hojbjerg is noticeably busier defensively with 8.87 duels/90 and Skipp averaging 6.37 while winning 55% of them (less than Spurs’ midfielders.)

His relatively low tackle success rate coupled with his high interception rate (6.59) points toward his ability in positioning himself well to cut passes off. This is exemplified by his ability to read a dangerous situation before it fully develops.

His recent performance against Birmingham City showed how excellent he can be protecting Zone 14 - essentially Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s home. It’s worth noting that he’s shown his strength here throughout the season racking up a high .82 shots blocked /90.

Once again, these clips show Skipp’s ability to read danger and react to nullify an opposition attack.

Conclusion

I began the piece with a goal to understand Skipp’s role for Norwich and whether his ability would be an asset for Tottenham next year. The former has been established, but the latter is anyone’s guess. With things for Spurs taking a turn for the worse on the pitch (up until recently), who knows how long Mourinho will stay within the organization? Even if he did, would Skipp fit into his plan? In some ways, maybe - Hojbjerg is a somewhat similar jack of all trades, and Skipp shows the tenacity that Mourinho seems to appreciate. Ability wise, his well roundedness would be a welcome change to having to play ‘this or that’ with current options.

But in other ways, perhaps not. Skipp loses the ball in his own half 4.42 times/90, more than all Spurs midfielders. Given how long Mourinho lambasted Dele Alli for one mistake against Stoke, it would be a shame to see Skipp be ‘neutered’, in a sense, by being forced to play safe - yet ultimately regressive - passes. Maybe he is better suited for a Farke style of manager, that sees greater reward in greater risk.

Then there’s the small detail that Skipp’s performances are against lesser opposition - his numbers won’t directly translate to the Premier League. It’s safe to say his numbers will diminish, it’s just a matter of 1) how much and 2) if the Tottenham manager will give him the time to develop next season. All in all, he would be a good rotation option for Spurs but still has some way to go in becoming a starter.