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Joachim Andersen: a tactical analysis of the Tottenham Hotspur transfer target

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Spurs have had a long-standing interest in Andersen. But is he a good fit for Spurs’ revamped back line?

FBL-ENG-PR-FULHAM-SOUTHAMPTON Photo by ADAM DAVY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

While there’s been a lot of talk and uncertainty regarding who will be Tottenham’s next first team manager, one thing that has remained consistent has been Spurs’ interest in Joachim Andersen. If Fabrizio Romano is to be believed, Spurs are interested in the Olympique Lyonnais loanee who played for now-relegated Fulham regardless of the manager that comes in.

One would think that Tottenham’s incoming transfers this summer all need to fit the new manager’s play style. Either Spurs staff know who is likely to come in, and Andersen fits the bill, or they believe that Andersen can be flexible enough to fit most systems, especially as the three at the back becomes vogue.

After doing my research, it seems like Andersen would be a good acquisition however I’m not convinced he would plug the defensive gaps that currently exist within Tottenham.

Fulham Style of Play

Analyzing a centerback can be notoriously difficult because the data may be more representative of a team’s style of play rather than the individual (ex. playing in a back three, centerbacks will have lower aerial duel numbers than those playing in a back two) so let’s take a look at how Parker had Fulham playing.

The ex-Tottenham man typically lined up his players in a 4-2-3-1 but that would consistently turn into a 3-4-2-1, using a three at the back system as a platform for progressing the ball through the pitch. In possession, then, Parker relies on his centerbacks to be comfortable and confident on the ball, create angles between themselves and the double pivot, be press resistant, and occasionally complete long, accurate passes to exploit the space behind a high press opponent or unlock a medium/low block. As the play progresses through the middle and final third it is crucial that the centerbacks squeeze the pitch to limit the space if the opposing team regains possession.

A high line demands a high press, and vice versa, so when possession is lost defenders need to have the pace to recover, be aggressive if they think they can intercept or win the ball, have supreme confidence in their 1v1 tackling ability, and remain composed should a counterattack materialize.

This style of play aligns with what Tottenham apparently want to achieve next season, if journalists and ITKers are to be believed. Pochettino, Conte, Potter, and ten Hag all have varying amounts of nuance in the way they like their teams to play but certain concepts that overlap with Fulham (three at the back in possession, high press, et al) create the bedrock of these managers’ systems. No guarantee that Andersen would hit the ground running but he wouldn’t be a fish out of water either.

Defensive Phase

As stated, stats can lie about how good, or bad, a player is. A quick glance at Andersen’s defensive duels per 90 - 4.26 - might imply that Andersen is not very involved defensively, especially when players who have been lambasted for mediocre seasons, like Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier are averaging 6.78 and 4.31 duels / 90 respectively.

This has everything to do with both teams individual systems. Even though Fulham were relegated, they were involved in less defensive actions than Tottenham by a large margin. Number of duels can signify a lot of things when full context is taken into account - for Tottenham, there is a direct correlation between those numbers and the defensive style of play that Mourinho had Spurs play.

That said, Andersen’s tackle success rate is not great, at 58.99%. This is not better than Tottenham’s defenders, but it’s important to note that the margins here are very tight, within single digit % points.

Here’s Andersen winning a tackle on Pogba - after which he draws a foul. Although this showcases some of his tackling ability I also just love seeing Pogba frustrated so I had to add it.

Although his tackles in the box tend to be more successful (62.16%) these are still somewhat average numbers for the Premier League. Davinson Sanchez, known far and wide as a clumsy centerback, wins 69.64% of his tackles.

Andersen’s tackling may not be the best, but his ability in the air is certainly better. He is involved in 4.9 aerial duels / 90 and wins 62.5% of them. This is hardly world class numbers but as a young player, in a struggling side and playing his first season in the Premier League it’s promising.

He has more agility than one might think given his frame. Andersen can quickly turn his body and adapt to a surprise in the pattern of play to take action. Below, he’s tasked with covering Pogba. The ball drifts into the halfspace, and he has not only the football intelligence to read the play but also the physical capacity to intercept the ball, regaining possession for Fulham.

He also has a knack for making near post runs on corners, which will draw many comparisons to Tottenham’s own Toby Alderweireld as that has been his trademark for years.

Below, he flicks it on towards the 6 yard box but no Fulham player is able to capitalize.

Additionally, Andersen is a very aggressive defender. When he plays as the right sided centerback, he is given license to press the opposition very high. This can open space for the opposition in behind him, but this is typically covered by the right sided wingback or right midfielder.

Fred plays the ball into a backwards facing Pogba - Andersen rushes to press the Frenchman. His mission: do not let Pogba get his head up or turn. A player of Pogba’s quality cannot be given a second of freedom, and Andersen sticks to his task well.

Sometimes his aggression can be a pitfall. He averages 1.39 fouls / 90, only Tanganga commits more fouls for Spurs (yes, including Aurier). Andersen’s fouls can seem reckless, a lot of them look as though he is simply fueled by momentum and the heat of the moment rather than a calculated attempt at regaining possession.

Defensively, Andersen has a lot to improve on but he has shown at Fulham that he has a solid foundation. At 24 years old, time is on his side. However, given the immediate need at Spurs for a stalwart defender, I’m not convinced he fits the bill.

Further up the pitch, Andersen shines much brighter.

In Possession

With Vertonghen leaving Spurs for Braga last season, and Alderweireld soon turning 33, it’s logical that Spurs are looking for their next ball playing centerback. Sanchez does not fit the bill and Dier is much too inconsistent. Rodon has looked promising in his limited play time, and in my analysis from November, I identified that he was most like Alderweireld, albeit a bit green. But Spurs surely can’t put all their eggs into one hopeful basket.

Andersen proved to be a key part of how Fulham progress play. He is comfortable while being pressed and can find teammates with both long and short passes. Compared to other centerbacks in the league, he came 10th in progressive passes, averaging 10.45 / 90.

For a player of his age, he shows a great amount of confidence on the ball and has the versatility to play as the anchor of the back three or on the right flank.

Andersen receives the ball from Areola, and notices that the rest of the United midfield has not shifted to match the run of play. He lofts it towards Anguissa, who takes a deft touch in acres of space to progress the play.

The three at the back system can be helpful in building out from the back against a high pressing team. It helps maintain a numerical advantage for short passing options, but it can also position players to exploit a poorly executed press. As seen above, Andersen can do the latter, but he is just as adept at the former as well.

Against Southampton, Andersen is deployed in the heart of the defense. Fulham have numerical superiority, which gives Andersen the time and space to dictate play - choosing to either play a short pass to the double pivot ahead of him or sending a raking pass to the wingbacks higher up the pitch.

It’s those long raking passes where Andersen excels. He is 4th in the league for average pass length, at 24.64m. This is crucial for any team to have in it’s locker - short passing can get very predictable very quickly, and a team should always be looking to catch the opposition off guard.

Andersen’s short passing options are all covered by United players, and Cavani’s rushing to close him down. He can safely pass it to his centerback partner or roll it back to Areola, but he instead completes a pass to the ball far wingback. With Bruno Fernanded pinching in, this move can create an overload (between wingback and forwards) on the left side.
The Danish defender doesn’t need to loft the ball to create problems for the opposition. Here he spots a gap and rifles the ball towards his forward. The pass is inches away from the Fulham player but the idea should be lauded.

The most underrated aspect of Andersen’s play style is his two footedness. I’ve yet to find anyone who has talked about this (maybe I live under a rock) but I believe it is absolutely key to his style of play. Being right footed or left footed has a massive influence in how you play as a centerback. Typically teams look for defenders whose preferred foot matches the position (i.e. right foot for a right sided centerback). Simply put, centerbacks rely a lot on instinct - following the flow of the game as individual parts of a system. If they need to clear the ball, or make a calculated pass, it’s crucial that they lead with the foot they are most comfortable with.

A right footed centerback playing on the left would find it extremely uncomfortable to make a sliding tackle towards his goal if an inverted wingers gets the jump on him. A left footed right centerback would be just as uncomfortable clearing the ball if he has his back towards the opposition and is pressured. (I have absolutely no doubt that this often overlooked part of the game contributed to Tottenham’s defensive frailties throughout last season - no natural left footed centerback.)

Andersen doesn’t have to be concerned by any of this because he can use both feet extremely well.

Southampton are pressing high and two of their forwards are very close to Andersen. Instead of waiting for the ball to come across him to pass with his right foot he nonchalantly makes a one touch pass with his left towards the outside. Fulham are able to escape the press. Against a ferocious press, there’s no chance Andersen attempts this pass with his left foot if he’s not certain he can pull it off.

Being able to use both his feet well means that he can also re-direct attacks in response to opposition movements, and makes him much more unpredictable should an opposition player attempt a tackle.

Conclusion

Andersen has had a promising season at Fulham, and on the ball there’s no doubt that he’d be able to be an asset for whatever team he plays for next. Defensively, however, there’s still room for improvement. His tackling and aerial duels are good, but nothing that would demand a high fee. This is a question of priority for Tottenham.

What is the biggest priority for Spurs - a defensive rock that can provide a foundation for the rest of the team, or a ball playing centerback who can single-handedly start attacks from the defensive or middle third? It’s a false dichotomy because there are players that can do both, but I’m not convinced Andersen fits the former criteria.

There’s a lot of room for improvement from him defensively, but the fact is that that applies to Tottenham’s entire backline already. With both Rodon and Sanchez surely biding their time to hit their peak at Spurs, surely there’s little room for another project centerback.

If defensive stability is key, then options outside of the Premier League like Nayef Aguerd from Rennes or Loïc Badé from Lens might be worth consideration.