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How Ryan Sessegnon will fit into Nuno’s Tottenham system

After a good year on loan in Germany, Sess is back and ready to stake a claim for his place in Spurs’ crowded left back field.

You can view a more in-depth look at Sessegnon on my Youtube channel here.

Last week we took a look at how Tottenham Hotspur will increase their wing-play under Nuno Espirito Santo, a large part of which will naturally involve the wingbacks at Spurs. After more than 40 appearances in a Spurs shirt last season, Reguilon is a known quantity for many Spurs fans. But, after a drawn out courtship, Ryan Sessegnon has yet to make a case for himself in the Tottenham squad. After a few appearances 19/20 season, the powers that be decided that Sessegnon would benefit from consistent minutes abroad. In that loan spell, Sessegnon was involved in 29 matches for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.

He was heavily involved in Hoffenheim’s attacks, but showed a lot of vulnerability defensively. We can take a look at his performances at Hoffenheim and extrapolate how he might fit into Nuno’s system.

Hoffenheim’s System

It’d be easy to fall into the trap of spending three paragraphs on how Sebastian Hoeneß’s system at Hoffenheim works, but let’s focus on how Sessegnon fits into their style of play. They typically set up in a 4-2-3-1 but can easily become a 4-3-3 in possession, and a 3-2-5 as play enters the opposition’s final third.

Typical Hoffenheim setup - the midfield stays relatively close together to create passing sequences and drag players towards the center, opening both flanks for Sessegnon or Kaderábek to exploit. Sessegnon typically starts high and wide.

Even though Hoffenheim play a back four (or 5) in the defensive phase, both Sessegnon and Kaderábek, on the opposite flank, play as wingbacks. In his time at Fulham, Sessegnon played a couple of games as a left mid, so his ability upfront has been apparent for some time. Still, his season at Hoffenheim can be seen as a mildly impressive success - 2 goals, 3 assists, and consistent game time for a team that finished 6th will no doubt prove to be a good experience for the youngster.

Sessegnon’s Strengths

After watching some of Sessegnon’s games, I couldn’t help but feel that he’s very similar to Reguilon. Sessegnon has good if not amazing speed and acceleration, has the athletic ability to have a presence on both ends of the pitch, and consistently tries to execute actions that are not the safest option (whether that be dribbling out of a tight area or making runs into the channel). Much of what was expected of Reguilon at Spurs last season was similar to Hoeneß’s own asks of Sessegnon. Although the young Englishman seems to have a higher position up the pitch more consistently, his general play can be attributed to what has become a now widely accepted wingback tole. A great use case is his game against Hertha Berlin.

His abilities shine when he has the freedom to roam up the pitch and get involved with attacks. At Hoffenheim, he was a key part of their attacking play, as the German team relied heavily on crosses (3rd most crosses in the league) to create scoring opportunities. Sessegnon ended the season with the second most amount of crosses in the team, averaging 4.33 / 90 minutes.

Although it wouldn’t be exactly far to pin Hoffenheim down as a counterattacking side, they play a high line of defence in all areas of the pitch, looking to squeeze the opposition to create turnovers. This provided Sessegnon ample opportunity to attack down the left side.

Hoffenheim regain possession as the midfielder passes it to his midfield pivot. The Hertha Berlin player is drawn towards the play but then doubles back, as Sessegnon speeds into the space for the long pass.

Hoffenheim made the 6th most long passes in the Bundesliga, as Sessegnon made himself an asset not just in the counterattack but during sustained levels of possession as well.

Grillistch has dropped deep, commanding the area you would usually find a left back - Bebou, in turn, has dropped deep as well to take Grillitsch’s position. The move has occupied Berlin’s midfielders as Sessegnon makes a run doen the left flank. He’s spotted by his centerback, Vogt, and a Hoffenheim are able to create a 2v2 situation.

Sessegnon’s vertical positioning completely spends on the phase of play - although he can be high and wide, he falls back into line in a back 4/5 as a leftback. More on that later in the article.

As mentioned, he averages 4.33 crosses a game with a 40% completion rate. That’s not an incredible number, but its higher than Tottenham’s own options. Reguilon, for example, puts in 2.9 crosses / 90 with a 35.4% success rate. Racking up .13 assists / 90, compared to Reguilon’s .17, he was instrumental in creating attacking opportunities down the left. So much so, that Hoffenheim consistently looked to find him down the left hand side by splitting Hertha’s defensive line.

After a quick switch of play, the midfielder tries to release Sessegnon in space. The pass is intercepted, but Hoffenheim would try this exact pass four more times in this match.

Sessegnon’s contribution up the pitch is exciting to be sure, and he seems to finally be hitting the stride that everyone at Spurs hoped he would. There are questions of level of opposition and if these performances can be translated into the Premier League, but overall he’d be a great rotation option.

Weaknesses

There’s a couple of reasons that I’m not convinced he should start over Reguilon quite yet. Perhaps the most obvious is that Reguilon has a season (and a pretty tough one at that) of Premier League experience under his belt. Player progression is anything but straightforward but given what we saw of the Spaniard last season, I don’t think it’d be controversial to say that we’re yet to see the best of Reguilon. And even during a season with some serious lows, he was rarely the worst player on the pitch.

Sessegnon is not by any means a horrible option, but in an already weak defensive side, he might add more liability than security on the left. Winning 31.25% of aerial duels is relatively alarming, and can create added uncertainty on set pieces or when the opposition advances down their left, requiring Sessegnon to tuck in. Last season, Reguilon won about 10% more of his aerial duels.

Sessegnon wins a header in the 18 yard box but has mistimed the jump, so the ball knocks awkwardly off of him directly onto the path of the opposition player who takes a shot.

He commits twice the amount of fouls as Reguilon, and has a tendency to be caught ball watching as the attack develops on his flank. Yes, he wins more defensive duels than Reguilon, but defending is so much more than tackling a player for the ball. I am not sure that makes up for his overall positioning which again can be a problem when Hoffenheim are caught up the pitch. Reguilon seems a bit faster than Sessegnon, which can of course make up for any lapse in concentration or judgement when ground needs to be made up.

Conclusion

Overall there’s little to separate Reguilon and Sessegnon’s performances from last season. Nuno will be excited to have two attacking options on the left side - one that might be a better fit for most/big games in which possession is not guaranteed, whereas the other can show his merit in cup games to start. Either way, Sessegnon will be a great option for Spurs off the bench, and with a coach like Nuno he has his best opportunity to show what he can do for Tottenham.