Continuing with the January transfer window series, this article will discuss the all-important right wingback position — a position that every Tottenham Hotspur supporter and perhaps even Antonio Conte himself knows needs improvement.
Antonio Conte has preferred the duo of Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty in that right wing back role over the past year. Because of Conte’s preferred 3-4-3 shape, so much importance is placed on Spurs’ wingbacks starting attacks by not only progressing the ball up the pitch but also to put the ball in dangerous positions for the front three to link up for goals. Unlike the 3-5-2 shape, another back-three approach that Conte has featured at times, wingbacks need to have a bigger influence with the ball because the formation only has two central midfielders, which means they can be susceptible to an overload in that area. Unless the midfield two features world-class players that can do it all in midfield, wingbacks are that important to back-three predominant sides.
However, both Emerson and Doherty have failed to capture and hold onto the position despite numerous chances. For Emerson, the primary choice for the position so far in Conte’s tenure, his lack of attacking nature and ball-carrying ability has led to a lot attacks ending at the ball with his feet. Regardless of it has been in goal-scoring scenarios or final ball entries, we have seen time and time again that Emerson is more comfortable in defense. At 23, Emerson has always been a defensive-first fullback since his time in La Liga and while Spurs paid a decent price tag for the Brazilian last summer, it just has not worked out — so much so that broadcasts can audibly pick up Spurs supporters groaning when he has the ball.
By contrast, Doherty has thrived at wingback since his time at Wolves. He isn’t as adept defensively but has better attacking capabilities than Emerson, and injuries and his deficiencies in 1v1 defending has likely kept him from overtaking Emerson. Doherty’s best trait in the wingback profile is his ability to find space in the box. And unlike Emerson, Doherty can provide some goal threat and link-up in danger zones. Last season, Doherty got into a good run of form in the latter portion of the season as he and right-sided forward Dejan Kulusevski were linking up and benefitting from one another’s presence. However, a knee injury from a rash challenge in the Aston Villa match in April ultimately ended his season prematurely.
Regardless of the poor performances or the inconsistencies shown from either Emerson or Doherty, Conte has failed to give youngster Djed Spence a shot at the position. Before the season, Conte seemed to be a little critical of Spence, calling his transfer a “club decision”. At 22, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Spence’s lack of physicality and maturity combined with difficulty of learning Conte’s intensive patterns & tactics has kept Spence from getting any run over Emerson or Doherty. And while the future is bright for Spence and the World Cup break was probably perfect for his development, the fact of the matter is that Spurs need a new option at this position. Like last January when Spurs brought in Rodrigo Bentancur to immediately become a starter, the same must follow this January when the transfer window opens. Let’s take a look at a few players that would make sense for Spurs at right wingback.
Pedro Porro, Sporting
Spurs supporters saw firsthand just how good Porro is over the span of two games against Sporting in the Champions League. Formerly a Manchester City player, it should be mentioned that City do have a buy-back clause on the 23-year-old Spaniard. From a statistical baseline research perspective, Porro is a capable ball-progresser and passer of the ball but he excels in the final attacking third. Perhaps due to how Sporting are one of the most dominant teams in the Primeira Liga, his defensive output statistically could be a little skewed.
He is the type of player that is extremely well-rounded. He can beat defenders and whip balls into the box at dangerous rates, but he is also capable of being a huge figure in build-up play because of his technical ability. He is a danger to get into spaces in the final third to exploit defenses and take important shots on goal. There are concerns over his injury history but Porro has excelled playing for Rúben Amorim, who has quickly become one of the best young coaches across Europe. Porro would certainly make sense for Spurs, but I cannot see them reaching the price tag that it would take combined with the shark of Man City potentially being in the same waters for the player.
Denzel Dumfries, Inter
No player on this list will be more familiar to Conte than Dumfries considering he bought the Dutch international from PSV just over a year ago. The 26-year-old does not have a key skill or attribute in my assessment, but there also is not anything that he does poorly. From a physical standpoint, he is extremely strong and can run for days which Conte and his staff can appreciate.
Dumfries has been persistently linked to Conte and Spurs, but I am not quite sure why Inter would want to sell him unless Spurs came in with an offer that the Inter could not refuse. Dumfries replaced Achraf Hakimi at Inter after the latter moved to PSG and while Hakimi is more dynamic in the final third, Dumfries’ skillset is extremely rounded. He has pace to go along with his bigger frame and he is capable professional who has experience with Conte’s tactics and ideas. Signed through 2025, Spurs would need to bid an offer roughly in the $30 million range.
Joakim Mæhle, Atalanta
One of my favorite players outside of the Premier League, Mæhle seems to be one of the most influential players for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side whenever I am watching Atalanta. Perhaps more comfortable on the left side but can also play on the right, Mæhle has casually risen through the ranks and been a key figure at both Genk in Belgium and in Bergamo.
A spectacular crosser/passer of the ball as well as one who runs with decisiveness with pace to go with it, Mæhle is dynamic both with the ball at his feet and when making overlapping or underlapping runs. Defensively, he leaves a little to be desired but he is a constant nuisance and can play either wingback. At 25, Mæhle is a ready-made player who could benefit even more with a step up in talent surrounding him. He has years of experience in either flank and in wingback profiles. With the Italian rolodex connection from Paratici, he is surely an option for Spurs and would likely not cost that much.
Andreas Skov Olsen, Club Brugge
Linked heavily to Spurs recently, Skov Olsen is a young player with has a budding skillset and profile that could be beneficial in a variety of roles. Technically skilled although with an unfinished physical nature, Skov Olsen is the type of player in space that can be extremely creative yet would likely face something of an adjustment moving to the Premier League. The main caveat is that asking him to play right wingback would certainly be new to the 22-year-old Dane.
Skov Olsen’s technical ability makes things easy for him. He is extremely two-footed and displays game-reading ability that is experienced beyond his age. He is a dangerous player both on the ball and off the ball, showing the ability to take players on with either foot as well as the ability to find and exploit space. To me, Skov Olsen is a tweener option that could easily spell Kulusevski while also slotting at right wingback in games where Spurs could be chasing results.
Wilfried Singo, Torino
At 21, Singo has quite the frame and strength that Conte would appreciate as he is 6’3”. Like last year, pending the investigation of Fabio Paratici in Italy, we should expect to see a lot of rumors with players from Serie A. Torino have improved this season after a couple of tumultuous seasons and that has been in large part due to their wingback pairing of Singo and Ola Aina. Torino’s playing style has been quite distinct because of the way they press and their athleticism across the pitch.
Singo has benefitted from the system because of how technical he is paired with his athletic frame. He has frightening pace and displays the ability to easily take players on, but sometimes he comes across as too crazy and can give the ball away in dangerous positions. I would like to see some improved defensive ability from the youngster, but there is a lot to like out of Singo and the fact that he comes physically ready-made could intrigue Conte.
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