The biggest surprise from Tottenham Hotspur’s starting lineup in their 1-1 friendly with Sevilla today wasn’t that Lucas Moura was starting the match — it was that Lucas was playing in a different position. Specifically, Antonio Conte opted to start Lucas deeper as a right wing back, across from Ryan Sessegnon on the other flank.
This was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it noted the absence of new signing Ivan Perisic, who isn’t yet ready to play matches while he recovers from an injury, and Sergio Reguilon, who was left behind in England as Spurs try and move him on this summer. It also suggested that we might see a second half wingback pairing of Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty, playing out of position on the left. (This is exactly what we saw.)
Secondly, it continues an oft-referenced propensity by Antonio Conte at the clubs he’s managed to turn offensive-minded wingers into attacking wingbacks in his tactical systems. We’ve seen this not only with Perisic, whom Conte successfully transitioned while at Inter, but also Victor Moses at Chelsea. In fact, there were a bunch of Spurs fans, myself included, who looked at Conte’s tenure at Spurs wondered why he hadn’t tried this already.
The most obvious candidate for winger-to-wingback was Dejan Kulusevski, especially after Conte specifically mentioned in a press conference that the Swede could play in that role. But while Deki had a couple of cameos late in the season there, it was clear Conte saw him as integral to Tottenham’s front line.
So today was something of a surprise (though Lucas at RWB is something that we’ve discussed internally in Carty Free’s Slack chat channel for months now). And Lucas actually did pretty well! He linked up decently with his Brazilian compatriot Richarlison in Spurs’ attacking band and showed glimpses of promise moving into forward spaces from a deeper position. He floated a few decent crosses into the box as well. It was by no means a perfect outing — Lucas tended to overthink some of his take-ons the way he so often (and frustratingly) does when played as a midfielder, and he was absolutely a bit of a liability defensively.
But you could see... something... there, and it sure did look like he’d spent some time familiarizing himself with The Patterns™ from that wingback position. It may not have been a perfectly natural fit, but it sure looked like a choice.
It was, in fact, a deliberate choice. Perhaps it was made out of necessity, but Conte was asked in the post-match press conference about Lucas’ new role and the Italian said that, yes, this could be an option for him this season.
Conte: "I spoke to Lucas and I think [wing-back] could be a good option. In the past I made Perisic in this position. Before a winger and to become a wing-back. He has the quality. The most important thing is the player has to be 100% ready to do it." https://t.co/wncgdSFePV— Alasdair Gold (@AlasdairGold) July 16, 2022
Spurs are in a curious position right now, as is Lucas in particular. At present Tottenham have three right wingbacks, assuming the impending signature of Djed Spence from Middlesbrough. You’d think that at least one of Matt Doherty or Emerson Royal is likely to depart this summer, but while Royal has been nominally linked with a move to Atletico Madrid, and there have been reports that Spurs would listen to offers for Doherty, nothing seems particularly urgent at the moment. Without outgoings, and adding in Lucas, that’s a pretty crowded field, even acknowledging that Doherty can play on the left as well.
But the options don’t look especially good in the attacking band for Lucas. With Richarlison and Kulusevski playing alongside Son and Kane and further rumors linking Spurs for an additional attacking midfielder, Lucas could very well end up 5th or 6th on the depth chart, or sold entirely. A move to wingback might just be what he needs to rejuvenate his Tottenham career (assuming he isn’t sold). His dribbling and speed are plusses in that deeper position, and the back three, especially with Cuti Romero behind him, will do a ton to ameliorate any defensive deficiencies Lucas might posses in that role.
Look, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. One half of preseason football with a notably short squad doesn’t necessarily mean that Lucas Moura is a wingback now. But, it doesn’t NOT mean that, either! Lucas is slight in frame and not a robust defender, but he has the physical tools and the speed to be an effective wingback option, if he works at it and commits to the change. Jury’s still out on whether he’ll do that or is even willing to. But the signs are there. And if Spurs are in a situation where they’re chasing a game midway through the second half and need someone to come in to make line-breaking runs from deep positions, well, why not Lucas Moura?
We might have just collectively wished something into existence. How cool is that?