Friday 13 December 2019

Trippier strike underlines full-backs as Spurs ace card

Tottenham 1-0 Watford

Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier celebrates scoring his side's winning goal. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Kieran Trippier celebrates scoring his side's winning goal. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Toby Alderweireld attempts a overhead kick. Photo: Reuters

Jonathan Liew

For many years - and not many people know this - Tottenham did not replace their full-backs in the conventional sense. Instead, they would simply regenerate during the off-season, Doctor Who-style.

Nobody at the club will ever admit this publicly, but Paolo Tramezzani, Gilberto, Erik Edman, Lee Young-Pyo, Thimothee Atouba and Reto Ziegler were all actually the same person.

On the right flank Pascal Chimbonda, Paul Stalteri, Alan Hutton and Vedran Corluka were all similarly interchangeable, direct descendants of an exclusive elven bloodline leading all the way back to Dean Austin in the early 1990s.

The point is that for much of the Premier League era, the job description 'Tottenham full-back' has carried a similar connotation to 'British car manufacturer' or 'Kevin Costner' - impressive, but not necessarily a cast-iron guarantee of excellence.

Perhaps the most significant tactical shift in football over the last two decades has been the transition from a one-tier to a two-tier midfield, and the consequent remodelling of the full-back into a primarily attacking force.

Tottenham, still sentimentally attached to the Ardiles-Hoddle-Gascoigne archetype - the central midfielder as one-man tsunami - were one of the last big clubs to catch on, by which point they were arguably no longer a big club.

And so one of the most interesting elements of the Mauricio Pochettino revolution at Tottenham has been in traditionally the most unloved position of all.

At Southampton, his culinary skills helped to convert full-backs Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw from raw flesh into flame-grilled full internationals.

Now, something similar may be happening at Tottenham. And it may prove the key to ending Tottenham's 55-year wait for a league title.

The win over Watford that lifted them into second place was the ideal illustration.

The best way to stop Tottenham is to do exactly what Watford did: stay narrow, cede the flanks, deny their attackers space in the centre. Watford executed the plan to perfection, and still gave away 26 shots.

With the centre blocked, Tottenham's full-backs were effectively auxiliary wingers, instrumental in starting and finishing attacks. Ben Davies had as many shots as the entire Watford team, while Kieran Trippier ran 90 yards to score the only goal of the game.

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