Why Spurs could do with their new right-back DeAndre Yedlin sooner rather than later
21:28 13 August 2014
Tottenham correspondent Ben Pearce looks at the club’s right-backs ahead of the season opener at West Ham on Saturday.
Early in the first half in Saturday’s final friendly against Schalke, Mauricio Pochettino stood in his technical area at White Hart Lane and gestured for Erik Lamela to move infield from his station on the right flank.
The ball was on the left-hand side but, with Spurs’ front four interchanging positions so fluidly, there was nothing unusual about the Argentine drifting towards the centre – and his marker duly followed his latest move.
That left a third of the pitch empty on the near touch-line in front of Pochettino. And, as Kyle Naughton advanced in expectation, Spurs’ new head coach screamed “switch, switch!”
Tottenham’s midfielders took a little bit too long to spot the space, playing two passes before launching the ball out to Naughton. However, the simple but carefully-orchestrated exercise had worked and, for a few precious seconds, Spurs’ right-back had a clear strip in front of him.
The move was repeated a little later, with a darting run inside again dragging players into the congested centre and clearing a pathway for Naughton. Again Pochettino called for the switch and, again, Spurs took a couple of seconds to react before Nabil Bentaleb sprayed the ball out wide.
Of course, this is hardly a new concept. The modern full-back is expected to offer a threat going forward, and Pochettino encouraged them to do so with Southampton – to the extent that Luke Shaw has earned a £30million move to Manchester United.
However, Saturday’s match at the Lane showed a brief glimpse of what Spurs have been working on in training, how important the full-backs could be this season and how much space they might get – especially if the pass out wide comes immediately.
With that in mind, Kyle Walker’s continued absence is a big blow. With his pace and directness, the 24-year-old would probably have been on the edge of Schalke’s box before anyone had got across to him on Saturday.
On the other hand, the less dynamic Naughton was simply afforded extra time to take a touch or two and weigh up his options before delivering his cross from a wide position.
Pochettino would have been hoping to have Walker available for the big kick-off at West Ham, but the latest update on the England man’s pelvic injury – which has ruled him out since March and forced him to miss the World Cup - is not encouraging.
While he played 45 minutes against both Toronto and Chicago Fire, he has missed the last two friendlies against Celtic and Schalke and Pochettino said: “Kyle [Walker] is good some days, on other days he has a bad feeling.
“We believe he may recover soon, but we need to be calm with him because it is an injury that he has had for five months. It is difficult to say today whether he will be fit for [West Ham].”
It seems that Naughton will be Spurs’ starting right-back for the first day of the season and quite possibly beyond.
That is not what the fans would have been hoping to see after crying out for a better back-up right-back – ideally someone who could offer genuine competition for a fully-fit Walker – at the end of last season.
Indeed, on the previous occasion when Naughton was playing at the Lane and Pochettino was on the side-lines – in charge of Southampton on March 23 – the deputy right-back made two individual errors which gifted the Saints a 2-0 lead inside 28 minutes.
In fairness, he immediately recovered to set up the goal which halved the deficit en route to Tottenham’s 3-2 home win – but such assists are rare and the damaging defensive errors underlined a weakness in the squad which needed to be addressed.
Spurs have strengthened on the other side, signing Ben Davies to compete with Danny Rose, but so far the right-back position is no better – and concerns remain about Walker’s fitness.
Spurs have announced the signing of USA international DeAndre Yedlin from Seattle Sounders tonight. And, although the 21-year-old is untested in the Premier League, his pace means he has every chance of fitting into Pochettino’s approach and offering similar qualities to Walker.
The player himself said: “It [Tottenham] is a great team with a new coach and a style that suits the way I play. That’s a big reason I made the decision.”
However, Spurs’ statement says their latest recruit will “remain with [Seattle] before joining us ahead of the 2015/16 season”, so he will not be boosting the squad until next summer.
For now then, and possibly for the next 12 months, a problem area remains a problem - and Pochettino will be hoping it doesn’t immediately come back to haunt him in his very first competitive game.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs