Kyle Walker’s recent overwhelming vote of public confidence in Andre Villas-Boas last week seemed superbly timed, as Tottenham Hotspur rolled out 3-1 winners against Reading yesterday. Spurs’ brilliant performance at the Madjeski seemed to coincide with the Portuguese’s willingness to take the lead off some of his players and Walker’s seemingly regained attacking impetus is in some part testament to this.
Walker, who has felt somewhat uncharacteristically reserved during the start to Spurs’ season, seemed to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of AVB’s tinkering during the weekend. But like the rest of the side, there still remains a lot of hard work to be done. The current PFA Young Player of the Year has all the tools to carry on where he left off last season – but as important as his role is in going forward, he must be careful to keep the bread and butter of his game in the forefront of his mind.
Yesterday’s superb 3-1 over Brian McDermott’s side was the perfect tonic for everyone associated with the club after a difficult start to the new season for the Lilywhite’s. Villas-Boas was of course looking to implement a system in which he only inherited the right tools to do so, on deadline day. Consequently, Spurs suffered, but there did feel like there was a lack of fluidity that wasn’t wholly culpable to a lack of required staff.
Tottenham seemed somewhat subdued, with the manager seemingly playing it safe, of sorts. One of the most telling aspects as such, were the full-backs reluctance to make countless raids up both flanks. For both Assou-Ekotto and Walker’s forays in particular, were synonymous with Spurs’ success of last season. For all their pockets of neat possession, Tottenham lacked a little bit of direct penetration. Yesterday’s showing seemed to suggest that Walker was back doing what he did best.
As we’d come to expect from Walker after his superb breakthrough season last term, his pace, strength and ability caused the veteran Ian Harte, more than a few problems yesterday. Combined with the pace of his other right-sided colleague, Aaron Lennon, they’re often unplayable when running at speed. But it was his exploits all on his own that set up Gareth Bale for Tottenham’s second; his tinkering at the edge of the box led to a superb turn of pace and even better cutback to tee up the Welshman for his first of the season. Walker is an invaluable asset and his ability to produce a genuine end product is a commodity that most wingers could do with, let alone full-backs.
But a searing as the ex-Sheffield United man was going forward, he didn’t have one of his better games at the back.
Of course, it is unfair to simply judge a player who has been barely put a foot wrong since he burst into the side, on one game. But Tottenham haven’t looked been particularly ship-shape defensively so far this season and contrary to popular belief, the buck doesn’t fall solely with the often-maligned William Gallas.
With Walker, it doesn’t feel particularly like an ability issue, more one of the odd lapse of concentration. The flailing of hands in the first half might seem like picking holes, but it was a stone wall penalty and one that Walker well and truly got out of jail on. Certainly something we don’t wand to see again any time soon.
But the England man was beaten down his side on more than one occasion. He has the sort of searing pace to mean that he is never going to be made too much of a mug of on the recovery run. But he needs to ensure his positioning is spot on. As Spurs look to press higher up the pitch, it’s a far longer way back if either Walker or Assou-Ekotto/Naughton get it wrong this season. Reading’s absolute impotence on the break meant this wasn’t too much of an issue, but it’s certainly food for thought.
More pressing however, was Walker’s positioning for the third goal. As a clean sheet-beckoned, Adam Le Fondre’s chip was met completely unchallenged by Hal Robson-Kanu at the back post for Reading’s consolation. Spurs of course had a two-goal cushion and the game was over as a contest. But it was an abject attempt at tracking back from Walker and at 3-0 up, it made no sense for him to be busting a gut to get back to mark his man.
We’ve seen often the struggles that the modern day fullback has in balancing his duties between defense and attack. Walker of course, has the ability to do both superbly well. But it’s all very well chipping in with numerous assists and gallivanting up the right flank but it means nothing if it is of detriment to his job first and foremost- as a defender. Spurs’ defense is steadily improving but it still has a more than porous element to it. There has been something of a tendency to turn a blind eye to the swashbuckling influence of Walker upon the team. And although he hasn’t been anywhere near as erratic as Benoit Assou-Ekotto defensively, he is still prone to some real lapses in concentration. He’s not bulletproof.
Of course, it’s very easy to forget that Walker is still only 22. And most importantly, the England man has the ability and all the tools needed to succeed. As this new defensive shape develops, so will Walker and the little mistakes will soon be flushed out. By his own high standards, he hasn’t begun the season firing on all cylinders – yet neither has his team.
It’s vitally important that Villas-Boas gives Walker the license to get forward and he remains an important attacking outlet for the team. But if Spurs are to stop conceding these sloppy goals, the back four have got to work in unison and maintain concentration for the whole of the 90 minutes. The season is there for the taking for Kyle Walker – let’s just unsure he is keeping goals our first, before creating them.
Fair criticism of Kyle Walker or verging on the overzealous? Should the England man take responsibility for Spurs’ continued leakiness in defence or focus further on getting involved higher up the pitch? Let me know how you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and get involved on all things Walker.