As breakthrough seasons go in the Barclays Premier League, they probably don’t come all that much better than the term just enjoyed by Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker.

The ex-Sheffield United starlet went from making just the one cameo off the bench for Spurs in the 2010-11 season, to missing just one league game for the Lilywhites last term, securing a fourth placed finish and bagging the PFA Young Player of the Year award in the process. Not bad considering he only celebrated his 22nd birthday in May.

Consequently, after such a hugely successful season for Spurs, it was almost taken as a cast iron guarantee, that Walker was set to push on this term. Such was the level of his performances for his age, that he catalyzed a feeling of expectation among the White Hart Lane support. But although not every player has a tendency to fire on all cylinders from the off, it feels as if Walker has been left in the blocks completely.

If you were to list the players that would have appeared less likely to struggle under this summer’s regime change in N17, the chances are that Kyle Walker wouldn’t be too far off the top. His strength, blistering pace and composure on the ball, all constitute the sort of attributes that the modern full-back needs to prosper within the modern game. And with such a tactically refined, forward thinking manager as Andre Villas-Boas about to enter the helm, the omens looked better for Walker than several of his defensive counterparts.

But as the season has started to really kick into gear, Walker’s performances have felt a little bit like the elephant in the room in White Hart Lane. Right or wrong, one of the more perceivably villainous figures of Spurs’ bumpy start to the Premier League, was that of Walker’s left sided counterpart at full-back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Yet although the Cameroon international’s first three games of the season were fraught with more than a small element of defensive fragility and sloppy errors, Walker is now seven games into his season and it’s difficult to see quite how he’s been any better. With the PFA Young Player of the Year award under his belt, it feels like there’s been something of a reluctance to critique Tottenham’s current golden boy of the moment.

Is that accolade potentially rendering Walker bulletproof, in the eyes of some? The blame game in Tottenham’s defense can be shared equal ways, but the continuous framing of veteran centre-half William Gallas as the weak link, suggests there could be kudos to that argument. The Frenchman has made his share of mistakes too this season, but it feels as if he is left to unfairly shoulder too much of the defensive responsibility. His 35 years makes him an easy target, where as the fresh faced Walker is more often than not, given the benefit of the doubt.

Because while you can point and prod at the collective efforts of Spurs defensive set-up and the role of the team as a whole in their pressing, Walker has no one to hide behind. Far too many times this season we’ve seen him struggle to clear and deal with big diagonals and he seems to have been caught out of position far more regularly than at any point last term.

Perhaps even more concerningly, is the consistency in which he’s getting beaten by his man in the one-on-one. Standing up to the 38-year-old Ryan Giggs for 45 minutes in the victory against Manchester United doesn’t bode well as arguably his best defensive display of the season. Even at times during the Panathinaikos game in Athens, the ease in which the likes of Quincy Owusu-Abeyie were sailing past him, offered more than a little cause for concern.

Of course, it’s easy to focus on the negatives and Walker has hardly been the sole culprit in Spurs’ porous defensive play so far. His pace has served his team well in the recovery and he remains a cutting attacking outlet. But for all his work up on the right end of the pitch, he’s got to ensure he gets the basics right first. Setting up Gareth Bale against Reading is all very well, but it’s rendered redundant if you switch off the way he did, to let Hal Robson-Kanu score at the other end, in the same game. Someone needs to remind him he’s a defender, first and foremost.

If indeed Walker is going through a tough patch of form, than as with Assou-Ekotto, he needs to be supported and coaxed through it by both supporters and management. But even though the whole side are trying to adapt to an extensive set of tactical changes, you can’t help but feel that Walker’s problems stem from his own mindset, as opposed to that of Villas-Boas’. The lack of concentration and the sloppy headers out are as much his to rectify, as anyone else. He has the talent to excel, but we’re not seeing the best of it.

Andre Villas-Boas’ side are still settling and even in their 2-0 win against Aston Villa at home on Sunday, we can see that they’re not quite the finished article yet. But as more games tick by, so does the period of possible reprieve for the players, especially when others such as Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen, seem to be adapting so well. Walker’s getting away with it, as he is yet to really make a high profile mistake that has cost his team points. If he carries on like this, it’s a matter of time before he does.

It may seem like a harsh assessment, but it’s only because we know exactly what he’s capable of. He showed that he’s up to the task of preforming as a top class right back in this division. It’s time for him to refresh all our memories.

Do you think I’m being too harsh in my assessment of Kyle Walker? Or are you convinced that he needs to step it up a notch? Let me know how you feel on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your opinions. 

 

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  • Mike
    2 years ago

    I completely agree with your assessment, although I think this actually goes back to last year too.

    Walker is very weak in the air, he made a has of a couple of aerial situations last season that resulted in goals, I can’t recall which ones unfortunately.

    This is going to sound incredibly harsh, but I don’t think Walker is a very intelligent footballer. I think he plays purely on instinct and determination and whilst that has served him well to break through, he’s going to need to focus on thinking more on the pitch. Watch him in the Man U game, just hacking the ball away straight back to the opposition in situations where there was certainly enough time to take control of the situation and buy his team some composure.

    BAE, whilst prone to errors, is a very smart footballer. He understands body position better than most and is able to outfox his opponents to relieve pressure and retain possession – although on a few occasions this has got him into trouble where ‘s trying to be too smart.

    The good news is that Walker is young, and he can learn this. Although I’m worried he doesn’t have the smarts to be the World Class defender he potentially could be.

    Reply
    • Mattayy
      2 years ago

      I distinctly remember whene he failed to clear a header and it landed at Ba’s feet who then scored…

      Reply
  • jim
    2 years ago

    Can’t agree with Mike at all. Walker is a very intelligent and grounded young man. He is a great student of the game and studies footage of great full backs of the past to pick up pointers on a regular basis. If you had read any of the many interviews he has given since he broke into the team you would see that he is very ambitious and hungry for self improvement. He is a young player and is relatively inexperienced, therefore he will make mistakes. The more he plays and learns the more he will improve as he has talent plus more importantly he wants to be the best he can be and will work to get there.

    Reply
    • Mike
      2 years ago

      I dont’ read his interviews, I watch him play week in week out as a season ticket holder. In fact, he plays pretty much right in front of me for one half and that doesn’t come across in his performances.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a good footballer and he’s very good going forward. But I still think his defending leads a bit to be desired. Go look at the United game again, United’s second was poor defending from him exactly at the wrong point in the game. Go watch some highlight reels of goals conceded last year, my gut feel would tell me more down Walker’s side than BAE’s and certainly 2 or 3 goals from poor arial work by Walker.

      I used to play both football and rugby at pretty high levels back in South Africa. Just to back that up, was a goalkeeper coached by Gary Bailey and offered a youth team position at Plymouth Argyle, but chose rugby instead. Anyway, that’s not the point, that’s just a bit background that I’m not just a shouty observer! I could usually bucket players into “smart or heart”. We had this fly half who was great, but was Heart, not Smart and when a Heart player isn’t in, what the Yanks like to call, The Zone, they come up short. Walker strikes me as Heart.

      E.g.
      Modric, Dembele = Smart
      Dawson, Walker = Heart

      Many players are somewhere on sliding scale between the two.

      I’m undecided on Sandro, last season I would have said Heart, this season he’s showing more Smart.

      Reply
      • Sam Antrobus
        2 years ago

        Mike, I think you’ve maybe hit the nail on the head in term of a bit of Footballing Intelligence: smart v heart might catch on you know.

        Walker has some superb physical attributes that set him apart from his peers and I think that such is pace and his effort in the recovery, that he can get away with perhaps not having the sharpest eye for position. He still seems very raw, and at 22 he’s got time to refine his game, but he needs to wise up a bit.

        Spurs have suffered from a lack of competition at both full-back berths for too long and if we asume that Vertonghen will be reverting back to CB, then Kyle Naughton seems to be our one real competitor on either side. A bit of competition ushered in at some point could prove the kick up the backside he needs to perhaps regain a bit of focus. It’s been a slow start for him so far and that’s being kind.

        Reply
      • Hafiz
        2 years ago

        Sandro and Dembele have won possession more times than any other partnership in the league this season (91). Both of them are BEAST!

        Reply
      • Mike
        2 years ago

        Sandro is on record that AVB explains exactly what is required of him, and he understands AVB instructions fully.(They both speak portugease) I believe there is an implied understanding that he was not getting this level of support from Harry Potter.

        Spurs are now a very big,physical team.
        I like this, I think we can bully most teams (like Chelsea used to do), but we do need a general playmaker.

        Reply
        • Hafiz
          2 years ago

          So Dembele has to improve himself on finding spaces and do more creative passes just like Paul Scholes did. I was hoping he do more long pass to our wingers and striker.

          Reply
        • Jamie
          2 years ago

          Dembele’s game has always been short incisive passes.

          Reply
  • Iver Biggen
    2 years ago

    Walker improved immensely last season, you cant expect him to improve again at the same pace every season. He has to become settled,steady himself then push on with more experience gained every season. One more thing ,last season Walker played despite injury, missed out on Euros. Had an operation. Therefore he is only regaining his fitness alongside his confidence. Last season when Spurs went on a long winning streak and occupied the third place ,he was flying. When Harry Redknapp cocked it up by allowing Corluka go on loan and Lennon got injured immediately afterwards, Walker began losing his form because of the lack of support in front of him, eventually got injured. This season he has AVB and Naughton as his back up.Lennon has Townsend to provide competition. As the season goes Walker will improve again. It was not only him but half of the squad started very slowly, now we beginning to show our qualities on the pitch once more. Walker is probably the best Right full back in premiership without a doubt and one one of the best in the world. A top player with incredible pace and power wont become a rubbish one overnight. He will come back much better in the next few weeks.

    Reply
  • William
    2 years ago

    A good article.
    I agree with mike, walker is a quality player but I’m not sure he has aquired the inteligence needed to go with his undoubted ability yet.

    Reply
  • MAX
    2 years ago

    WORST DEFENDER I HAVE SEEN AT SPURS GREAT GOING FORWORD BUT CANNOT DEFEND

    Reply
    • shaun
      2 years ago

      max u clearley dont watch spurs very much i can name loads eg kevin scott

      Reply
    • Mike
      2 years ago

      I have two words for you.

      Timothée Atouba

      Reply
  • MAX
    2 years ago

    worst defender i have seen for years good speed going forword but cannot defend

    Reply
  • Hafiz
    2 years ago

    He got pace and set-pieces ability, but I still don’t like his defending performance for this season. Gallas has to back up for him for most of the time on the left back when the opposite side do counter-attack. His marking was awful. He could prevent Kagawa’s goal at Old Trafford. He should learn more from our Super Jan.

    Reply
  • Chris
    2 years ago

    I think a little harsh, I understand where you are coming from but you need to look at the whole thing. Going forward most people agree he is very good, defensively this season he has been technically poor at times and worse then last season, but and this is the key – his pace gets him not only out of his own made troubles but enables him to excel at other times. Thus as a whole he is good defensively but the frustration is he is not reaching his undoubted potential to be world class, he will improve tho. You have to remember he made a big leap.forward in short space of time and inevitably it follows that he will have a lull or in his case.slight backward step, naughton was after all expected go be the better player and only now is breaking through. Also last season he was very good defensively at shielding the ball and not giving the ball away.

    Reply
  • Keith
    2 years ago

    For crying out loud enjoy Spurs unbeaten record – lost one game so far and 5th in the Prem – stop nit picking.

    Reply
    • Hottotty
      2 years ago

      Keith – these are Spurs fans (as am I!). Get real. Walker will be fine. He’s come a long way in a short time.

      Reply
    • Mike
      2 years ago

      I’m certainly enjoying it, there’s nothing wrong with having a good objective discussion about something though. I’ll be there again next week and I certainly won’t be one of the boo boys.

      Reply
  • Tunde
    2 years ago

    I think the main problem with Kyle Walker is concentration for 90 minutes. About three of the goals we’ve conceded this season have been down to that – Newcastle, Reading, and Man Utd. This is definitely something he can improve on as I believe the basic ingredients for a good fullback are already there – he’s still young.

    Reply
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