February 25, 2021

Doherty’s arrival shouldn’t be the end for Aurier at Spurs

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The Irish star joined from Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday but his arrival doesn’t mean the Ivory Coast captain has to depart

With the dust still settling on Tottenham Hotspur’s capture of Matt Doherty from Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the amusing unveiling of the supposed Gooner deleting tweets associated with Arsenal from social media, the next port of call seems to be how he fits in at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The consensus seems to indicate that Ivory Coast‘s Serge Aurier would instantly vacate the right-back spot for the Republic of Ireland full-back, but should that conclusion be reached so soon by observers?

In truth, the West African hasn’t always been everyone’s cup of tea since he moved from Paris to London, owing to his rap sheet whilst playing for the dominant force that is Paris Saint-Germain. This list grew longer in North London as mistakes, ranging from a sending off on his league debut to unbelievable losses of concentration in his defensive third, marring the 27-year-old’s time in the Premier League.

The challenge for players like Aurier is that, given their supposed character flaws, critics seem to focus excessively on their limitations, ignoring apparent merits for their teams. The African defender has been on the receiving end of so much opprobrium, to the extent where his strengths are glossed over but weaknesses are magnified.

Why the bias, uneven assessment and unfair crack of the whip?

If asked to evaluate the wide defender’s 2019/20, observers will point to some of his errors during the season to justify why the Ouragahio-born full-back shouldn’t be first choice right-back for Jose Mourinho next season.

In fairness, blunders in defeats by Chelsea in December and RB Leipzig in Europe before football’s suspension in March were quite indisputable. The latter led to Rio Ferdinand tagging him a ‘weakness’, while Peter Crouch asserted that it was a ‘terrible mistake’.

However, pundits conveniently ignore the fact that Aurier was Tottenham’s second-highest assister, highlighting his influence in the Lilywhites’ attack, and their top tackler, indicating some defensive astuteness, despite an intermittent knack for being erratic.

Furthermore, statistics provided by Fbref show that not only has the Ivorian been Spurs’ most successful tackler, he’s also made the highest interceptions in 19/20. When tackles and interceptions are added, the full-back equally leads the way with 141 combined. The next highest was Moussa Sissoko with 87. That wasn’t a close race in the slightest but a chasm in every sense of the word.

Aurier’s leading role in the team’s press also reflects in the numbers. Only Son Heung-min (544) and Lucas Moura (532) applied pressure on the opponent more times throughout the league campaign than the defender (521) who was third. Dele Alli came in at fourth (479) and Harry Kane with 448 pressures was fifth.

The defender’s reading of the game is magnified by how he prevented passes from getting to its intended target more times than any of his colleagues in the team.

Going further forward, the former PSG man played the third-highest volume of key passes – again only pipped by Son and Moura – while he sat in fifth spot for passes into the final third. Interestingly, though, the West African played the highest number of progressive passes in the Spurs team as well as most passes into the penalty area.

Usually the more attacking of Mourinho’s wide defenders, it was no surprise Aurier played the most crosses in the side with 16, 10 higher than Ben Davies with six.

A quick comparison with new signing Doherty in the aforementioned metrics shows that the incumbent was the more accomplished tackler last season and made more tackles and interceptions (141-103) than the Irishman despite playing fewer games.

Similarly, the 28-year-old didn’t press as often as Aurier, although he made more blocks than the Ivory Coast captain. Despite sitting in fifth at Wolves for passes sent into the final third, Doherty played a higher volume than the African, while he also outdid the Spurs man in 19/20 for progressive passes by a lot, 239 to 162.

The ex-Toulouse defender sent in more crosses into the penalty area in the preceding campaign and played more passes into the box than the new buy last term.

The aforementioned comparison suggests that very little separates both right-backs, although Aurier seems to edge their duel. While Doherty is seemingly favoured by critics to supplant the Ivory Coast skipper from the side, letting the AC Milan target leave outright may be ill-advised.

With the situation with the pandemic leaving 2020/21’s schedule extremely tight and potentially arduous, having two Premier League proven defenders for what will be a marathon campaign would be helpful. Spurs also play in the Europa League and will have to contend with the dreaded Sunday-Thursday-Sunday fixtures, so having bodies to rotate in and out of the side won’t be harmful.

Given one of the challenges Mourinho faced in his first few months at the club was a lack of depth or quality replacements in some key positions, having Doherty and Aurier as wide defenders on the right leaves that position filled, on paper at least, for the new season.

Mauricio Pochettino had Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier in Tottenham’s ascent in the mid-to-late 2010s, while Aurier and Trippier battled it out to be number one pick after the former’s sale to Manchester City.

That year was a bedding-in season for the ex-PSG man, so a friendly rivalry with the signing from Wolves ought to create some healthy competition in the full-back position at the club again.

Even though observers remain reluctant to jump on the Aurier train, his strengths make him an asset to the current set-up at Spurs. A potential rivalry with Doherty would not only be intriguing to see but it could also be one of the fascinating sub-plots of Tottenham’s season as they seek to end in the Champions League positions after a disappointing sixth-place finish in 19/20.