Squad Analysis #3 – Benoit Assou-Ekotto


Since the days of Mauricio Taricco and Justin Edinburgh to Timothee Atouba and Lee Young Pyo, Tottenham Hotspur have regularly struggled to find an adequate left-back to fulfill the necessary defensive and attacking duties of a team famed for their free flowing, attacking football.

Even when Benoit Assou-Ekotto initially arrived from Lens in 2006, the France-born Cameroon international struggled with injuries and a poor run of form before fully establishing himself as Spurs' number one left-back under Harry Redknapp.

During this period, Assou-Ekotto has endeared himself to the supporters with his impressive displays, outspoken, yet welcomed, attitude to the game, previously admitting he only plays football for money, while his continued use of the phrase 'lol' on Twitter only helped secure his place in the hearts of the fans.

However, this season Assou-Ekotto has seen his impact on the starting XI severely hampered through injury once again. As such, it's no surprise to see him making significantly fewer appearances – 10, including two substitute – compared to last season – 34 – in the Premier League.

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The lack of first team action is perhaps telling in that the 29-year-old has won just 53% of his total ground 50/50's this season in comparison to last, where he won 56%, with the amount involved in differing substantially from 58 to 238, respectively.

However, regardless of the fewer appearances, Assou-Ekotto actually has a higher aerial 50/50 win ratio, coming away successful 59% of this time this campaign compared to the 47% last season. Throw in a higher tackle success rate this year - 76.47% to 70.97% - and more minutes per defensive error – 761 to 741 – and it points to, despite the lack of action, a more productive season for the defender.

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Perhaps more telling once again is his passing stats between both seasons'. Much like Kyle Walker and the increased figures of him passing inside, the same has happened with Assou-Ekotto. An increase of 27% between each year has seen the Cameroonian look to move the ball to his right.

With 45% of his passes inside, either to the defender of the midfield pairing of Mousa Dembele and Sandro or Scott Parker, compared to that figure being just 18% last season coincides with the decrease of passes to his left, with Assou-Ekotto utilising his flank with just 5% of his passes compared to the 11% last season.

Again, this points to the change of system adopted by Andre Villas-Boas following his appointment over the summer, with onus again on ball retention rather than gung-ho compared to Harry Redknapp, further highlighted the decision to move the ball forward 17% less this season compared to last – a drop from 60% to 43%.

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As previously mentioned, Assou-Ekotto has sat out much of the season through injury and has seen two main names appear to fill in at left-back – Kyle Naughton and Jan Vertonghen, and while it is difficult to grasp the encounters the latter has filled in the position, having been utilised as a centre-back also, the former's stats makes for interesting reading.

Naughton has made 13 more appearances this season than Assou-Ekotto – one of which was as a substitute – and has racked up 235 more first team minutes this year, yet has a better ground 50/50 and aerial 50/50 win percentage than his team-mate, winning 62% and 70% of his respective battles compared to Assou-Ekotto's 53% and 59%.

However, despite playing two-and-a-half games more, Naughton has made double the tackles Assou-Ekotto has made – 34 to 17 – which see's them share the exact same tackles success percentage – 76.47%.

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Comparing passing stats also, both players have made the same amount of passes forward - 43% - this season, although Naughton has moved the ball to the left flank 7% more, although this is as a result of playing right-back for two of his games during Walker's two games missed, both of which oddly enough came against Fulham.

This again will likely see his passes to the right not match the patterned scores of both Walker and Assou-Ekotto, with only 31% of Naughton's passes being made to the right compared to former's 45%.

Yet, this could also be particularly telling. It's common knowledge that Naughton is right-footed, meaning he's more than likely to cut in, or so many would think. During the 3-1 win over Reading back in September, Naughton's first Premier League game for Spurs, he had Gareth Bale ahead of him, with the Welshman appearing that much deeper to provide the necessary cover to the 24-year-old.

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However, when compared to the win over Manchester United 13 days later, Jan Vertonghen instead started at left-back, with Bale appearing less predominantly in his own half as he had a player who was naturally left-footed at left-back.

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The respective heatmaps hint at the extra cover needed for Naughton due to a right-footed full-back playing left-back and not in his favoured position, thus heightening the chance of team-mate – in this case Bale – being a readymade option on the flank.

However, to those that proclaim Assou-Ekotto hasn't been as productive as he was last season, the stats suggest otherwise. In fact, chances are a lack of playing has hindered his progress again this year, with injuries taking their toll on the Cameroon international once again.


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