Squad Analysis #5 - Michael Dawson


If there is any player in the current Tottenham Hotspur squad that has benefitted immensely under the tutelage of Ledley King, it's current captain Michael Dawson. The former Nottingham Forest trainee, upon his arrival at White Hart Lane, has endeared himself to the fans with his heart-on-sleeve approach to defending and welcoming persona – one of the “good guys” in the game, if you will. However, there was a point over the summer when the 29-year-old came extremely close to leaving Tottenham. With the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas, a new system was implemented, a high defensive line drafted in and with Dawson's distinct lack of pace, this approach would naturally hinder the defender, much like it did John Terry during the manager's short stint with Chelsea.

With Brad Friedel's apprehensiveness to stray from his goal line, this naturally would've seen opposition teams capitalise as a result. Yet, the need for experience in the defence was crucial and while William Gallas wasn't the preferred choice of many a supporter, his reading of the game and leadership capabilities naturally edged him ahead of Dawson in the pecking order.

As it was, it was Gallas and compatriot Younes Kaboul that started the first game of the season away at Newcastle United, seeing summer arrival Jan Vertonghen forced to watch from the bench and Dawson from the stands. Following the partnership developed between the two Frenchman from last season, it was a natural fit.

Following an injury hampered year last season, the chance for Dawson to impress his new manager was limited further by Villas-Boas' reluctancy to start the defender. A move to Queens Park Rangers was a possibility and after the R's saw a bid accepted for the defender, it was thought that his time in North London was to come to an abrupt end.

Nevertheless, Dawson turned down the opportunity to move to Loftus Road and instead vowed to get his head down and work hard for his place in the first team. Once it was confirmed that Kaboul would miss a majority of the campaign with a knee problem, of which it's now looking increasingly likely that he'll be unavailable until next year, the defender saw his chance to cement his place in the first team rise considerably.

While Gallas and Steven Caulker remained ahead of the fan favourite in the pecking order, Dawson still saw his opportunity to impress in the Europa League and, sensing a place in the heart of the back line was a possibility once again, grasped that chance with both hands.

Re-instilled as captain and reinstated to the starting XI, Dawson has gone on to form an impressive partnership with Vertonghen in the Spurs defence. Both offer a differing approach to defending, which means the pairing compliment one another astutely.

However, as good as Dawson has been since his return to action, there are some that believe Kaboul will secure his place in the starting XI in time for the new season following his long awaited return from injury.

The possibility of the partnership of Vertonghen and Kaboul is a salivating one on paper, and understandably, supporters are excited about the prospect of lining up ahead of Hugo Lloris in the Spurs defence. But is it deserved? Or should Dawson keep his place and the Frenchman be made to work for his spot in the first team?

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As Kaboul has featured only once this season in the Premier League, coupled with Dawson's lack of first team action as a result of injury last year, I believe it's suitable to make a comparison of the Frenchman from the 2011/12 campaign and the England international from the 2012/13 season, to this date.

This is particularly evident from the competitive minutes attained from both players, both as starts and appearances as a substitute. As shown above, Kaboul's 2903 minutes of action last season is close to double that of Dawson's 1561 this year, while it's also noticeable that the former made 33 starts and 0 from the bench, compared to the latter, whose respective figures stand at 18 and 4.

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The lack of action from Dawson is evident from the off when comparing the defensive facets of each other's game. The defender, this season, has been involved a total of 67 ground 50/50's, less than half of Kaboul's 140 from last year, and it's no surprise to see the centre-back win 64% of those battles, three percent higher than the former Auxerre man's 61%, although that figure is particularly impressive and reinforces the notion that Kaboul is a better defender with the ball at his feet.

A particularly strong aspect of Dawson's game is his heading ability and it was again no surprise to have seen the defender enjoy his finer displays of the season against both West Ham United and Stoke City at White Hart Lane, two teams renowned for their direct approach to football.

Nevertheless, while the Englishman has been involved in 104 aerial duels, a figure dwarfed by Kaboul's 170, it's the France international that has a higher success rate, winning 71% of his battles in the air – losing around 49 of the 170 – a mightily impressive stat and one that somewhat overshadows Dawson's 62%.

Even in tackling, Kaboul is the stronger of the pairing having won 73.53% of his 68 tackles from last season compared to Dawson winning 66.67% of his 33. In terms of defending, while Dawson has been better with the ball at his feet, Kaboul's aerial dominance last season indicates that he could be the perfect partner for a defender of Vertonghen's footballing ability.

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In Villas-Boas' current system, the onus on ball retention is high, meaning defenders are expected to play or run with the ball out of defence, not to mention being quick off the mark in order to not be caught out by opposition attackers, such is the risk of playing a high defensive line.

When referring to passing, however, it's again Kaboul that is the dominant in the category, albeit only slightly. In regards to Open Play Passes (OPP) the Frenchman has found a teammate with 84% of his passes, only a 1% mark up on Dawson, so nothing of any real significance in this department.

However, a noticeable figure to point out is the difference in the direction in which both players have passed the ball. Under Harry Redknapp, the Gung-ho approach was regularly adopted as Spurs went in search of maximum points on a weekly basis.

It saw the club lauded as one of the most exciting to watch in the league and Kaboul's passing stats reinforce this, with 52% of the Frenchman's OPP moving forward. There isn't a marginal difference in Dawson's 45%, but with the latter shepherding the ball across the defence with 51% of his OPP's - an 11% rise on Kaboul's 40% - it points to one of two potential outcomes.

1) Dawson has taken onboard Villas-Boas' approach to move the ball across the defence and hold onto possession rather than look to punt upfield to either Emmanuel Adebayor or Gareth Bale, as was the custom for the England international last season, when he was available for selection of course.

2) Dawson's delivery isn't as potent as Kaboul. As previously noted, the former has been guilty of pumping the ball upfield on numerous occasions, while the latter has made a name for himself in bringing the ball forward and looking to either play through the midfield or instigate attacks as Spurs push for the next goal.

Either way, the passing stats again weigh in the favour of Kaboul, both in accuracy and the ability to bring the ball forward into midfield and with his return to first team action likely to coincide with that of Sandro's next season, it's another crucial facet of Villas-Boas' system that could be utilised as a result of his technical superiority.

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Finally, in relation to possession, it's Dawson this time that is the stronger of the two centre-back's. The Spurs captain has been dispossessed just twice in 1561 minutes of first team action this season - or once every 780.5 minutes.

When compared to Kaboul, the powerful centre-back was robbed of possession on 11 separate occasions last year during 2903 minutes over 33 starts - or once every 264 minutes - as Spurs secured a fourth placed finish.

However, this can related to the passing stats, in which Kaboul is prepared to bring the ball forward into midfield, while his pace means he is able to recover the necessary ground that has been lost as a result of the opposition winning the ball from him.

As good as Dawson is, speed isn't a strong point of his and it's no surprise that he would rather release the ball to a teammate - be it to Vertonghen, an available full back or one of the two deep lying midfielders - than take a risk that would put Spurs in jeopardy or see an opposition handed the incentive to attack the defender close to goal.

Either way, while Dawson is a fan favourite amongst the supporters, the statistical comparison between the two players shows that Kaboul is deserving of a starting spot upon his return from injury next season should he recapture his form of old.

Not to ignore the fact that Dawson has come in and formed an excellent defensive partnership with Vertonghen, unfortunately for the Yorkshireman when it comes to defending, heading and passing, the latter a key aspect for Villas-Boas' system to really work, it's Kaboul that is clearly the stronger of the Spurs duo, even if at times it is only a marginal difference.


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