ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to asses how Spurs' lightning winger may need to adapt under AVB...
Aaron Lennon was a surprise choice to captain Tottenham in the 0-0 draw with Lazio on Thursday night. The winger may be Tottenham’s second longest-serving player behind centreback Michael Dawson, and may have played in the majority of Tottenham’s league games in each of the past seven seasons – but his leadership skills have never been viewed as a particular strength.
Lennon’s future at Tottenham was uncertain when Andre Villas-Boas was confirmed as Harry Redknapp’s successor. Villas-Boas likes to mix a winger with a wide forward, and after Hulk at Porto and Daniel Sturridge at Chelsea excelled under his coaching, both were linked with a move to Spurs in the summer.
But Lennon has started each of Villas-Boas’ five games in charge so far. He’s been forced to vary his game from last season under Harry Redknapp – Villas-Boas' preference for a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 is very different to Redknapp’s 4-4-2, and means Lennon has to operate much higher up the pitch.
The major difference is that he receives the ball in different areas. Under Redknapp, we were accustomed to Lennon getting the ball to feet, then picking up speed and dribbling past the opposition left-back before attempting to cross.
Villas-Boas wants something different – he prefers wide players to receive penetrative passes through the defence. Tottenham’s opening goal against Reading last weekend, scored by Jermain Defoe, was a perfect example – Gylfi Sigurdsson played a pass between centre-back and full-back, and Lennon made a diagonal run inside from the touchline to meet the ball.
This pass is also more likely to happen this season because of Spurs’ midfield options. Luka Modric was a patient passer and spread the ball calmly from flank to flank, whereas the likes of Sigurdsson and Mousa Dembele are more direct. Compare the passes received by Lennon last weekend against Reading, and in his final away game under Redknapp last season, and there’s a big difference.
There’s two key changes – firstly, the balls no longer originate from the centre of midfield, the zone Modric used to patrol. Secondly, Lennon has often picked up the ball inside the penalty area this season, whereas under Redknapp he would generally only receive passes in wide positions.
Lennon has also become more reliable in possession, particularly in Spurs’ two home games so far. Maybe this can be attributed to Villas-Boas’ focus upon passing football, but Lennon’s pass completion rate has increased steadily in recent years anyway: In 2009/10 and 2010/11 it was 84%, last season it was up to 86%, so far this season it’s been 88.5%.
Crosses aren’t taken into account when calculating pass completion rate, but more reliable distribution tallies with Lennon crossing the ball less frequently – against Reading, for example, he only attempted two crosses all match. This is probably less about Villas-Boas’ strategy, and more about the identity of Spurs’ centre-forward, given Defoe has started over the more aerially-adept Emmanuel Adebayor so far this season. In fact, the more frequent target for crosses has been Gareth Bale – certainly in the opening day defeat at Newcastle, where Bale headed against the bar from a Lennon cross.
That’s one of Bale’s qualities – he gets into the box and provides a goal threat, which is vital in this system. Lennon has a dreadful scoring record, however – only nine league goals in his past three seasons. At the Madejski Stadium last week he got into the box when the ball was on the opposite flank, but he simply doesn’t shoot often enough – failing to record a single shot in the last two league matches.
Despite wearing the captain’s armband on Thursday, Lennon’s place will continue to be under threat if he doesn’t start contributing goals. Clint Dempsey played just behind Defoe against Lazio, but if Villas-Boas wants to play three central midfielders, the American could revert to the right. If Lennon wants to remain an ever-present, a goal against QPR this weekend would be very useful.
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ZonalMarking.net 's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to assess the battle
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