What is the outlook for Tottenham Hotspur at left back?
In the first half of 2019-20 for Tottenham Hotspur, Danny Rose and Ben Davies often rotated in the left back position.
Then both were either hurt or out of favor as Jan Vertonghen, Ryan Sessegnon, and Japhet Tanganga all took turns playing left back. Add in two different head coaches and it was a season of uncertainty from a position that was formerly a strength.
So what is the outlook for Tottenham at left back?
Who is in the left back picture?
We do know that Jan Vertonghen has left the club after his contract expired at the end of the season, so despite making 30 appearances and playing nearly 500 more minutes than any other player who manned the left back position during the season, Vertonghen is gone.
While Vertonghen’s Tottenham future is clear, the same cannot necessarily be said for Danny Rose. Rose was the preferred option under Mauricio Pochettino, making some 13 appearances before November, however, after Jose Mourinho became manager, the England international only made three more appearances for the club before being loaned out to Newcastle in January 2020.
The timing of Rose’s loan seemed particularly strange given that Ben Davies was still recovering from a long-term ankle injury that had him out for nearly three months of the season. Rose is now back with the club and is listed as part of the first team on the website. He recently was quoted as saying he wanted to finish out his contract with Spurs, but that remains to be seen.
What we do know is that the other three players who appeared at left back for Tottenham this past season all have long-term deals with the club. Ryan Sessegnon – who made three appearances as left back – has a contract until 2025 after completing his first season with the club. Ben Davies is signed until 2024 after extending a year ago in July. Finally, young Japhet Tanganga just re-signed with the club a month ago agreeing to stay until 2025.
All this said, with three players capable of playing the position signed until at least 2024 and Danny Rose still on the books, it is likely the starting left back and the back-up left back(s) are among this group. So, who is likely to hold what role and what does that mean for Spurs?
As a disclaimer, I know Dennis Cirkin MAY be in the conversation here, but having never seen him play – as he has yet to make a first-team appearance – he is not part of the article.
Handicapping the Spurs left back position
The first and fourth choice of the four players on the books is really the easiest at this point. Jose Mourinho rates Ben Davies. Given the playing time he had over the last months of the season, it was clear the Mourinho liked his reliability at the position. If you are looking for Marcelo, Davies is not the guy.
If you are looking for someone who is going to give 100 percent for the shirt every time out and likely not hurt you with mental mistakes, Davies is your guy. Of course, if Serge Aurier is sold, there may be a need for a more dynamic left back, but until that happens, Davies has the spot in the starting XI on lockdown for Spurs.
If Davies as the first team left back is easy enough to predict, as hard as it is for me to write, it is likely that Danny Rose is the odd man out, as the #4 man on the depth chart. While Rose is really the only pure left back of the bunch – he was the only one of the five Spurs to NOT play in a position other than left back for Tottenham – Rose is also the oldest, most expensive, most outspoken, and seemingly least favored by Mourinho.
After Mourinho took over, Rose only appeared in three matches for a total of 100 minutes and then was not in the squad six of his final eight matches for Spurs. While Rose has been a terrific player for Tottenham and at one time he was kind of in the same conversation as Marcelo, injuries have taken a toll on Rose and he just isn’t what he was before. With Davies and two other younger, cheaper, and still English options available, I just cannot see Rose as an active member of the squad.
More than anything, Ryan Sessegnon and Japhet Tanganga both need time. Tanganga is the more utility player of the two, playing four different positions across the pitch in his 13 appearances for the club. A more natural defender, Tanganga – outside of Davies – provides the most defensive-minded option of the bunch. Tanganga averaged more tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocks than any of the other four players.
While Japhet did play some at center-half, so too did Vertonghen and the young defender’s numbers were just better in those categories. Tanganga is more naturally a center-half than fullback, but his versatility and ability to play equally well on both the left and right side of the pitch may make him the first-choice fullback substitute, regardless of side of the pitch.
Finally, Ryan Sessegnon is a bit of an enigma for Tottenham still. While he played three games at left back – all under Mourinho – it is difficult to say if left back is his best position. One thing is clear, he needs to be on the left side, and it is positive to see that Jose has already figured that out. All 12 of Sessegnon’s appearances – again all under Mourinho – were on the left side of the pitch. Even if his future is not at left back, at least Jose knows the left side is where Sessegnon needs to be.
At this point, the pecking order would be Davies in the starting XI with Japhet Tanganga as his and likely Serge Aurier’s primary back-up – barring any new signing. Behind Tanganga, we have Sessegnon – although I hope he plays further up the pitch – and Danny Rose – who is likely to be sent out on loan again.
What do you think? Is that the right order for the position?