Opinion: Emerson Royal needs time and support before we write him off

Emerson Royal
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Image

It is well known around Tottenham that currently one area Conte and Paratici need to improve upon is the right-wing back spot.

This comes just 4 months after we signed Emerson Royal from Barcelona for £26m. During this period he has made 22 appearances for the North London club across all competitions but only has one assist to his name (TransferMarkt).

In comparison, Sergio Reguilón on the opposite flank has totalled 1 goal and 3 assists in one less appearance.

In a Conte system, wing-backs are essential to the attacking phase of play. Emerson and Reguilón are required to make overlapping runs, which in turn creates space for the wingers by dragging full backs wide.

If the opposing full-backs are not sucked out wide, Tottenham’s full-backs tend to be in a position to put dangerous balls into the box for the likes of Kane and Son.

From the previously mentioned statistics, we can see that not enough of these crossing situations are leading to goals.

But are these statistics showing the full picture or are there external factors and deeper statistics that we need to look at before writing off the Brazilian international?

One thing people forget is that Emerson has only been in England for four months, almost 2 weeks of which was interrupted by COVID.

Coming from La Liga which is known for its more intricate style of football with the physical side of the game less important, it must have been a big shock for him when he first arrived.

Adapting to a new league can take time and patience, not only does he have to learn the ins outs of a new club he has to adapt his game dramatically to suit the Premier League.

On top of all this Emerson is currently in the process of learning what effectively is a whole new position. This has been halted by an injury, postponed games, a change in manager and he himself reportedly contracting COVID.

During his 3 years at Real Betis, he was deployed on the right-hand side of a back four rather than higher up in a back five.

In a back four, the full-backs tend to remain in a more rigid shape, making occasional overlapping runs to support the midfield and forwards however due to the presence of a winger or wide midfielder their freedom tends to be restricted.

As mentioned, Conte demands a lot out of his full-backs, their job is essentially to get up and down the wing for the full 90 minutes.

Having not been exposed to the attacking side of the game as much as the defensive side, I would hope his defensive numbers would be solid and his attacking numbers something to work on in the coming months.

When looking deeper into his stats we can see exactly this. FBref shows that he’s in the 95th 96th and 88th percentile for pressures, tackles and clearances respectively in comparison to other fullbacks in the top 5 leagues over the last year.

These more detailed stats show us how solidly defensively he has been for us and Real Betis. When watching him play he seems assured when it comes to one on one defending, tracking runners and his positional sense up to now has also been satisfactory.

However, moving over to his attacking numbers we see a much different story. Whilst his touches in the opposition box and progressive passes received rank both in the mid to high 80’s, the rest of the stats leave a lot to be desired.

In terms of goal contributions, his expected assists and shot-creating actions both rank in the mid to low fifties. Again this is in comparison to other full backs, most of whom are deployed in a back four and we can expect to have much lower offensive numbers.

This is where I think Emerson and Tottenham both need to focus on. In the build-up to an attack, he seems comfortable on the ball and looks to make those forward runs and passes. However, it’s his actions in the final third where we really see his inexperience.

A prime example of this was in the game against Watford on the weekend. For most of the game, Watford were leaving the right flank clear for Emerson to pick up the ball. When he received the ball he looked to get his head up and deliver a ball into the box.

The problem was he only completed 5 of his 14 crosses, according to SofaScore. Whilst this isn’t as woeful as some fans are making out it was the quality of these completed crosses that fans have a problem with.

In his defence, I will say that Watford packed the box with 8/9 players every time he attempted a cross, whereas we tended to have 3/4 of our players attacking his balls into the box. Most players will find it hard to find a pinpoint delivery when facing a low block, packed penalty area.

Furthermore if look at the season as a whole we see that his 22% cross completion rate matches up with some of the leagues best full-backs such as James, Cancelo and Tierney. To me, this suggests that the Watford game could be just an off game for the Brazilian.

Finally, Emerson is only 22 years old. He has time to learn under Conte and adapt his game to what is required of him and make the wing-back spot his own. I feel as though many are writing him off after one particularly bad game.

Over the season, I will concede he has not been excellent with his final ball however as mentioned I really do believe under Conte he can improve this side of his game and stake a claim as our go-to wing-back.

He has had multiple setbacks in such a short time in England, now more than ever he needs our backing.

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