Since his arrival in the summer of 2020, Matt Doherty has endured a tricky start to life in North London. Spurs sealed a lucrative deal for the Irish international for a fee accumulating to around £15 million.
The initial reaction to the signing was one of excitement and optimism from some. Doherty had played in an attacking 5-at-the-back formation under Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves. Due to this, he was allowed to advance high up the pitch and deliver crosses, while also providing continuous overlaps to support the midfield and attack.
This style of play largely contributed to Doherty bagging 7 goals and 5 assists during the 19/20 season (TransferMrkt). This was for a Wolves side that just missed out on a place in Europe, thanks to his new club, Spurs.
It may have been due to these high expectations that the former Wolves man has been on the end of some harsh criticism this season. Fans and pundits alike have been quick to slate Doherty for some of his performances in a white shirt.
Interestingly, Jose Mourinho has utilised Doherty as part of a back four this season, which has largely limited his attacking output.
His final product has certainly not been as good as expected. Because of this, the extent of the wing-back’s attacking contributions this season has amounted to a mere four assists and zero goals (TransferMrkt).
The result of this has been criticism. Doherty has unfortunately displayed inabilities to pass, control, or defend to the standard expected of him by Mourinho. This has led to Serge Aurier emerging once again as the favoured right-back, and Doherty often sidelined.
These lack-lustre performances have also led to speculation about Doherty’s future at Spurs. Mourinho is reportedly willing to place him on the transfer list, should his form not take a sharp turn in a more positive favour (ESPN).
However, we must consider the fact that Doherty clearly has the ability going forward and could yet turn his Tottenham career around.
A common sight for Spurs fans this season has been Doherty running beyond our right-sided attacker. This has opened up options for Spurs going forward, allowing for a ball in behind the defence, or a cross to be delivered into Kane.
It may be the simple case that Doherty just needs time to adjust to the requirements of this relentless Spurs team.
Persistence is key in turning poor form into a positive. Dele and Ndombele have both managed to re-emerge under Mourinho’s favour for the second half of the season. Doherty must use this as motivation if he is to thrive in our system.
Fortunately, we have seen glimpses of what he can do in a back four. His performances against Wolfsberger in the Europa League were compliments of a system that allowed him to advance forward. As a result of this, our midfielders would sit deeper to cover any potential counterattack.
Continuously, in order for Doherty to turn his career around at Spurs, he needs to utilise the players around him. As he is a right-sided player, he usually has either Bale, Lamela, or Lucas in front of him. Therefore, he needs to adapt his play around those three.
If the likes of Bale or Lamela are in front of Doherty, overlaps and short one-twos would prove an effective form of attack. It would allow Doherty to venture into the final third and provide that extra option in attack.
Lucas usually rotates into the middle of the park and plays as a second striker. In this scenario, it would give a license for Doherty to play almost as a part of the midfield.
We see this system implemented by Manchester City. Cancelo often plays in midfield leaving a back three. We have also seen Mourinho deploy a similar system, leaving Davies, Dier, and Alderweireld as a back three.
The most obvious way for Doherty to turn his career around would be to take his chances when they come. Jose seemingly prefers to rotate his full-backs.
Like Bale and Dele before him, it is up to him to perform under pressure. Doherty did show glimpses of what he can do against Crystal Palace in our recent 4-1 win. He provided an assist, alongside a solid defensive performance.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new chapter for Matt Doherty.
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