Opinion: Tottenham’s left-back crisis: Micky Van de Ven or Emerson Royal

Postecoglou delivered the painful news before Tottenham’s North London derby that Destiny Udogie had indeed undergone surgery and would be out injured for the rest of his debut Premier League season, as the Italian had revealed on his Instagram.

Ben Davies, despite not pulling on a lilywhite shirt for seven games, replaced Udogie in the starting eleven for one of Spurs’ biggest games of the season, although Tottenham lost the game and Davies did let his opposite number, Bukayo Saka, find the back of the net, Spurs fans would have been content with the Welshman playing the final games of the season.

That all changed when Postecoglou revealed that ‘Ben Davies has picked up a calf issue that will probably rule him out for the rest of the games’ (Spurs on X). It is a nightmare that few Spurs fans would have considered a possibility, hampering what were already diminishing hopes of a top-four finish this season.

However, Ange’s team won’t have time to feel sorry for themselves with another monumental fixture looming, Chelsea away on Thursday, where Spurs haven’t won since 2018.

Thursday poses an interesting spectacle with former Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino, side being one of Chelsea’s weakest in recent memory. Tottenham should therefore be looking to successfully replace Davies in order to steer their season back on track for the remaining five Premier League games of the season.

Micky van de Ven
Credit: @shooting.practice on Instagram

Micky Van de Ven at left-back?

Spurs are particularly unfortunate in the fact that this is a position where they genuinely have two back-ups to their first choice, however, third-choice left-back, Ryan Sessegnon, is notoriously facing yet another injury struggle after being forced to undergo surgery on his ‘right hamstring following an injury sustained during a U21’s match’. (Spurs Website)

The fourth left-back on Tottenham’s books is Sergio Reguilon, however the Spaniard is out on loan at fellow Premier League side, Brentford. The unfortunate situations of all four players leaves Postscoglou and Tottenham having to fit a squad peg into a round hole.

An option that is frequently posed is shifting Micky Van De Ven to left-back. The Dutch player was deployed there six times last season at Wolfsburg and three times the season prior, displaying, if necessary, he can fulfil the role. (TransferMarkt)

Van De Ven’s blistering pace and power obviously makes it understandable that fans can see him in that role, but it’s more about how his positional move could hamper the rest of the backline.

The move would force Radu Dragusin to play as the left-sided centre-back. A position in which the Romanian had a baptism of fire in his first experience there. The former Genoa defender played on the left side of Romero against Fulham where he was pulled apart as his side fell to an embarrassing 3-0 loss.

Dragusin was dispossessed, lost 2/3 ground duels & committed a foul at Craven Cottage (FotMob). His next game in the same position at home to Luton wasn’t much better either, with the Hatter’s opener coming from his side of defence failing to prevent Barkley and Townsend from invading the Spurs penalty area. An idea which Postecoglou even recently vented his frustration about stating how his teams allow for ‘far too easy access to our goal’. (Metro)

With Postecoglou also instructing his full-backs to be inverted and join in with attacks, it would draw Van De Ven away from the backline, meaning Spurs would lose his incredible pace that he used to sweep up any through balls to strikers, a feature which has been key to Spurs’ game as of late.

Emerson Royal
Credit: Ollie Watkins (@watkinsstudio)

Emerson Royal as left-back cover?

The next plausible idea, which is also the most likely move, is to play Emerson Royal at left-back.

Emerson, like Davies, has had very limited minutes in his past seven games, but remains a regular fixture of Postecglou’s matchday squad. Royal has featured five times for Spurs at left-back this season, starting twice with mixed results (one win and one loss). (TransferMarkt)

Although, the Brazilian is accustomed to playing at full-back, albeit usually on the right-hand side, but most notably, is right-footed. Despite Destiny Udogie being left-footed, having your strong foot as the opposite one to the side you play on can be a useful asset when playing the unique inverted-fullback role that Postecoglou uses, and will likely continue to.

Another key aspect of that role is progressively carrying the ball to drive the team forward. Emerson has a lot more experience in that department, averaging 1.67 progressive carries per 90 compared to Van De Ven’s 0.84. (FBRef)

There is a large drawback to Emerson, he rarely appears strong defensively, which is often exploited, and is also not often lauded for his crossing abilities, although neither is Van De Ven.

The lack of defensive ability from Emerson could be a large issue when you consider who he would have to face, should he play all five remaining games with Palmer, Salah & Foden all playing on the right flank where the 25-year-old would be defending.

This perhaps supports the argument for adopting the ‘horses for causes’ philosophy, with Emerson being utilised in games where Spurs feel they will need more cover or pace centrally and therefore use Van De Ven. Then possibly shifting the Dutchman out to the left again should Spurs be playing opposition such as Chelsea who have dangerous right-sided players but a less threatening and slower front line.

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