A standout display from a man fighting for his place in an in-form side, who knew competition for places could be the key?
Serge Aurier has taken his fair share of criticism during his time at Spurs, and perhaps sometimes fairly. In the past he has often been found wanting in big games, getting caught out by top attackers or losing concentration and giving away unnecessary fouls and bookings. However, if we are to hold him to his weak displays, we must also acknowledge his strong ones, and his part in Saturday evening’s 2-0 shutout vs Man City felt like a statement from the Ivorian.
It was one of those nights where the players would usually stay on the pitch long after the final whistle, soaking up the love from the fans after a battling 90 minutes. But obviously, in these times of empty stadiums and silent stands, the players had to celebrate within the group, alongside an undoubtedly triumphant José Mourinho, despite his grounded attitude towards sitting top of the table just under a quarter of the way through the season. Aurier, often hailed as the dancer of the group, gave his manager plenty to jive about – with a disciplined defensive display that helped to blunt one of the sharpest attacks in the league.
In terms of stats, Aurier attempted 9 tackles, the most of any player on the pitch, and was successful with four of them, second only to Spurs’ Danish powerhouse Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and the energetic Sergio Reguilon, both with five successful tackles (WhoScored). However, if we dive further into this, the 27-year-old contested 8 of his 9 tackles inside Tottenham’s defensive third, demonstrating his utterly disciplined display as a right full back, as opposed to his previous tendencies to stray forward and leave his fellow defenders isolated and helpless against accomplished attackers. He showed that he can be relied on to do a disciplined job in the biggest of games. This was a strong message to Mourinho.
But this hasn’t just arisen from Saturday’s win over City. Since the arrival from Wolves of one of last season’s strongest performing right back’s, Matt Doherty, Aurier has undoubtedly lost his guaranteed starting berth. With the new signing having started six Premier League games compared to Aurier’s three, the limited game time has given the former PSG man little opportunity to impress, whereas Doherty has done just that. The Irishman has formed a solid part of an undefeated Spurs team in the Premier League since the opening day loss to Everton, keeping two clean sheets, with just an extremely harsh penalty in the closing minutes against Newcastle and an incorrect VAR decision versus Brighton preventing him from contributing to 4 clean sheets in 6 matches. Aurier has however looked much more solid at the back this season, and despite Doherty’s solid performances, he has arguably offered more going forward than his counterpart, most notably registering a goal and an assist in the 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United in October.
So then, with Doherty side-lined due to a positive Covid-19 test, the Ivory Coast international had to get up to speed and slot into a defence that had been performing well, against a City side bursting with attacking talent fit for a Sheikh. And that’s just what he did. Usually, perhaps the biggest compliment for a player coming into a side that has been settled and performing well is that they didn’t look out of place. Aurier commanded attention the whole game long, with his battling energy and determination not to let the almost relentless passing and probing from Manchester City get the better of him, summed up by the fact that he was not dribbled past once in the entire 90 minutes. Aurier knows that he has a fired-up Matt Doherty approaching full fitness and breathing down his neck, but he has given Mourinho a headache in a position that many of us thought might be one of the easier selections, and Jose will be all the happier for it.
It now remains to be seen who will be given the nod in the coming games, with some huge fixtures just around the corner for the Lilywhites, namely Chelsea and then Arsenal in the next two match weeks. No matter the selection for these games Serge Aurier has certainly dispelled some myths surrounding his lack of discipline with his performance on Saturday evening. The defender’s hunger to fight for his first team place will no doubt have the boss grinning, and he will at the very least provide useful rotation with Doherty in Spurs’ packed European and Domestic schedule.
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