Tottenham have undoubtedly made a strong, even record-breaking start this season and for Spurs fans, there has been little to complain about. But although results have gone our way, the overarching problem of right-wingback remains prevalent.
Pre-summer, a new RWB was a clear priority for Antonio Conte, and despite the addition of Djed Spence, it can’t help but be felt that Spurs haven’t improved in said department.
Ironically, Spurs have a wealth of depth in the position; Spence joined Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty to compete for the role, whilst fellow summer signing Ivan Perisic can also play on either flank.
But with Perisic regularly deployed on the left, and the remaining three candidates not quite fitting Conte’s mould, what is the solution to Tottenham’s RWB issue? And who should be first choice?
The Realistic Options – tried, tested; but not exactly dependable.
Since Matt Doherty’s injury, Emerson Royal has enjoyed a largely uncontested spell as Tottenham’s RWB.
Prior to Leicester last weekend, the Brazilian had started 15 consecutive games in a run stretching back to our 5-1 victory over Newcastle in April (Transfermarkt).
But by trade, Emerson is a right back – not a right-wing back, and although it doesn’t sound like it, there’s a big difference.
Defensively, the Brazilian is sound, there’s little argument about that, but his threat going forward is non-existent. His delivery leaves a lot to be desired and is consequently often left unmarked by the opposition, allowed to freely cross the ball – a frankly telling, somewhat embarrassing, factor.
Given the Brazilian is playing an unfavoured role some leeway should be allowed, but he’s now exhausted any goodwill and patience Spurs fans once harboured towards him.
For a while, Emerson has felt like the only viable option for Conte at RWB, but if recent form and returning players are anything to go by this should soon change.
Doherty’s Tottenham career has been very hit or miss; one week the hero, the next a villain, but before his season-ending injury at Aston Villa last campaign he had been nothing short of outstanding.
Despite appearing just 15 times in the league last season – most of which came over a three-month period from late January to April, he became a regular in the side.
The Irishman showed exactly why Mourinho signed him back in the summer of 2020, recording two goals and three assists in a seven-game period where Tottenham took 18 points, only losing once to Manchester United.
He became vital to the team, demonstrating exactly what Conte can do with attack-minded wingbacks, so the possibility of pairing him with Perisic is exciting for Spurs fans.
Doherty is certainly a good option once he is back to full fitness, and provided he survives the international break unscathed, could be set to usurp Emerson as Tottenham’s first-choice RWB.
The Maybes – but probably nots
Out with a brief cameo against former club Nottingham Forest, Spurs fans are yet to see Spence in a Tottenham shirt.
The Englishman certainly impressed last season helping Forest to promotion and shining in the FA Cup, with the then 21-year-old scoring twice and providing five assists in the Championship, but to most of the Spurs faithful he is a relatively unknown prospect.
Conte’s made it clear Spence was more of a “club” signing than his own – hardly a good omen for any game time this season, but he is certainly one for the future.
The defender will likely appear in sporadic substitute appearances and potentially in cup games, but barring an injury crisis, that might be all we see of Spence this season.
Perisic debuted at RWB for Spurs against Leicester and although he still put in a decent showing, looks far more at home on the left.
Moreover, the Croatian is Tottenham’s first choice left-wing back, so unless absolutely necessary, Conte will want to keep Perisic either on the favoured side or resting on the bench.
Of Spurs wingbacks, Perisic is most equipped to play in a Conte side, as his forward running and killer end-product makes him an ideal asset for Tottenham and sets an example to his fellow teammates.
It’s a shame Perisic doesn’t have a right-footed twin Spurs could call upon, but given his importance on the opposite flank, it’s unlikely we’ll see Perisic deployed much at RWB – but as cover, he’s a good safety net to have.
The Wildcards; unlikely, improbable, but not impossible.
It’s hardly an original thought, but Kulusevski’s skillset could see him excel at RWB.
Granted, he isn’t the quickest, but his work rate and intensity are immense and his close control, ability to ghost by players, and end product are amongst the best in the league.
Moreover, his strength would likely make him a tough challenge to dribble past, and is already adept at playing Conteball.
And compared to Royal, Kulusevski offers infinitely more threat going forward, far closer to mirroring the effect Conte desires from his wingbacks having demonstrated his excellent delivery and goal threat this season.
Hypothetically, if this ever was to materialise, it would need to be in a world where Tottenham played a 3-5-2, as an extra body in midfield would likely be needed to cover for Kulusevski’s more attacking approach than Royal’s at present.
Given the state of play, barring the emergence of an undropable RWB from our current squad, there will presumably be links to numerous targets in January.
The biannual rumour of Adama Traore to Tottenham will no doubt rear its head again, and with the World Cup not long finished, there will likely be currently unearthed talent arising from Qatar.
As I said, barring any massive changes, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Conte and Paratici re-enter the market in search of another RWB and if not in January, certainly next summer.
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